Paul Hall Remembered

Paul Hall, the SIU’s second president, arguably ranks as one of the most effective, dedicated and prescient labor leaders in American history. His contributions to the U.S. maritime industry and the overall labor movement were numerous and far-reaching.

While it is difficult to summarize his impact, it is hoped that the following article – his obituary as printed in the Seafarers LOG – indicates how valued and dynamic Hall was.

Paul Hall Dies of Cancer at 65

Paul Hall, the man who built our union with brawn and brains from a struggling organization of 500 seamen into the number one maritime union in the world, died June 22, 1980 at the age of 65.

Brother Paul Hall, H-1, whose legendary battles emblazen the SIU’s history with a deep tradition of victory, succumbed after an eight-month fight against cancer. It is one of the few battles Paul Hall ever lost.

Announcement of his death sent shock waves throughout the American labor movement and the world maritime industry. Union headquarters was flooded with letters and telegrams from the ships at sea and from around the nation. They expressed deep sorrow and regret for the passing of one of the giants of American labor. They also vividly showed the tremendous amount of respect and admiration Paul Hall earned in his life-long struggle to constantly improve the lives of American seamen.

Hundreds of mourners, including SIU members and labor, industry and government leaders, paid their respects at Paul Hall’s wake on June 23-24. Then, 500 people jammed SIU headquarters for his funeral on June 25. Among the 500 were Vice President Walter Mondale, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and New York Governor Hugh Carey.

It must be remembered, of course, that many shoreside workers were not much better off than the seaman. If the sailor was unhappy with his pay, he did not have much chance of improving himself ashore. Once accustomed to the sea, moreover, the sailor did not take kindly to the boredom and drudgery of jobs ashore.

The Story Begins

Paul Hall’s amazing story begins in the tiny town of Inglenook, Alabama. His early years were marked by poverty. The son of a railroad engineer, Paul managed to get through eight years of schooling.

But his lack of education in no way deterred him from becoming one of the truly remarkable public speakers of our time.

He was a self-made man in the best traditions of America. He left home at an early age for work. In his own words, “I did a little bit of everything, from riding the rails to boxing.”

He started shipping as a teenager in the very early ’30s. He shipped mostly in the black gang as wiper and FOWT. He earned an Original 2nd Engineers license, but never sailed under it, choosing to stay with his unlicensed brothers.

He shipped thoughout the ’30s and into World War II. He was a member of the old International Seamen’s Union. When the SIU was founded in 1938, Paul Hall was there with a small group of other seamen determined to block the East Coast seamen’s movement from the very real threat of a takeover by card-carrying communist party members.

He was very proud of his charter member book in the SIU, H-1. Paul Hall made his presence felt immediately. He was a tough, hard-nosed union activist who backed down from no one. The early waterfront battles left him with ugly knife scars on his arms and legs.

His first official post in the union was as patrolman in the port of Baltimore in 1944. He rapidly moved up to become port agent in New York and then Director of Organizing for the SIU Atlantic and Gulf District. Then in 1947, he became chief executive officer of our union, the SIU-AGLIWD, at the age of 32. He held this post until his death last month. Paul Hall led the SIU in the General Strike of 1947 when seamen won unprecedented gains in wages and conditions. He also keyed organizing breakthroughs for the SIU in bringing Isthmian Lines (125 ships) and Cities Service Tankers under the SIU banner.

The Isthmian victory was the single largest organizing victory in the history of the deep sea sailor’s movement. And Cities Service was the most notoriously anti-union company on the waterfront.

Paul Hall, through collective bargaining, also established for the SIU membership the Seafarers Welfare, Pension and Vacation Plans, which today provide SIU people with the best, most secure benefits in the industry. Paul Hall was always the champion of the underdog. By 1954, the SIU had aided with, as Paul used to say, “money, marbles and chalk” a total of 75 brother unions in strikes and organizing campaigns. These constant battles to help other unions earned Paul Hall the lifelong reputation of one who got things done and who could always be counted on for help no matter what the problem.

Succeeds Lundeberg

In 1957, Paul Hall became president of the SIUNA, succeeding the late Harry Lundeberg, a post he held until his death. In the same year, he became president of the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department. When Hall took over the MTD, it was a struggling organization made up of only six small unions. He built it into the most active and effective political force in the family of the trade union movement. At his death, the MTD comprised 43 national and international unions representing nearly 8 million American workers.

In 1962, Paul Hall was elected by his peers to the AFL-CIO Executive Council. When he died, he was senior vice president of the AFL-CIO and one of its most influential members.

Paul Hall’s dream for American seamen was all inclusive. He wanted the best of everything for SIU members. But he realized better than anyone that no one was going to hand it to us on a silver platter. He fought continually at the bargaining table. In the words of SIU Vice President Red Campbell, “Paul Hall would go into a room of shipowners. They’d throw apples and oranges on the table and he’d come out with the fruit salad.”

But Paul Hall wanted more than top pay and benefits for the SIU. He wanted SIU members to have an opportunity to advance. And he wanted young people to have the opportunity to take a crack at a career at sea.

This is why he established the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Piney Point, Md. in 1967. Since then, the School has developed into the finest maritime training school in the country. And thousands of SIU members have advanced their skills, and thousands of young people from deprived backgrounds have found employment and a chance in life because of the School.

The School is a living, thriving monument to Paul Hall’s belief in education and his desire to see SIU members get a better shake in life.

Politics is Porkchops

The one thing Paul Hall understood better than anyone is that the future of the American merchant marine depends on the success of this organization in the political arena.

Under his leadership, the SIU became deeply involved in politics at a very early date. Paul Hall helped lobby through Congress the 50-50 Cargo Preference Act in 1954, which reserved for American ships at least 50 percent of all government generated cargoes.

There were many political victories for Paul Hall, some big, some small. But his biggest victory came with passage of the Merchant Marine Act of 1970, which gave the American maritime industry new life and a future when it appeared that the U.S. merchant marine might not survive the decade. He spearheaded the bill through Congress. And for his efforts, several U.S. congressmen, in eulogies to him, entitled Paul Hall, “The Father of Modern American Merchant Marine.”

An Advisor to Presidents

Paul Hall has been named to committees and commissions by Presidents Johnson, Ford, Nixon and Carter. His most recent appointment was as co-chairman to President Carter’s important Export Council. Other presidential appointments included seats on the Labor Policy Advisory Committee; the Labor-Management Advisory Committee on Economic Affairs; the Maritime Advisory Committee; the National Commission on Productivity; the National Committee for Industrial Peace, and the Advisory Committee to the Cost-of-Living Council.

Hall has also served with distinction as chairman of numerous important committees for the AFL-CIO, including his most recent assignment as chairman of the Economic Policy Committee.

Paul Hall has received numerous awards for his contributions in and outside the labor movement. He received the Labor Rights Award in 1973 from the Jewish Labor Committee. In 1968, he was awarded the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League’s “Man of the Year” award. Also in 1968, he received an award from the state of West Virginia for his help in providing jobs for disadvantaged Appalachian youth.

In 1964, the National Committee for Rural Schools presented him an award for his “vigorous advocacy of education and economic opportunities for youth of all origins.” And in 1962, he received the Civic Center of New York Humanitarian Award for his work in rehabilitating youthful offenders. In 1968, Paul Hall was elected to the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, the first labor leader to ever serve in that capacity. In addition, on April 11, 1980, the New York Harbor Festival Foundation sponsored a testimonial dinner to Paul Hall at which they named him the 1980 winner of the “Mr. Port of New York Award.”

A Legend in His Time

Paul Hall was truly a legend in his time. From the famous Wall Street Beef of 1947 where white-hatted Seafarers keyed a strike victory for financial workers, to the tremendous battles between Hall and Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union, Paul Hall stood head and shoulders above his opposition. He beat Hoffa in Puerto Rico in 1960 when he succeeded in winning an election of 2,000 shoreside workers. He beat Hoffa again in the famous Chicago cab drivers’ beef of the early 1960s.

He survived two assassination attempts by organized crime for his work in trying to rid the waterfront of racketeers.

He reached out to help seamen of other nations. He was a key figure in developing trade union democracy for Canadian seamen. Toward the end of his career, Paul Hall was one of the most powerful men in the country. He hated fanfare and publicity. He preferred to work behind the scenes and let others take the credit.

But no matter how important he became, Paul Hall always preferred the company of seamen. He said time and time again that he would rather sit around a table “talking to a few of the boys” than sit in the Oval Office of the White House with the president of the United States. To the end, he supported the underdog. A few years ago, he could be found tramping through the fields of California in support of the United Farm Workers.

Paul Hall never forgot where he came from. The SIU was his life. Seamen were his brothers. His long-term dream for the maritime labor movement was to have one union for unlicensed seamen and one union for licensed seamen. He was a tremendous proponent of merger and consolidation for strength. He believed deeply in the SIU motto, “Strength in Unity.”

It was a year of tragedy for the Hall family. He lost a sister and his brother Bill Hall, also a long time official of the SIU, earlier this year. He was heartbroken when his old friend “Bull” Shepard passed away last year.

For Paul Hall, the long struggle is over. But his victory is truly just beginning. Because Paul Hall’s spirit of toughness, strength and compassion lives on in the SIU and in every SIU member who has gotten a better shake in life, thanks to him.

Paul Hall is survived by his loving wife, Rose; his son, Max; daughter, Margo, and brothers Peter and Robert.

Paul Hall was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery on a grassy hill overlooking a pond. It’s only a few blocks away from SIU headquarters in Brooklyn, just the way Paul Hall wanted it.