Posts Tagged ‘John P. Frey’

World War II Kaiser ships named for labor leaders

posted on August 24, 2016

Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

 

Fore 'n' Aft, 1942-09-10, RMH

Labor day launchings in Richmond, Calif., Fore ‘n’ Aft, 9/10/1942.

Naming a ship after someone is a high honor. The United States Navy recently announced plans to name the fleet oiler T-AO-206 after the gay rights activist, San Francisco politician, and Navy veteran Harvey Milk. Several ships in this class commemorate social justice heroes and heroines, including the T-AO 187 USNS Henry J. Kaiser.

During World War II, when production was maximized and the workforce was essential to victory, labor and management made great efforts to be as cooperative as possible. On January 12, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reinstated former President Woodrow Wilson’s National War Labor Board to anticipate and resolve labor-management conflict.

Labor Day ship launchings often feted the local labor community, but trade unionism was further elevated during the war by naming Liberty ships after labor leaders.

Announcement of launching of the SS Furuseth, Fore 'n' Aft, 1942-09-17, RMH

Launching of the SS Andrew Furuseth, Fore ‘n’ Aft, 9/17/1942.

Five Liberty ships named after labor leaders were launched on Labor Day – September 7 – 1942, and three of them were built in Kaiser shipyards. A sixth ship (the SS Samuel Gompers) was launched on June 28, 1944. Seven additional ships named for Jewish American labor leaders were launched between January 21, 1944, and October 13, 1944.

Labor took the lead in this campaign. In July, 1942, the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific petitioned the United States Maritime Commission and the War Shipping Administration for a Liberty ship to be named in honor of Andrew Furuseth, the longtime president of their union.

The plea was reported in the Oakland Tribune, July 14, 1942, in an article titled “Mariners ask ship to be named for union leader”:

Members of the West Coast Local No. 90 of the National Organization of Masters, Mates, and Pilots of America today petitioned the United States Maritime Commission to name one of the new Liberty ships after Andrew Furuseth, one of the founders of the Sailors Union of the Pacific.

In a resolution forwarded by Captain C.F. May, president, the Commission was asked to select one of the ships to be launched on Labor Day, September 7. Captain May told the commission that, if the committee selects a vessel to be named Furuseth, it “will not only be honoring an outstanding labor leader and citizen, but also recognizing the American marine seaman of today for his bravery and sacrifices which he is making to win the war.”

Logo (scan from production idea award certificate), Labor-Management Committee, War Production Drive, 1944

Logo, Labor-Management Committee, War Production Drive, 1944

On September 7, 1942, the United States Maritime Commission arranged to have five ships launched that were named for labor leaders. The launch ceremonies, held at four different shipyards around the country, were to be linked by a coast-to-coast broadcast and feature speeches by John P. Frey, an executive of the American Federation of Labor, and John W. Green, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The two organizations would merge in 1955, and the AFL-CIO remains the largest federation of unions in the United States.

An Associated Press account described the Labor Day launching event in Baltimore:

With thousands of workers looking on, three Liberty ships slid down the ways at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyards Monday as the climax to a Labor Day celebration attended by political notables and ranking labor leaders. For the rest, it was just another working day for Bethlehem-Fairfield workers as they followed the lead of other defense industries and stayed at their jobs. Two of the new vessels were christened in honor of outstanding labor leaders and one of them was constructed in the record-breaking time of 39 days.

Yard General Manager J. M. Willis keynoted the ceremonies when he said “In all the history of America never has there been a Labor Day as significant as this one.”

Labor men everywhere, Willis continued, “have turned their parades into the shipyards and other defense industries in order, that not one hour of their productive effort be lost.” John Green, national president of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, spoke of the steady growth of unionism. “By persistent work and unrelenting efforts the workers have achieved recognition. Our organizations are accepted as a necessary part of free American society. Our job now is to demonstrate that we are worthy to inherit the Promised Land made possible by the struggles of our pioneers,” Green said.

 

BW 1945-11-09

“Labor to be honored at Friday’s Launching,” The Bos’n’s Whistle, Oregon, 9/9/1945.

Even as the war wound down, labor was honored. A November 9, 1945 article titled “Labor to be Honored at Friday’s Launchings” informed readers that “Labor of the entire area will be feted for the part it has played in the Portland-Vancouver Kaiser company shipyards during the war in a huge ‘All Labor’ launching of the Mount Rogers at Vancouver … the entire program will be arranged by the Portland-Vancouver Metal Trades Council.”

Here are details of those five labor leader ships:

Essi-med

Norwegian-flagged Essi, formerly the SS Andrew Furuseth, circa 1960s.

SS Andrew Furuseth. Built at Kaiser Richmond shipyard #1; sold to Norwegian interests as Essi, 1947. Scrapped in Japan, 1967.
Norway-born Furuseth (1854-1938) was a merchant seaman and American labor leader. He helped build two influential maritime unions: the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and the International Seamen’s Union. Furuseth served as the executive of both for decades.

SS Peter J. McGuire. Built at Kaiser Richmond shipyard #2; scrapped 1968.
McGuire (1852-1906) co-founded the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America in 1881 and was one of the early leading figures of the American Federation of Labor. He is credited with first proposing the idea of Labor Day as a national holiday in 1882.

SS James Duncan. Built at Kaiser Oregon Shipbuilding (St. Johns, Ore.); scrapped 1962.
Duncan was a Scottish-American union leader and president of the Granite Cutters’ International Association from 1885 until his death in 1928. He was an influential member of the American labor movement and helped found the American Federation of Labor.

SS John W. Brown. Built at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, Baltimore, Maryland.
John W. Brown (1867-1941) was a Canadian-born American labor union leader and executive of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America. This Liberty ship is one of two still operational (the other being the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed in San Francisco) and one of three preserved as museum ships. The John W. Brown is berthed in Baltimore.

SS John Mitchell. Built at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard; scrapped 1967.
Mitchell was a United States labor leader and president of the United Mine Workers of America from 1898 to 1908.

A sixth labor ship, launched June 28, 1944, was the SS Samuel Gompers, built at California Shipbuilding Corporation (Calship) in Sausalito. Gompers was the first and longest-serving president of the American Federation of Labor. She replaced a cargo steamship with the same name which had been torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the South Pacific on January 30th, 1943.

Seven other Liberty ships launched in 1944 were named for Jewish American labor leaders.

January 21: The SS Benjamin Schlesinger was launched from the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards. This was followed by the January 22 launching of the SS Morris Hilquit. Both were honored for their wartime contribution through the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.

The SS Morris Sigman, launched from Baltimore on February 4, honored the former president of the ILGWU, followed by the SS Meyer London, another ILGWU leader.

The SS B. Charney Vladek was launched from the New England Shipbuilding Company in South Portland, Maine, on July 7. She was named for Baruch Charney (1886-1938; he added “Vladek” as a nom de guerre surname in Tsarist Russia). Vladek emigrated to America in 1908, and was a Jewish labor leader and manager of the Jewish Daily Forward.

The SS Abraham Rosenberg was launched from the New England Shipbuilding Company in early October, named for the former ILGWU president. And on October 13 the SS Morris C. Feinstone, named for the the late general secretary of the United Hebrew Trades, was launched at the St. John’s shipyards in Florida. AFL President William Green paid tribute to Mr. Feinstone as “a devoted member of organized labor.”

Also see:Liberty and Victory Ships named for African Americans” and”Henry Kaiser and merchant sailors union: the curious case of the SS Pho Pho” about the SS Harry Lundeberg, 1958

 

Photograph of the Essi courtesy Den Norske Libertyflaten, (The American Liberty Fleet and other U.S.-Built Merchant Ships) Vormedal Forlag, Norway, 2015. Did you know that Norwegian for “scrapping” is “opphugging”?

Short link to this article: http://k-p.li/2bg4rq7

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Kaiser’s first labor attorney in the thick of union battles

posted on January 23, 2014

By Lincoln Cushing
Heritage writer

Second in a series

In 1941, before the United States entered World War II, Henry J. Kaiser was already building cargo ships for the British war effort. Early on, labor jurisdiction issues loomed large, and Kaiser’s labor man Harry F. Morton had his hands full.

Before the shipyards opened, Kaiser representatives signed a closed-shop agreement with American Federation of Labor-affiliated unions and hired a handful of workers; when the yards began full operation, the thousands of new workers were required to join the AFL.

Because many of them were already members of Congress of Industrial Organizations-affiliated unions, they were subsequently discharged. The CIO filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

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Aerial photo, Todd-California Shipyard in Richmond, CA (later Permanente Metals shipyard #1), circa 1941

In a letter dated Dec. 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor, Morton reported to Kaiser’s shipyard managers, Edgar Kaiser in Portland and Clay Bedford in Richmond, on this issue.

The “industry” side proposed a formal proportional allocation among the unions for journeyman jobs for welders, but this did not sit well with the nine AFL unions whose members included welders.

Eventually a compromise was reached in which welders in the shipyards would not be required to maintain membership in more than one union and that employment would not require purchase of a permit fee.[i]

Morton aligns with the AFL in closed shop fight

When the jurisdiction wars erupted again in 1943, Morton fought alongside the shipyard craft unions and received a landmark favorable ruling.

The U.S. government had charged that the Kaiser shipyards in Portland had acted unfairly in favoring the American Federation of Labor over the emerging, competitive, and radical CIO.

This time Congress’ help was called upon and passed what is known as the “Frey amendment” (named for head of the AFL Metal Trades Department, John P. Frey). The CIO lost on a technicality.

This ruling was crucial because it meant Henry J. Kaiser could run a closed shop in his shipyards, and production of ships for the war would not be jeopardized by struggles over workforce representation.

Morton read his victory telegram at a Metal Trades conference and declared: “And thus endeth another chapter in the history of the attempt of the National Labor Relations Board to break the union shop.”[ii]

Labor man tapped for aircraft plant

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aviation.

Corsairs in production line at Brewster Aeronautical, circa 1943.

In late 1943 Morton moved back East as vice president of Industrial Relations for the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation. Brewster was manufacturing F3A-1 Corsair[iii] fighters, but had been ineptly run.

As a favor to the Navy Secretary, Kaiser agreed to try and turn the company around. Despite cost-cutting and improved output, Kaiser was delighted to turn the plant back over to Navy officials in May 1944.

While at Brewster, Morton continued to advise Kaiser on labor.  After reviewing a report by Industrial Relations Counselors[iv] on the then-new steel mill in Fontana, Calif., Morton sent a telegram to Kaiser executive Eugene Trefethen Jr.:

“I did not advocate a closed shop provision for the Fontana contract, but I did object to IRC’s recommendation that “. . . the company resist any demands of the union for a closed shop or union shop contract.”

“This is so foreign to all of Mr. Kaiser’s fundamental beliefs and public utterances that I could not let it go unchallenged . . . I violently disagree with the fundamental approach of IRC to labor problems.

“It is the approach of AT&T, Bethlehem, DuPont, G.E., General Motors, Standard [Oil] of New Jersey, U.S. Rubber and U.S. Steel, but not of Kaiser.

“It is my conviction that a large part of Brewster’s trouble is the result of IRC thinking and approach, and I am confident that what is needed is less IRC and more Kaiser thinking and approach in labor relations.[v]

Morton active after war ends

In early 1945, Morton briefed Kaiser on a meeting he’d had with Charles MacGowan, president of the Boilermakers union, a group that was influential (and controversial) in Kaiser’s wartime shipyards.

The subject was the merger of the American Federal of Labor with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. MacGowan opposed the merger. Morton advised Kaiser:

“I pass these suggestions on to you for what they may be worth. Personally, I don’t believe they are worth much, as [Philip] Murray and [William] Green had agreed to this once before and the agreement was later repudiated.[vi]

Green (AF of L) and Murray (CIO) both died in 1952; it would not be until 1955 that the two labor organizations would merge under the leadership of George Meany. The AFL-CIO Murray-Green award received by Henry J. Kaiser in 1965 was named for them.

HFM2

Carl Brown (left), president of the Independent Foremen’s Association of America, confers with Harry F. Morton while representing Kaiser-Frazer. UPI newspaper photo, 2/19/1949.

The last known records of Morton’s career reflect his negotiation with employees at the Kaiser-Frazer automobile plant. One of the provisions of the recently enacted landmark Taft-Hartley Act removed any legal obligation to bargain with foremen; Morton felt that they should keep faith with the foremen, and the Ford Motor Company managers felt they should not.

Harry F. Morton’s full story remains to be told. We lose sight of him in our research after the early 1950s. However, he now is recognized as a significant factor in shaping the climate of positive labor relations that characterizes Henry J. Kaiser’s legacy.

<http://www.ircounselors.org/about.html>

Short link to this story: http://bit.ly/19R0OiK


[i] Harry F. Morton correspondence to Edgar F. Kaiser and Clay Bedford, December 6, 1941; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 9, folder 12.

[ii] Speech by Harry F. Morton, in Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention of the Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO, September 27, 1943.

[iii] The Brewster F3A was an F4U “Corsair” built by Brewster for the U.S Navy; Chance-Vought created and built the Corsair, which also was built under contract by Goodyear.

[iv] In the wake of the horrific Ludlow Massacre in the Colorado minefields of 1917, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., created a labor-management think tank that today is known as Industrial Relations Counselors, Inc. <http://www.ircounselors.org/about.html>

[v] Telegram from Harry F. Morton to Eugene Trefethen Jr., about IRC report on Fontana, October 1, 1943; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 19, folder 25.

[vi] Interoffice memo, Fleetwings Division of Kaiser Cargo [aviation manufacturing, Bristol, PA], from Harry F. Morton to Henry J. Kaiser in New York, January 22, 1945; BANC MSS 83/42C, ctn 151, folder 12.

 

 

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