Statehood Countdown #8 (Fressinet)

August 14, 2009
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Continuing with #8 of our Statehood Countdown, I’ve posted the 1949 correspondence between Andre Fressinet, the General-Secretary of the International Union of Seamen, Fishermen, Rivermen, and Dock Workers and also linked to a lengthy response and analysis by Louis Goldblatt, the Secretery-Treasurer of the ILWU in which he discussed the 1949, 178-day Longshoreman’s strike in Honolulu, in context and with solidarity of the other international strikes concurrent in 1949.

Although, with a week left in this countdown, it would seem that I would discuss the 1949 strike, I still haven’t touched upon the Marshall Plan which stands as one of the pillar perspectives of the Statehood story.

In earlier postings, we looked at the break up of the WFTU (World Federation of Trade Unions) with the CIO ousting of the ILWU and the creation of a new trade union, the ICFTU (International Congress of Free-Trade Union), but we never addressed the context of this break up: the ERP (European Recovery Program), aka, the Marshall Plan (int. labor here and U.S. gov. here), otherwise, an extension of the Truman Doctrine, which offered economic assistant to the war torn countries on the condition of “economic cooperation,” a euphemism for excluding the communist-led countries.

During WWII, employment in the United States was high, American manufacturers were doing really well, and the war, coupled with New Deal policy, had helped the U.S. economy get out of the Great Depression. Of all the factors contributing to the success of America’s post-wartime recovery, the fact that the war was not waged on American soil was probably the most significant.

In 1941, Paul Hoffman, president of Studebaker, Dr. Robert Hutchins, pres. of the University of Chicago, and William Benton an ad-man from Benton and Bowles who became the University’s vice-president came together on the University of Chicago campus to discuss the post-war recovery. After the addition of several other members, this group decided upon the name the Committee for Economic Development (CED). This meeting took place four years before the war’s end and marked the beginning of an economic think-tank that was independent of government and special-interest lobbying. These were simply some very astute people: academics, historians, businessmen, economic planners who sought to figure out how to prevent an American post-war depression (Business Comes of Age: The Story of the Committee for Economic Development and It’s Impact upon the Economic Policies of the United States, 1942-1960, Karl Schriftgiesser, Harper & Brothers, 1960).

The CED, led by Paul Hoffman, began publishing influential papers. They discussed America’s slide back into an economic depression with high-unemployment and they wrote policy and theory that was soon taken up by the Truman and later Eisenhower administration. Early on, they received quiet support from the Department of Commerce, the Manufacturer’s Association, the Department of Labor, including the A.F.L. By 1948, Paul Hoffman was brought on to head the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) to administer the Marshall Plan, which also assisted with the development of a world’s currency reserve which helped the Bretton Woods agreement of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The war had demolished many of the resources and infrastructures of Great Britain and Europe, and in 1948 the Marshall Plan was designed to simultaneously help European post-war recovery while preventing the U.S. from sliding back into a depression. The idea of rebuilding Europe was seen by many, particularly those in the isolationist, “America First” groups, as costly and many in Congress were opposed to risking further financial collapse by participating in these international cooperative efforts. The CED, however, maintained that international cooperation would bolster U.S. relationships in the world, and would help to bring about positive economic prosperity to both the U.S. and its allies.

Early on, the idea that U.S. manufacturers and laborers would benefit by helping Europe rebuild was well received by the U.S. State Department and the Dept. of Commerce, but through further meetings in national policy, a different agenda was advanced. International negotiations were held, whereby, for example, if a country needed 1000 tons of steel, the US would supply that country with 100 tons of steel and build most of the machines and structures for them in the U.S., displacing many of the local workers, while further alienating the homegrown industries that were lost in the war. The A.F.L., flexing its influence in Europe, participated in some of these negotiations. How countries paid for this was complicated, but in general, if the U.S. fronted a percentage of the cost in U.S. currency, the recipient country would also have to invest it’s own currency, matched by local investors and industries, and peg their currency to an equivalent exchange rate to the dollar.

In addition to the Marshall Plan was an obsure practice which led to the establishment of the dollar as the world’s new reserve currency, or what in Fressinet’s correspondence to the Affiliated Organizations refers to as “Counterpart,” generally referred to as “counterpart funds.” In 1948, many national currencies–including the United States’– were wildly unstable, and the process by which nations received aid was determined by assigning or pegging their currencies to the dollar. This process helped to stabilize national currencies participating as the Organization for European Economic Cooperation (at that time: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United States), and was later, in 1969, instrumental in implementing a supplemental reserve asset, the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR).  As a result of the 2008 global financial crisis, the idea of fully implementing the SDR to replace the dollar as the new international currency was briefly considered, and it should be noted that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) currency cooperation is similar to the original 1945 IMF/Bretton Woods stabilization fund expressing the par values of participating currencies.

How this ended up being played out, however, was quite different. If, for example, costs for the program for a given country was $100M, the country in need paid the sum of money from its own currency equivalent to the dollar value of exports provided by the ECA. Then, 95% of this money was shared between the US and the country in need, with US oversight on a percentage of industrial costs, while 5% went to ECA without need for public disclosure. The machinery is more complicated than this, but regardless, with the United States determining the conditions of a hegemonic and anti-communist economic cooperation with the old administering colonial powers– it also initiated a conflict with the Soviet Union that divided the world between two economic systems that was eventually dubbed the Iron Curtain.

With the advance of the Marshall Plan, control over European ports needed to be wrested away from Soviet influence who were very much opposed to this kind of recovery plan. The international unions believed that recovery should occur with the participation of each’s own national work force, and through an equitable trade structure that allowed for the territories to independently participate in its own development of resources and labor. The international unions under the WFTU, saw the Marshall Plan as a threat to the kind of world vision that the United Nations had designed, and went so far as to blame the United States for creating a third world war.

As we saw in SC#16, supporters of the Marshall Plan saw the WFTU as a threat to the security of Europe, Africa and Asia. The International transport and dockworker’s unions had in 1949, proven it’s clout by successfully holding strikes and showing the power of international solidarity. By refusing ships and closing docks, these unions could control the imports of arms and propaganda, and this was a real threat to the old colonial powers.

Charles M. Dobbs writes: “One prominent Democrat, Henry A. Wallace, who had been Roosevelt’s vice president and then served as secretary of commerce, opposed the Marshall Plan because it threatened the Soviet Union and seemed to divide the world into hostile camps. Wallace called it a “martial plan” and believed it would end any chance for postwar cooperation between the former wartime allies. He also feared the plan would provide for greater business influence in American life, and would exacerbate economic inequalities at home.

Although the Marshall Plan was officially ended in 1951, one could argue that this strategy for destabilization and the resulting occupation of these countries, systemically asserts its own resources and industries to control the rebuilding process, further alienating the workers of the occupied countries, and further creating international economic dependencies.

With relevance to Hawaii, as the implementation of the Marshall Plan began to extend beyond the reach of Europe and into the territories, the Soviet Union in cooperation with the WFTU, the international transport and dock workers unions, protested against this economic aggression. Hawaii, serving as both a military outpost and a shipping and transport station between the United States and the then Asian territories, played a very strategic role. Later, the ILWU, in solidarity with the WFTU, taking a position against the United States’ role in the Korean conflict resulted with the ILWU further being labelled “communists.”

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Dear Comrades,

The Second World Congress of the W.F.T.U. has place as the first of its tasks the struggle for the defense of Peace, without which social progress would remain for the workers and impossible dream.

The Constitutive Conference of the INTERNATIONAL UNION OF SEAMEN, FISHERMEN, RIVERMEN & PORT WORKERS has also put down as its first task the problem of peace our initial and main target.

All affiliated organizations have certainly read and studied the Manifeste of the 2nd World Congress, in which one paragraph says that:

“Our common task, the task of the workers of the whole world is to raise an impassable barrier in front of the warmongers, maneuvers, and to ruin the perfidious plans of all imperialists.”

The manifeste then shows the way to follow, and the tactics to be used.”

“We must develop a wide activity in favor of the defense of Peace, build up a concrete program of action, which can be easily understood by the large masses of workers, and unite to carry out that programme without consideration of race, creed, or opinion. Everywhere, when circumstances permit, we must organize inside the enterprises and offices, large Committees for the Defense of Peace and unite within their ranks all workers, whether manual or intellectual.”

It is in compliance with the above decisions of the 2nd World Congress that the Secretariat of the W.F.T.U. issued, on the 26th July, to the World Congress of the Partisans of Peace, a letter in which the W.F.T.U. asked for the organization of an INTERNATIONAL DAY OF DEFENCE OF PEACE AND DEMOCRATIC LIBERTIES, which has been fixed by the Permanent Committee, to the 2nd October, 1949 (Meeting of the Permanent Committee 21/7/49).

It is now important that every affiliated organization should, without delays, carry out the principles contained in the W.F.T.U. Manifeste.

Never before, since the rout of fascism, the threat of war had been more precise. From day to day, the evil effects of the Marshall Plan appear, ever more evident (closing down of factories, following the invasion of the Marshall Countries by American manufactured goods with counter-part in export) and, if maritime trade with the Far East remains at a high level, this is due in fact that in that part of the world (India, Indonesia, Malaya, Viet Nam.) colonial wars are raging, and that ships are transporting on these battlefields troops and war material indispensible for these plunder wars.

In China, where the Armies of National Liberation will soon be masters of the whole territory, all maritime trade had now been stopped and this increases even more the economic difficulties of the counties dominated by Dollar Imperialism, this increases the mass of unemployed to whom, through a venomous and well orchestrated propaganda, the capitalist cannibals offer the idea of a war against the U.S.S.R. and the Popular Democratics as the only prospect for the future, and the only solution to their present sufferings.

This underlines how much the fight for peace is sacred and must be carried out with swiftness, continuity and firmness.

In that fight, the workers of the Maritime Industries have a choice place.

Everyone knows the capital role played by the Merchant Navies during the two world wars, and particularly between 1939 and 1945, on the European Theater as well as the Pacific Ocean. In the war which is being prepared, a role even more important has been reserved to them.

This is why the Shipowners are trying to make sure that their ships will not leave the imperialist camp. They want to protect their crews against the “Pacifist Microbe” by choosing them themselves and by trying, as in Canada to break the Unions, which refuse to submit to their dictation. They have entrusted the splitters of the I.T.F. with the job of maintaining, through a virulent campaign of hatred against our International Union and against the W.F.T.U. the atmosphere of division without which none of their criminal plans could succeed.

Everyone knows, also, the decisive role played by all port workers in their maritime trade and the economic set-up of the various countries. Their struggles were never isolated. The victories gained by the French Dockers in 1947, the Stevedores of the Eastern Coast of the U.S.A. in 1946 and 1948, the seamen of Italy in 1949, etc… etc…, were due to the International solidarity and are a proof of the high degree of class consciousness of Sea and Port Workers.

The magnificent example of international solidarity given in July 1949 by the London Dockers, in support of the Canadian Seamen on strike since the 1st of April is a brilliant demonstration that there is a long distance between the strike breaking wishes of certain leaders of the British T.U.C. such as DEAKIN, or of the I.T.F. , such as OLDENBROCK and the fighting mood of sea and port workers, who will never accept to be treated like slaves.

TOMORROW, THANKS TO THE MUTUAL AID OF SEAMEN AND PORT WORKERS, NOT ONLY OUR WAGES AND CONDITIONS CLAIMS WILL BE DEFENDED AND WON, BUT ALSO PEACE, THAT MOST PRECIOUS WEALTH OF THE WHOLE HUMAN RANCE, WILL BE PRESERVED.

Already the Dockers of Algeria have refused to load ships going to VIET-NAM. The Viet-Nam confederation of Labour have publicly sent their gratitudes to them. The Dockers of DUNKIRK (France) have also begun an action on the same lines, against that colonial war.

Dockers and Seamen must refuse to handle troops and war cargoes going to the colonial wars of plunder, and to the preparation of Imperialist Anti-Soviet War.

Seamen and Dockers must obtain the resumption of normal economic relations between all countries of the world, on the basis of equality of rights. This alone will insure a maritime trade through which seamen and Dockers will have a decent standard of life.

IT IS IN THAT WAY THAT WE MUST ADVANCE, FEARLESSLY, WITH FIRMNESS AND PERSEVERANCE, NOT ISOLATED, BUT CLOSELY BOUND ON THE BASIS OF ALL PORTS. THE FORCES F DEMOCRACY ARE THE LARGEST AND THE MOST POWERFUL BUT IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO BE CONVINCED OF IT, IT IS NECESSARY TO ACT AND TO BRING THESE FORCES TO FINAL VICTORY.

To reach out aim, we must become organized, In every port, the basic organizations of seamen, rivermen, fishermen, dockers and other port workers must unite and create wherever possible, Committees for the defense of peace.

The Committees should then draw up a CONCRETE PROGRAMME OF ACTION, which can be understood by the workers, and which will reflect their own aspirations.

The conditions of success for the building of such Committees and for their successful action lies in the realization of the largest Union of Workers, without difference of race, color, creed of political appartenances.

In the present decisive period, all out militants must have a high sense of the responsibilities resting on their shoulders, and comprehend fully the importance of the struggle which grows over the whole world. They must do everything in their power so that the date of OCTOBER 2nd, 1949 will not only be a great day of struggle for Peace, but also the starting point of a continuous action, which will be as efficient that the 2nd of October will have been powerful.

To that action, we are sure that seamen and port workers of the whole world will attach themselves not only with the faith of men who know that right and justice are on their side, but also know that nothing is obtained without a struggle for the widest unity.

Let us know, as soon as possible, your results whatever they are the successes registered and the difficulties encountered. Let us know the prospects opened for you by the action, which starts now, and will only cease when a lasting peace will have been established upon earth.

Fraternally yours,
A. Fressinet
General Secretary
International Union of Seamen Fishermen, Rivermen
and Port Workers.

go to #7 in the countdown

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One Response to Statehood Countdown #8 (Fressinet)

  1. Statehood Countdown #3 (Hill) – on August 19, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    [...] part, because of the “cold war” and “national security,” euphemisms for the Marshall Plan and it’s offshoots the ECA (the Economic Cooperation Administration), the fulfillment of [...]

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