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Guide to the National Maritime Union Photographs PHOTOS 044

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Hanan Ohayon

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 11, 2018 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical/Biographical Note

The National Maritime Union of America (NMU), which represented merchant marine workers, was formed in 1937, as a split from the International Seafarer's Union, which was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). At its first convention in 1937, the NMU joined the Committee for Industrial Organizations (CIO). A crucial role in its formation was played by former members of the Communist-led Marine Workers Industrial Union. Among the notable reforms achieved by the union's Communist-dominated leadership was "checkerboarding," the side-by-side racial integration of sailors' sleeping quarters. By the end of World War II, the NMU had nearly 100,000 members. The union was founded and led by Joseph Curran, who served as NMU president until 1981.

During World War II, the alliance of Communists and non-communists in the union was weakened by charges that the Communists, in their desire to maximize productivity in order to aid the Soviet Union, did not aggressively defend sailors' interests. The Cold War exacerbated the ideological divide, and in 1948, the NMU's Communist leadership and its allies were defeated in union elections and expelled.

In 1950, the NMU's Welfare plan was established, providing seamen with health, accident and life insurance benefits. In 1954 a pension component was added. Curran's successor, Shannon Wall, was not well-received by a strong minority of the union, led by James Morrissey. In 2001, the NMU merged with the Seafarers International Union of North America, which originally represented West Coast merchant mariners.