Great Jobs 13 - A Promotion So I Stayed Put
A Promotion So I Stayed Put
It was getting late fall by the time we got back to San Pedro, and I had been on that old tanker, the La Placentia, for better than 6 months. When we got back the chief engineer asked me if I wanted to stay on for another trip. I wondered what’s in it for me.
“Well, first off," he said, "we are going to do some minor repair work which might take about a week and if you stay on you can have the Pumpman job. It’s day work at sea and of course it’s overtime work when we load and unload”.
Day work, that sounded great, that meant, 5 and a half days at regular working hours, like 8 to 5, a lunch hour, and half day on Saturday.
A Pumpman’s job at sea is to do daily maintenance work aboard ship. Such things as plumbing repair, cleaning the scuppers, which get clogged with everything from garbage to whatever blows around the decks. An in case you wanted to know, ‘scuppers’ are the drain holes on the decks which let the seas that wash over the decks drain back where they came from. They needed to be free of any thing that would stop free flow of water. And that is where I also learned to weave broken lines (rope) back together, and make ‘bumpers’ and cargo slings. You can see ‘bumpers’ hanging over the sides of almost any ship , they are made of broken bits and pieces of lines and are used to soften the crunch of pulling along side of the docks, actually protects the docks as well as the side of the ship. Also when a tanker has to fuel another ship at sea, bumpers hang over the sides of both ships so that they do not ‘rub metal ‘while pumping fuel.
Well, this short repair work turned out to be a bit longer than a week; it went on for over a month. And, even though I was assigned to the La Placentia I also helped out at the Union Hall. Such thing as checking in the crews of incoming and outgoing ships and that is where I earned the name of ‘Commie’. Actually the Longshoremen and the Merchant Marine in general were nicknamed ‘The Commies’ because we would tie up a ship, if Union Rules were broken as pertaining to loading, unloading, shift hours and safety.
The news in those days, of course, was anything and everything that could be reported about the war. But ‘war stories’ were for the most part censored. But, ‘sensation’ reporting was and still is big news. So much was made of the fact that the ‘Unions’ were tying up shipping and ‘hurting’ the war effort. So let me explain about all that.
Big companies in those days were and are the same as ‘big companies’ today. They exploit workers, wherever and whenever they can and if they can get by with it. Now, I expect some readers to consider this ‘union propaganda’ and yes I am ‘unionized’ and have always thought of myself as a defender of the ‘picked on’. I was picked on from the first day I went to school, so taking care of myself and other ‘picked-ons’ was something I learned early. And, beside that, my family were all union railroad workers, plant workers, and even industrial organization workers (mom was an industrial nurse and belonged to the Missouri Industrial Nurses Association) so I learned from an early age the rights of workers.
Dad had always taught me that basic rights were your home, your family, and your job. Basically what he taught me was that every American had the right to protect his home and family and his job. And even though my dad died when I was not quite 12 years old, it made a lasting impression, even to this day.
And, let me also explain that many seamen sailed on ships by getting jobs through the War Shipping and Transportation Department, and most of that was assigned non union jobs, with whatever pay the company contractors could get by with. Thus my first job connected with war shipping was through a Union. Federal Barge Line, even though it was a government subsidized operation was unionized and to get my job there I went to a Union Hiring Hall.
And now back to tying up shipping and the ‘war effort’. The Longshoreman and the Seamen never ever tied up the war effort as may have been reported. We tied up company shipping that was exploiting workers. In those days with most of the able bodied men in the Army and other Armed Services, and the women working at ‘Rosie the Riveter’ jobs, the only other workers were those like blacks, who were not acceptable in those days, Chinese and Japanese Americans, who had been dispossessed from their homes, and even as today, illegal workers. So exploiting those workers, was just as easy then as now.
Companies would force them to load cargo onto ships and work around shipyards doing such jobs as cleanup for long hours without overtime compensation or safe working conditions. Many of these workers were getting hurt and even getting killed because of these conditions. So, the Longshoremen and the Union seamen, would picket these ships and shipping companies. And in most cases we were able to protect many of these workers with Union Contracts giving them much better working conditions. If that made me a Commie, then God bless me and the rest of those Commies. So much for explanation. To this day I would do the same.
But, back to my job on the La Placentia. Repair work dragged on for almost a month before we were ready to go back to the South Pacific with more planes and parts and high octane fuel which meant 110 octane or higher only for air planes. With those old propeller planes, that type fuel was required because at high altitudes with not much available oxygen, the fuel had to ‘explode’ immediately to get proper combustion. It was almost Christmas again before we finally left for the long southern route, for safety sake, back to the Philippines. We had just missed the last big Navy Battle at Leyte Gulf, but we didn’t miss all the kamikazes. Our Navy Gun crew had taught us how to use those side deck guns.
It was late January when we got there. A bit cooler trip this time as I could work out on deck or in the pump room or help the First assistant Engineer with engine room repairs. I liked that guy; he was a very smart machinist and could make a part for just about any thing. I learned a lot from him even learned how to rewind electric motors if the Third Assistant, who was in charge of all the electrical work aboard ship had me help him too. All in all, even if this trip took weeks and weeks of island hopping through the equatorial islands, it was mostly enjoyable.
And when the war ended we were still there in Leyte Gulf, supplying the big ships, even the Missouri.
Watch for Helmer's next chapter on Great Jobs in the January issue.
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