My military tribunal

Pages from workers’ lives

Too young to join the Army during World War II, Richard Neill worked in the Merchant Marine. That was an equally dangerous job. He was drafted and wounded in the Korean War (June 27, 1950, to July 27, 1953). The McCarthy Red Scare was at its worst in the ’50s. Many members of the National Maritime Union were denied the Coast Guard papers needed to work as seamen.

I was ordered to appear before a military tribunal being held at the Schuykill Arsenal in Philadelphia. The young lieutenant assigned to represent me encouraged me to confess. What was I to confess to? Wasn’t it enough that I served my country honorably and retuned home as a disabled veteran?

I thought about this confession and what brought me before this tribunal. I would have to go back in time when I shipped out to sea at age 15. I was apolitical at the time. The adventure of sailing in the Merchant Marine and as a member of the National Maritime Union consumed my entire life.

A ship is like a small community of the United States. Our little community may move about the world carrying the commerce of our nation, but under our American flag we never become unattached. We lived and worked under the protection of the laws of our country and under our Union contract.

Sailing throughout the world was just about the greatest life a person could live. Then dark clouds loomed over the horizon. Not pirates, but company agents came on board, ship after ship. They took down the American flag and ran up a flag of convenience. They removed our little community from the United States. We became part of what is called the “Third World” with no protection, no union and work for slave wages.

Three other seamen and I protested by handing out informational leaflets in front of the shipping company office in the port of Baltimore. This action brought out the police with their clubs and guns. The FBI appeared on the scene taking our picture. This was truly my first frontal attack against the capitalist system. It earned me a place high on the FBI blacklist.

The military tribunal was not interested in what flag our ships sailed under. The tribunal had nothing to do with my military service. The military, the FBI and the police are all part of the state apparatus. Minus campaign finance reform, big business buys up and controls the state. The military tribunal, as part of the state, was used to punish people under their control who attack the profit system.

Meanwhile, the ship owners, dragging their bags of money behind them, are crying all the way to the bank. Crying about foreign competition. What may I ask happened to the law that required American ships to carry 50 percent of our trade?

Every crossword puzzle I ever worked that called for a fair share, the correct answer was always half. What could be more fair then 50/50? The way I figure it, if we must carry 50 percent of our foreign trade in ships flying the American flag, there would be no foreign competition within that 50 percent.

Standing before a stone-faced tribunal, it was clear to me that the plight of the maritime worker was no concern of theirs. Our great maritime nation was being turned into a nation of landlubbers. Confined to the riverbank while our jobs sail down the river.