Throughout the U.S. maritime industry--shipbuilders, vessel operators, maritime unions, port officials--disappointment and anger against the Reagan administration have been building quietly for months.
The industry supported Reagan as he campaigned on a promise to revitalize the shipyards and the merchant fleet, but his administration still has not issued the comprehensive maritime policy he promised, and several of its policies have been perceived as detrimental to the maritime community.
Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis' support for partial deregulation of the merchant fleet has not overcome strong criticism of the administration's announced intention to reduce maritime subsidies. As shipyard employment and cargo consignments continue to decline, the optimism that reigned a year ago has given way to a collective desperation, clearly evident at maritime gatherings, while ship operators and builders search for a formula to end the erosion of the industry.
Jesse Calhoun, head of the Marine Engineers union, recently circulated proposals for revitalizing the merchant marine through cargo-preference regulations and tax incentives. The National Maritime Council sought newspaper publicity to achieve what it called "the public awareness that is so desperately needed to save the industry," Calhoun said. Several organizations are asking Congress to enact new cargo-preference legislation to increase the share of commerce carried by U.S.-flag vessels. The Shipbuilders Council sniped in print at the Maritime Administration and its new director, retired Navy admiral Harold Shear.
Much of the criticism was low-key, and was expressed within the maritime fraternity. But over the weekend, the disappointment finally provoked a strongly worded public denunciation of the president from a key figure in the industry.
Frank Drozak, president of the Seafarers International Union and head of the AFL-CIO's maritime trades division, said that in this administration "Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal is turning into Ronald Reagan's raw deal," and he said maritime workers should "support our friends and defeat our enemies" in this November's congressional elections.
In a speech to an International Longshoremen's Association gathering in Houston, Drozak said "the American people are getting fed up with the economic theories of the administration because they are not working and because they are producing one of the most pronounced economic crises that this nation has faced since the Great Depression."
Citing statistics on unemployment, business failure and depressed housing sales, Drozak said, "Yes, we do have all-time records being set in the economy--records of economic disaster, economic devastation and economic disruption."
Up to now, Drozak has refrained from criticizing Reagan.