Louis Schwanice, who has been loading and unloading ships on the Baltimore waterfront for 33 years, looked out a trailer window to a huge grain elevator hovering over the water and shrugged, "Whatever the ILA does is okay with me."
Joe Rolfes, another member of ILA local 952, added in a singsong chant, "All the way with the ILA."
Schwanice and Rolfes view the decision of President Thomas Gleason of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) to boycott all goods bound for Russia or scheduled to be shipped on Russian vessels as an inconvenience more than anything else.
As with most of the 5,000 dock workers who move 60 million tons of goods over the docks here -- about 1 percent of it on Russian ships -- Schwanice and Rolfes are quick to add that they are willing to put up with the inconvenience in the name of patriotism. They point out that the ILA has refused to handle cargo for Iran since shortly after the hostages were taken there two months ago.
Teenny Martin, chain-smoking cigarettes in the second floor hiring hall of Local 952 in South Baltimore, was still taking orders for men to work on Russian ships yesterday afternoon, explaining that he was going ahead "until we get a telegram" from union headquarters in New York."
A dock worker who stopped by to chat with Martin tugged on his blue-and-white Colts wool cap and pronounced Gleason's decision "a good idea."
Another dock worker, asked his opinion of the boycott, said, "Whatta I think? It's what the International says."
A slight demurrer was voiced by a supervisor of one of the stevedoring companies that hires longshoremen to load corn onto ships bound for the Russian ports of Odessa an Leningrad.
"It looks to me like the union is setting foreign policy," said the man, who did not want his name associated with his opinions. "What do they think about this in Washington? But maybe that's what the State Department wants."
John Wambold, superintendent of the Ceres Stevedoring Company, which is responsible for getting workers to load grain at the Central Soya elevator here, had a more immediate concern: The Nicholas Pateras, a Greek ship chartered by the Soviets, was anchored near Annapolis waiting for an open berth at Central Soy's dock to pick up 27,000 bushels of corn scheduled to go to Russia.
A second Greek ship under contract to the Russians, the Alexandros Tsavliris also was anchored today near Annapolis awaiting an open berth.
In addition to the non-Russian vessels that carry grain to the Soviet Union from Baltimore, an average of two Russian ships a week (97 last year) pick up general cargo here. One of those, the Khudozhnik Pakhomov, was due to arrive at the huge Dundalk marine terminal here late tonight after stops in New York and Philadelphia.
H.R. Good, general manager of Norton, Lilly & Co., the nation's second largest steamship agent and the one that books one of the two weekly Russian freighters here, hoped the Pakhomov would be allowed to finish loading here, "but it's up to Mr. Gleason."
"We're sitting tight, waiting for further instructions," he said, peering out at the busy harbor from his wide windowed office in the new Baltimore World Trade Center. "I can't say what the Baltimore stevedores will do," said Good, a wily veteran of 42 years in the international shipping business.
The man who will interpret Gleason's boycott order in Maryland is ILA vice president John Kopp, whose initial response was that the boycott would mean a "major sacrifice" by dockworkers here, but one necessary to respond to Soviet aggression.
Two ships that would have been affected by the boycott managed to beat the deadline. The Greek flag Albion left the Louis Dreyfus Corporation grain elevator Tuesday loaded with corn for Russia. The Russian vessel Magnitogorsk pushed ahead its loading schedule by having longshoremen work through the night Monday, and steamed off for the Middle East loaded with automobiles and other vehicles.
Grain is by far the most popular product shipped to Russia through the port of Baltmore. In the first nine months of 1979, the three large companies that operate grain elevators along the waterfront here -- Dreyfus, Central Soya and the Indiana Farm Bureau -- sent 358 tons of corn and 80 tons of soy beans to the Soviet Union. By comparison, general cargo bound for Russia amounted to only 10,000 tons, the largest of which were food preparations, asbestos and ore.
Although Russian ports are not the destination of many freighters that leave Baltimore, Russian operated or chartered ships have become the second biggest, behind Japan, foreign user of the Baltimore port, and the third largest shipper worldwide. In the 20 years since Russia seriously began to compete for commerce on the high seas, a number of nations have accused the Soviets of cutting prices below their cost to get the business.
In this city, where American flags fly from many row house doors and where the port is the biggest employer and generator of jobs, many residents appear to be in sympathy with an editorial that ran in The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday. The newspaper said a boycott by the ILA would provide "a rare opportunity to punish Soviet aggression and brighten the future of the American merchant marine in one bold stroke."
Within hours of today's announcement of the boycott, steamship agents here were looking for other carriers, including American steamship lines, to ship the cargo -- previously assigned to Russian vessels -- which now is beginning to pile up on the docks.