« PreviousContinue »
result within a few years, but a generation may be required to obtain a personnel for our merchant fleet, comparable in numbers, citizenship, and quality, to the officers and men in merchant service at the time wood and sail were distanced by iron and steam.
It is the almost uniform testimony of the U. S. shipping commissioners that the number of American deep water sailors is decreasing. An endeavor to ascertain approximately the number of able seamen usually awaiting employment at our seaports brings statements from the commissioners (Appendix B, Table 3) that the number of Americans thus available does not exceed 2,000. It is generally understood that a considerable percentage of men now in the Navy are citizens of foreign lands, and both of our transatlantic and transpacific steamship lines, from nécessity or preference, obtain their seamen at foreign ports.
An inquiry into the nativity of the crews of our merchant fleets discloses even more plainly the results which have been worked by indif ference to our maritime position, coupled with the operations of natural laws. Classed by nativity, the shipments before U. S. commissioners last year comprised 22,143 Americans, 21,966 Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes, 10,316 British, 6,247 Germans, 628 French, 865 Italians, and 9,042 of other nationalities. These figures in many instances cover the repeated shipments of the same men for various voyages during the year on the same vessel or different vessels, and thus are greatly in excess of the actual number of individuals. The 71,000 shipments thus classified do not represent to exceed 18,000 men, but there is no reason to believe that the percentages of nationality would be changed by reducing the figures from terms of shipments to terms of individuals. Barely 30 per cent of the crews of our merchant vessels are thus Americans, and when to the figures given are added about 12,000 shipments before consuls for American steamships at Southampton, Liverpool, Antwerp, and Hong Kong, very few of which are of Americans, American seamen do not much exceed one-fourth of our merchant crews. It has not been possible to ascertain the percentage of naturalized citizens from the shipping commissioners' books, which take cognizance only of nativity, but the nature of the sailor's vocation and his customs are not such as to encourage naturalization. The commissioner at New York reports that Scandinavians, learning that American citizenship is a necessary condition to holding office on an American vessel, are taking out naturalization papers, and he further reports that our yachts are manned mainly by men of the northern nationalities. While naturalization probably would not greatly modify the figures given above, to counterbalance in part that effect the commissioners observe a disposition of foreign-born sailors to claim the United States as the land of their birth. These claims have been closely examined by the commissioner at New York with instructive results.
The Bureau is aware that the general facts adduced are not new. The decrease in the number of our deep-water sailors has been noted by every one who has given any attention to the subject. If they have been stated with more particularity in Appendix B than hitherto, it has been in the belief that a full knowledge of existing conditions is necessary to the success of any effort to improve them. Whether such effort is feasible may be questioned, unless first more deep-sea vessels of the types now required are put under the American flag. Nothing clearly is to be hoped for from the apprenticeship system. Last year only seven apprentices were indentured for the sea in this country. The system is dying out in Great Britain, and it is disappearing as
rapidly from the trades on the land as at sea. The expedient of compelling by law the owners of American vessels of certain types to take a small number of apprentices proportionate to tonnage, would prolong for a time the life of the system, but from so purely artificial an expedient, out of all relations to modern trade, no substantial and enduring benefit may be expected. Several of the shipping commissioners express the belief that school-ships might, with practical benefit, be established at their ports. The authority to establish such schoolships is vested in the Secretary of the Navy. Should additional schoolships be put into service, the prime consideration would be a possible increase in the number of American seamen available for war vessels, and this Bureau would possibly be stepping outside its province to take any position on the suggestion. The same holds good, to a degree at least, of the proposition for the creation of a naval reserve of merchant sailors similar to that established by Great Britain, though indirectly that proposition contemplates a form of assistance to the merchant marine which is both legitimate and practical. The naval militia of the States, though reported to be of excellent material by those competent to judge, bears no relationship to the merchant marine. Great Britain distributes annually about $1,000,000 among 24,000 men in its merchant service, half of which takes the form of retainers, which amount in many instances to the addition of $2.50 to the monthly wages of able seamen and in other instances to the addition of $1.25. While the object of the system is naval, indirectly it must benefit the morale and discipline of the merchant service and add to its dignity as well as to wages. Those who receive a direct retainer, and have undergone the training to entitle them to it, number annually 20,000 seamen, or about 12 per cent of the crews of British vessels in foreign trade. The initiative in the establishment of a similar system for the merchant marine of the United States does not rest with this Bureau, but without impropriety the opinion may be expressed that the establishment of an American naval reserve of merchant sailors subjected to like training and receiving like awards as the British reserve would be both practical and legitimate assistance to the merchant service. That service is so moderate in its present proportions, and even within its confined limits American seamen occupy relatively so small a space, that a reserve not exceeding 2,000 to 2,500 men would seem all that is feasible at present, and the cost of such an establishment would not be large. Such a reserve should be confined to citizens of the United States by birth or naturalization, and, so far as the merchant marine is concerned at least at the beginning, should be limited to officers and able seamen on registered vessels.
The admiralty estimates for 1893-'94 and 1894-'95 for the British naval reserve of merchant seamen, printed in Appendix K, give an outline of the programme successfully carried out by Great Britain and precise statements of the actual cost of its various features.
An understanding of the facts just stated concerning the decrease of American seamen is necessary to an inquiry into comparative wages on American and foreign vessels and the relationship of wages to the cost of operation.
Appendix B and Appendix C contain statements by U. S. shipping commissioners and U.S. consuls concerning the shipment of crews and the wages paid on American steamships and sailing vessels to various
ratings from able seamen to first mates and first engineers for the various voyages made by our merchant marine. They contain a similar statement of the wages paid on British vessels and an incidental statement of wages in the German merchant marine.
Wages constitute 16 per cent of the total operating expenses of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, about the same per cent in the expenses of the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, and a slightly lower per cent in the expenses of the French, Italian, and Austrian lines. As British wages on transatlantic steamers are about 10 per cent higher than on Asiatic and Pacific lines, they undoubtedly constitute a slightly larger percentage of the cost of operation of the Cunard and White Star lines, though the statement is doubtless within bounds that the pay of officers and wages of crews in the case of no foreign steamship company exceed 20 per cent of the total operating expenses. They constitute substantially the same percentage of the cost of operating American steamships, increased only by the higher pay of watch officers.
As matters stand the rates of wages in American ports do not materially affect the cost of operating our transatlantic and transpacific steamships. They ship nearly their entire crews at their foreign ports of entry, paying virtually the same rates of wages for the same service as are paid on British vessels. The rates of wages for able seamen and other ratings at New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco for transatlantic and transpacific steamships apply to less than 300 men, outside of about 350 who have recently been shipped as firemen, trimmers, oilers, and coal-passers for the New York and Paris.
Under normal conditions the crews of American steamships would be shipped in domestic ports, but an entirely abnormal state of affairs has been brought about by our continued failure to adjust our laws to current conditions. Reference to the reports of shipping commissioners and consuls show that only a small part of the crews of the Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and of the Pacific mail steamships in Asiatic trade are shipped at New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, about four-fifths of their crews being shipped at Liverpool, Antwerp, and Hongkong.
In any consideration of relative wages one must recognize the radical differences in conditions of the employment of labor on the sea and on the land. The attempt to carry into a discussion of the cost of operation of over-sea steamships the same comparisons of wages in this country and foreign countries to which tariff debates of late years have accustomed our people will lead them into delusions concerning navigation, and will retard any rational solution of shipping questions. Unlike the manufacturer on land, whose labor market is, to a degree at least, restricted, the shipowner is at liberty to employ labor in any market, where, on account of its abundance, its quality, or its cost, he finds it for his advantage to do so. Any efforts to restrain by legisla tion this opportunity could so easily be evaded by transferring vessels to foreign flags that nations have not made the attempt to any extent. While statements of the rates of wages paid to sailors in this country and in foreign countries have a bearing upon cost of operation, these rates, then, do not necessarily and practically affect it. The laws do not require American shipowners to obtain their crews in American ports, nor, so far as ascertained, do the laws of any other maritime nation require its shipowners to obtain their crews in national ports. The French law requires three-fourths of the crews of French merchant vessels to be French. That provision of the French law is one of the bases for the French navigation bounty system.
The facts concerning shipments abroad for American steamships are not stated with a view to criticism, though conditions which have led to them are to be regretted, but are stated to show, first, that wages are not the factor in the cost of operation which many believe them to be; and second, to illustrate the difficulties in the way of an accurate comparison of American and foreign wages.
So far as able seamen are concerned, the actual competition to-day in transatlantic and transpacific trade is between American ships and British steamers, and a comparison of the wages paid on these two different classes of vessels will show only slight disparities in wages. But such a comparison evidently is not a fair test of the true value of labor received for wages. The present custom is to regard a steam vessel of 1,000 tons as equal in carrying capacity to three sailing vessels of 3,000 or 3,500 tons in the aggregate. The number of men required per 100 tons to man a steam vessel is less than double the number of men per 100 tons required to man a sailing vessel. In its efficiency, in the return it gives for wages, labor on a steam vessel accordingly is worth more to the employer than labor on a sailing vessel, and naturally receives higher wages. If, for example, 25 men are required to man 1,000 tons of steam tonnage, and, to do a corresponding amount of carrying, 3,500 tons of sailing tonnage, requiring 52 men, are needed, evidently the services performed by the first 25 ara worth to the employer as much as the services performed by the seeond 52, and this fact will enter into the wages agreements with both. Direct comparison of the wages of officers on American and foreign steamers in the transatlantic and transpacific trade shows that the pay of our officers is much higher than the pay of foreign officers.
Direct comparison of the wages of firemen, oilers, trimmers, and coalpassers is possible this year, owing to the fact that men to fill these places have been shipped in the Paris and New York during the year. One of the conditions of the ocean mail-subsidy contract, which those vessels are about to undertake (chap. 519, Laws of 1891), provides that upon each departure from the United States the following proportion of the crew shall be citizens of the United States:
During the first two years of such contract for carrying the mails, one-fourth thereof; during the next three succeeding years, one-third thereof; and during the remaining time of the continuance of such contract at least one-half thereof.
Preparing for compliance with this provision, these vessels have shipped at New York during the year men for the places enumerated at $40 per month. This rate is very much above the British rate for the same service, which averages $20, and in the case of competing express transatlantic steamers does not exceed $25. It may be noted, however, first, that where the law made this exceptional requirement it has provided, through a subsidy, the means for paying the high rate of wages; second, that while the difference in wages in the case of firemen and trimmers is $15 per month, the difference in wages of able seamen is hardly $2 a month, and the selection of men for the former places instead of the latter to fill contract requirements is presumably based on efficiency, and on the supply of men of these ratings at the terminal points of the voyage. This Bureau is informed that, in point of fact, the speed of the New York has been considerably increased through the employment of firemen at New York, so that the higher wages have been accompanied by a more effective use of coal and the attainment of better results.
Any comparison of monthly wages, therefore, unless accompanied by a full statement of all the conditions under which wages are paid and
of the results attained, will be misleading. The small number of our steamships crossing the ocean, the very small percentage of their crews which are shipped at home ports, and the special requirements of law which lead to these shipments render comparison in the case of steamships of little value, owing to meager figures on this side of the Atlantic. A comparison between steam and sail vessels must evidently take into consideration the greater efficiency of labor on the former, and a comparison of the wages on sailing vessels under the American and foreign flags will be of little service to a solution of the problem of deep-sea steam navigation.
That the wages on future American steamers in foreign trade will be higher than corresponding British wages, if our steamers are to be manned by our citizens, admits of no question. If that is to prove an insuperable obstacle to navigation under the American flag, then there can be no future for domestic shipbuilding. There is no reason in the experience of nations to prove that it will be such an obstacle. Though the wages on British vessels are much higher than on German, French, or Italian vessels, the supremacy of the British merchant marine has not been impaired by competing efforts of these nations. In annual operating expenses first cost of construction and factors based thereon count for very much more than wages, and, if efficiency of labor be considered, doubtless count for double the percentage of wages in the year's expenses. Until the difference in first cost of construction between steamers under the American and under foreign flags has been removed by legislation or the operation of natural forces, there will be no opportunities for the employment of American citizens on oversea steamers on which to base exact comparisons of wages. The apprehension that such actual comparisons may then prove the impossibility of navigation under the American flag is no sufficient reason for continued failure to remove one evident obstacle to that navigation.
ABOLITION OF REGISTRY BONDS.
This Bureau has several times recommended the repeal of the law requiring registry bonds from the owners of vessels and the substitution therefor of penalties. Section 4145 of the Revised Statutes requires the owner and master of a vessel, previous to its registry, to give a bond, with one or more sureties, for the proper use of the certificate of register in an amount ranging from $400 to $2,000, according to the size of the vessel. The conditions of the bond and of the proper use of the register are set forth in section 4146. This law was enacted in 1792, and its effect is to subject the owner and master of every vessel to the inconvenience and, at times, expense of preparing a bond and obtaining satisfactory sureties in order that the law may have a hold upon an occasional lawbreaking or careless managing owner or master. It proceeds on the theory that it is better to subject 99 law-abiding citizens to expense and inconvenience than to allow one lawbreaker to escape. As a matter of fact it has not prevented the escape of lawbreakers, if there have been any under these sections, for this Bureau has been unable to learn of a case where proceedings have been instituted for the forfeiture of a registry bond. The law is particularly vexatious to the owners and masters of small sailing vessels, to whom the processes of the law are unfamiliar and who may be presumed to find more or less difficulty in the execution of their bonds. The navigation and customs laws require so many legal documents from these hard-working men and contain so many and such intricate restrictions