The New Deal Yard, 1933-1937, Part 2
The International Naval Situation in Roosevelt’s First Term
American Naval Policy
The International Naval Treaties Unravel
The Course of American Naval Building
The BNY in the First Year of Roosevelt's Administration
Building Warships for the Public Works Administration
The Problem of Production
Pushing the NIRA
Lobbying for the cruiser Brooklyn
The Winter of 1934
List of NIRA-Authorized Vessels and Shipyards Assigned Them
Chart: IVb Force in the BNY, 1933-1937
“Join the good old N.R.A., Boys, and we will end this awful strife.
Join it with the spirit that will give the Eagle life.
Join it, folks, then push and pull, many millions strong,
While we go marching to Prosperity.”
[From a song at NIRA parade, New York City, 13 September 1933.
Robert S. McElvaine, The Great Depression:
America, 1929-1941 (New York: Times Books, 1984).]
The International Naval Situation in Roosevelt’s First Term
The years 1933 through 1937 saw the rebirth of the American navy and the unraveling of the naval disarmament treaties. How these two are related has been much debated over the years, with different emphases given as to whom was the protagonist, the West or Japan, in the struggle for imperial dominance of the Pacific Rim. But no matter the historical interpretation, the end result was the same for the Brooklyn Navy Yard: more work.
American Naval Policy
On 4 March 1933, Senator Claude A. Swanson, of Virginia replaced Charles Adams as Secretary of the Navy. Two weeks later, Henry L. Roosevelt, the fourth member of the extended family to take the post, relieved Ernst Jahncke as Assistant Secretary. He held the position for three years until his death in office on 22 February 1936. The position remained vacant for nearly a year until a member of another famous family, Charles Edison, son of Thomas Edison, succeeded on 15 January 1937. [Secretary of the Navy, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1933; AR, FY 1936; AR, FY, 1937; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 15 March 1933. In June 1934, there was a change of name in the administrative unit under the Assistant Secretary comprising the shore stations, when the term “Navy Yard Division” was replaced with the more expansive “Shore Establishments Division,” with a corresponding change in the title of its Director. Circular Letter, from ASN, to AN&MCAC, 26 June 1934; RG181; NA-NY.]
At first, the new Secretary supported his predecessor's policy of doing as much as possible at minimal expense. Specifically, the navy was to remain ready to expand but kept in a steady state in the meantime. By mid-1934, however, with the commencement of new naval construction, the government adopted a policy of naval growth, marked by a decision to operate in both the Atlantic and Pacific. As to showing the flag abroad, the navy continued to patrol Chinese waters, but Roosevelt did make good on his promised “Good Neighbor” policy of withdrawing from Caribbean interventions by withdrawing American occupation troops from Haiti in 1934. But above all, the U.S. navy grew against the backdrop of the slowly escalating military situation in the Pacific Ocean. Swanson shared Adam's concerns about halting the “weakening” of American naval power relative to other nations. To him, the interests of the United States required a navy inferior to that of no other country. [Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1933; AR, FY 1934; AR, FY 1935; AR, FY 1936; AR, FY 1937.]
One of Swanson’s main difficulties in this period was convincing Congress that an expanding navy needed more enlisted men, a seemingly simple correlation that Congress, he thought, did not appear to understand. At the start of Roosevelt’s first term the navy had 79,700 enlisted men and 5929 officers, which guaranteed less than eighty per cent staffing of the ships then in commission. By the end of fiscal year 1937, under his badgering, Swanson managed to push these numbers up to 100,000 and 6341, which still comprised only eighty-five per cent of a war complement of the then-larger fleet. [On the personnel situation, see Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1933; AR, FY 1934; AR, FY 1937.]
Swanson outlined his political philosophy in his first annual report. While the United States had been a leader in naval disarmament, the time for such unilateral decisions had passed. The American example had not been emulated, and the United States was the only major power lacking a plan to build its navy up to treaty limits. Americans trusted their government, and Swanson thought that because they were literally unable to see for themselves the strategic importance of the fleet at sea, that they might not understand the importance of the navy being built up to treaty limits. In what would eventually become the classic American pro-active stance, the Secretary claimed that “a weakened position doesn't serve the cause of peace, but jeopardizes it, because balanced armament fortifies diplomacy and is an important element in preserving peace and justice, whereas weakness invites aggressive, war-breeding violations of one's right. . . . I believe one of the strongest guarantees for peace and justice is an adequate United States Navy--a treaty navy second to none.” Further, there was a strategic logic to rearming. During the first world war the American naval building program reached maturity too late for its then-new ships to play an important role, as the conflict ended before most of them could be commissioned. In a partially correct bit of prophecizing, Swanson warned that “naval wars are largely fought and decided with fleets existing at the beginning of the conflict.” [Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1933. As to the Secretary’s assertion, as it turned out, the earliest U.S. naval victories which essentially transferred the war's momentum to the U.S., such as Midway, were indeed fought with naval stock in existence as of 7 December 1941.]
Growth is one thing; knowing what to do with your ships is another. One historian, George Baer, sees American navy naval policy in the inter-war period as lacking direction. It marked time and maintained its cohesion by continually modifying strategy for its war games based upon “War Plan Orange,” its plan for taking back the western Pacific after a Japanese conquest, based upon a naval assessment first drawn up in the 1920s of how a Pacific war would probably transpire. Naval staff constantly debated among themselves over what constituted a “balanced fleet,” which before the NIRA and Vinson bills consisted of modernizing battleships and designing plans and doctrines for carriers and submarines. And throughout this period it never relented pushing on Congress and the public the need to build up to treaty limits. [Baer, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890-1990 (Stanford: Stanford U.P., 1994).]Top
The International Naval Treaties UnravelTop
As of the beginning of FDR's administration this was the international naval building situation:
“Number of Ships and their tonnage laid down or appropriated for since 1 January 1922" U. S. 74 330,890 tons U.K. 168 520,845 tons Japan 188 483,262 tons France 200 508,330 tons Italy 147 298,971 tons Source: Secretary of the Navy, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1933.
It was during FDR's first term that the international naval situation began to disintegrate in response to Japan's continued insistence on achieving fleet parity with the other major powers. Smarting under its second-tier naval status, it kept up an active naval shipbuilding program in the 1920s and early 1930s, as had most of the other treaty signatories. In 1932, the Japanese navy was at ninety-five per cent of its allotted strength and much of its tonnage was new, whereas the U.S. had allowed much of its fleet to overage, and it stood at just sixty-five per cent of its treaty-limit size. [Kaufman, Arms Control During the Pre-Nuclear Era: the United States and Naval Limitation between the Two World Wars (New York: Columbia U.P., 1990).]
The naval treaty was set to expire in 1936, so in that year the major powers convened once more in London to negotiate a successor. The U.S. initially proposed abiding by the then-present limitations and ratios as to size and number, with proportional reductions for all, but accord was reached on only a few qualitative items. Overall, the signatories agreed to notify one another and exchange information as to their building plans, and the new treaty permitted countries to withdraw from treaty provisions if they felt their national security threatened by other powers. By July 1937 the U.S., France, U.K., Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand had ratified the treaty. But Japan, pushing for equality with the West and not receiving it, did not sign off on the weak document, thereby making the treaty, for practical international purposes, moot. Concerns about subsequent Japanese capital ship construction, plus the announcement that Great Britain and France would resume construction of battleships prompted Roosevelt that year to authorize the construction of the first American battleships to be built since 1920. [Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1936; AR, FY 1937; Pelz, Race to Pearl Harbor: The Failure of the Second London Naval Conference and the Onset of World War II (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974); Muir, “Rearming in a Vacuum: United States Navy Intelligence and the Japanese Capital Ship Threat, 1936-1945,” The Journal of Military History (October 1990). As to the army, it too suffered from retrenchment in the 1920s, but was much slower to recover in the 1930s. It more nearly fit the stereotype of a sleeping giant on 7 December 1941 than did the navy. Kaufmann and Kaufmann, The Sleeping Giant: American Armed Forces Between the Wars (Westport: Praeger Press, 1996).]
The Course of American Naval Building
In March 1933, commercial and warship production was stagnant. Outside of a handful of cruisers, the recently-authorized destroyers, and a few experimental aircraft carriers, the Hooverian economy measures had left the Navy with few options other than to modernize its vessels, in particular the battleships, and by 1932 nearly all its submarines and destroyers were overaged. Missing the naval repair work that helped tide over the navy yards during the Republican years, private shipyards had almost disappeared as a national industry. In 1920, the U.S. had ranked first in the world in merchant shipbuilding, putting out 450 ships of over 2.3 million gross tons; but by 1935 it could manage less than one percent of the earlier total and private shipyards had to scrape by on what lilttle naval construction work they could acquire. In 1933 this consisted of one carrier, two cruisers, two destroyers, and a submarine. [Kaufman, Arms Control; Mitchell, History of the Modern American Navy: From 1883 Through Pearl Harbor (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946); Whitehurst, The U.S. Shipbuilding Industry: Past, Present, and Future (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986); Jolliff and Schumacher, “The Declining Years (1922-1932),” in King, ed. Naval Engineering and American Seapower (Baltimore: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Co., 1989). It took theMerchant Marine Act of 1936 to revitalize this part of the industry. By 1940, 53 ships of 444,000 tons were produced and in 1945 this had jumped to 1067 ships of 7.6 million tons. Kemble and Kendall, “The Years between the Wars, 1919-1939,” in Kilmarx, ed., America’s Maritime Legacy: A History of the U.S. Merchant Marine Industry Since Colonial Times (Boulder: Westview Press, 1979); Gibson and Donovan, The Abandoned Ocean: A History of United States Maritime Policy (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2000). The source for the naval private yard work is BDE, 31 May 1933.]
The Roosevelt administration and its big-navy allies made naval growth one of its early goals, not only to stengthen the fleet, but also to help relieve unemployment and to stimulate the economy through the requisite material purchases. The buildup came in two steps, one immediate and temporary, the second, a planned program of long-term growth. The first step was found in Title II of the NIRA, which set up the Public Works Administration (PWA), among whose many public-works programs included one for building thirty-two warships worth $238 million, to be divided among public and private shipyards, per the Dallinger Amendment. The second step commenced in 1934 when Congress passed the Vinson-Trammell Act, which authorized the Navy over the following four years to bring itself up to treaty strength with ninety-six new ships, plus over one-thousand aircraft. As the New York Times noted, the bill would create the largest peace-time navy in American history. [Early into the new administration the Eagle editorialized that everyone interested in the fate of the navy yard in Brooklyn had a “keen interest” in Swanson’s wish to build up to treaty limits. It estimated expenditures of $850 million, of which some 85% would go for labor. A naval officer stationed at the navy yard claimed it was 90%. Many local politicians, such as Representative Delaney, of course supported the policy. BDE, 25 March 1933; 7 April 1933; 6 April 1933; Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Hon. John Delaney, 14 June 1934; RG80; NA-DC. Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1934. NYT, 31 January 1934; Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1937. For a physical description of the vessels built under FDR, see McVoy, et al., “The Roosevelt Resurgence (1933-1941),” in King, ed. Naval Engineering.]
Roosevelt's rearmament program was not without its opposition. The popular pacifist argument of the 1920s, that an earlier arms race had brought on the Great War, carried weight well into the 1930s. Private defense production, under suspicion since the Progressive days of the Wilson administration, came under further attack in the Nye Munitions Commission’s multi-faceted critique of the American arms industry. Many peace advocates were also New Dealers, and Roosevelt needed to be careful in how strongly he pushed for naval rebuilding. In addition, the continued demand for reduced taxes inherently favored low defense spending. Ultimately, FDR wanted a navy larger than treaty limits, but politically he was unable to ask Congress for such authorization until after the Japanese attack on Manchuria in July 1937 (and received in the second and third Vinson bills of May 1938 and June 1940). [Senate, Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, “Munitions Industry: Naval Shipbuilding,” 74C, 1s., 1935, esp. section IV. Kaufman, Arms Control.]
The expansion of warship construction intensified the conflict between private and public shipbuilding. The Nye Committee’s recommendation for establishing a Council of American Shipbuilders that would restrict the private yards to merchant work was attacked by the lobbying group for the private sector, the National Council of American Shipbuilders who denied vigorously that the industry posed an incitant to war. Instead, the NCAC argued that it would be a public monopoly on warship production that would increase international tensions because the presure that local political supporters of navy yards could bring upon the government would make it difficult to impossible for it to decrease production if the political need to do so ever arose. [NYT, 8 March 1937. The Nye Committee, as part of its on-going investigations released a report in 1935 that analyzed the competition between the two groups of yards, generally favoring the government yards' as cheaper. The counter position was outlined in the self-published National Council of American Shipbuilders, Commerical Shipyards and the Navy, 1937.]
Organized labor held an ambiguous position toward rearmament at the start of the New Deal. The American Federation of Labor shared the isolationist sympathies of many American citizens, advocating that government resources would be better spent at home, especially in promoting the moribund construction industry. But some of its members, such as the International Association of Machinists, relied heavily on government military work, and at the 1932 AFL convention the IAM asked for a resolution in favor of a big navy. Delegates argued that the U.S. needed always to be able to bargain from a position of strength, and they also called for naval construction as a way to help relieve unemployment. The resolution was dismissed, but a short time later the Executive Council of the AFL turned about and supported the plan. As President William Green said, “Anti-war policies that wipe out men’s jobs without adequate provision for their future are not the way to peace.” A few years later the AFL abandoned its pacifist policy. [Roberts, Putting Foreign Policy to Work: The Role of Organized Labor in American Foreign Relations, 1932-1941 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1995).]
The BNY in the First Year of Roosevelt's Administration
Ultimately, the remedy for the Brooklyn Navy Yard workers’ ills of the previous few years came from the one logical source: increased production. But embarking upon the new building program took time; it was not only a matter of politics, but also one of drafting plans and ordering materials before construction could begin. The speed of the political change was stunning: the NIRA passed in a few months, followed less than a year later by the Vinson-Trammel Act. But the second step was a lengthy process. Bids and estimates for a new ship had to be requested, the award announced, extra drafting and procurement people hired, blueprints drawn and material ordered, all before pre-assembly could begin and the ritual of the keel-laying held, thereby triggering the demand for more craft workers. At the Brooklyn yard, it took almost two years for the work authorized under the new administration to bring about a rise in the numbers of employees working in all grades. But then, between 1934 and 1936, the Yard’s workforce nearly doubled.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1933, the Navy Department placed one-third of the U.S. fleet and its personnel on rotating reserve, and Secretary Swanson complained in his annual report of the lack of funding for repairs and modernization. ASN Roosevelt warned the Brooklyn Commandant of “drastic curtailment of activities both ashore and afloat,” to come and that, except for emergencies, the Pensacola, then in the Yard, might be its last overhaul for the foreseeable future, and that he should therefore stabilize his workforce accordingly. [NYT, 21 April 1933; Kaufman, Arms Control; Letter, ASN Roosevelt, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 3 June 1933; RG19; NA-DC.]
Building Warships for the Public Works Administration
President Roosevelt initiated negotiations over what eventually became the National Industrial Recovery Act in response to the House of Representative’s passing of a work-spreading bill limiting the work week to thirty-hours. The President considered the legislation inadequate because by merely spreading the available work it just spread the available money, thereby doing nothing to increase production. In place of the bill, Roosevelt and Congress brought together the various submitted recovery measures and cobbled them together as the NIRA. Title I mandated the drawing up of industry codes in the private sector, which included keeping a thirty-hour week and legalizing worker self-representation in its famous 7(a) section. Title II established the $3.3 billion Public Works Administration program, which allotted $238 million dollars for naval shipbuilding. Local reaction was favorable; the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a long-time booster of the local navy yard editorialized its approval. [On the “ Hundred Days” in general, see: Davis, FDR, the New Deal Years, 1933-37: A History (New York: Random House, 1986); Leuchtenberg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (New York: Harper & Row, 1963); McElvaine, The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941 (New York: Times Books, 1984); Kennedy, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Bernstein, Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941 (Houghton Mifflin Co.: Boston, 1970). On organized labor and the NIRA, see Vittoz, New Deal Labor Policy and the American Industrial Economy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987). In short order the Eagle thought the amount appropriated to help modernize the navy as “not too much,” and would not complicate any disarmament programs, while bringing the country closer to its treaty limits and providing employment to many shipyard workers in both public and private yards. Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 18 June 1933.]
On the day of NIRA's passage, 16 June 1933, President Roosevelt issued an executive order releasing the naval construction funds. These paid for thirty-two warships to be built over the next three years: four cruisers; sixteen light destroyers; four heavy destroyers; four submarines; two gunboats; and two aircraft carriers. Secretary Swanson called the funding the “outstanding event of the year for the Navy,” and acknowledged that this, the largest shipbuilding program since 1916, would help revive commercial, industrial, and agricultural activity, as the producers and fabricators of raw material would equally split the benefits with the shipyards. Not just coastal areas but “every State [would] benefit.” Eighty-five per cent of the money would go directly into labor's pockets, the Secretary claimed, providing “steady employment for thousands of workmen in that most highly specialized industry of shipbuilding, in both private and public yards.” The bill allotted approximately three-fourths of the funds for hull and machinery work, to be divided between the private and public shipyards, and the rest for armor, armament, and ammunition, the former to be supplied by the large steel companies, the latter two by government plants. [E.O.: "The Administrator . . . shall prepare a comprehensive program of public works, which shall include among other things . . . if in the opinion of the President it seems desirable, the construction of naval vessels within the terms and/or limits established by the London Naval Treaty of 1930. . . ." Sec. 202, “Title II - Public Works and Construction Projects”; “ National Industrial Recovery Act; An Act To Encourage National Industrial Recovery, to Foster Fair Competition, and to Provide for the Construction of Certain Useful Public Work, and for Other Purposes, June 16, 1933. “ Reprinted in: Hosen, The Great Deal and the New Deal: Legislative Acts in their Entirety (1932-1933) and Statistical Data (1926-1946) (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., Inc., 1992).] [ Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Hon. John J. Delaney, 14 June 1934; RG80; NA-DC; Joint Letter, Bureau of Construction and Repair, Bureau of Engineering, to the Bureau(s of Navigation, Yards and Docks, Supplies and Accounts, Ordinance, Aeronautics, 8 July 1933. All in RG181; NA-NY.]
Concurrently, Congress approved funding for four destroyers from a 1916 authorization and one cruiser from the 1929 Coolidge program. [One heavy cruiser and 5 light cruisers remained from the 1929 appropriation. The modernization of the final three battleships was also finished early on in the first term. Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1933.] As soon as the bills passed, lobbying for the ships began. By 19 June the Eagle noted that the BNY’s Metal Trades Council had already spoken with Senator Wagner and Representative Delaney about getting their fair share of the work and that they would confer on the matter with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. Specifically, they wanted the diesel engines for the two gunboats, an aircraft carrier, and the one naval-appropriations cruiser, CL40. Because it was a “sister ship" of ones already underway it would require no lengthy lead time for drawing up plans before production could begin, as would be the case for any of the PWA-financed cruisers, which were of a different class. [BDE, 15 June 1933; 19 June 1933.]
On 3 August 1933, the Navy Department announced the formal awards for the thirty-seven vessels; the BNY received contracts for one of the gunboats and one of the PWA light cruisers, CL44. At the end of the month the PWA also granted $849,000 to the Yard for improvements to its power plant, drydock cranes, and other items. As part of the overall program, the Navy designated various private yards as “control” yards for different types of vessels, that is, responsible for drawing up the initial plans: Camden-based New York Shipbuilding for the light cruisers; the Staten Island United Dry Docks for the destroyers, Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, for the submarines, and for the gunboats it chose the Brooklyn Navy Yard. [These gunboats were not river steamers a là Sand Pebbles but an experimental warship of about 2000 tons, bigger than a destroyer but smaller than a cruiser, designed primarily as an alternative way to make better use of the navy's treaty tonnage limit.] In addition, as we shall see, most importantly for navy yard construction over the next two years, the BNY’s Central Drafting Office was designated as the clearinghouse for all navy yard-built surface ships. The CDO was to take the basic plans drawn up by the private yards and expand upon and adapt them before being passing them on to the navy yards. At once, the Commandant began submitting requests for new positions, from naval architects and draftsmen, to stenographers and clerks. Each navy yard set up separate accounts for the PWA work, distinct from those for its normal naval appropriations. [The announcement of the gunboat Erie going to Brooklyn had actually been made earlier, on 21 June 1933. BDE, 21 June 1933; 3 August 1933; 30 August 1933. See for ship awards. The BNY requisitioned 83 positions for the CDO on 4 August and 26 more on 10 August. Letter, ASN (NYD), to the Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 18 August 1933; Joint Letter, Bureau of Construction and Repair, and Bureau of Engineering, to the Commandants, all Navy Yards, et al., 10 August 1933; Letter, Commandant, to the ASN(NYD), 10 August 1933. Both in RG181; NA-NY. Note: as stated previously, the CDO was a separate administrative office within the New York Navy Yard, directly answerable to the Commandant. Memo, Commandant, to Officer-in-Charge, CDO (C&R Division) and O-i-C, CDO (Eng. Division), 29 April 1936; RG19; NA-DC; Memo, Commandant, to The Heads of Departments, Divisions and Offices, 24 June 1933; Memo, Accounting Division, to Planning Officer, Public Works Officer, Supply Officer, 6 July 1933. The Navy was particularly interested in using the awards to keep seven private yards from going under, and did all it could to discourage bidding on NIRA ships from other private businesses. The yards were: Bethlehem in Quincy, Massachusetts; New York Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey; Bath Shipbuilding, in Bath, Maine; Federal Shipbuilding, in Kearny, New Jersey; United Shipbuilding, on Staten Island; Newport New Shipbuilding, in Newport News, Virginia, and Electric Boat, in Groton, Connecticut. Levine, “Politics of American Naval Rearmament,” Ph. D. diss., Harvard University, 1972.]
Shortly before this, on 26 July 1933, President Roosevelt approved the NIRA Code for the shipbuilding and repair industry. As one writer observed, the Title I code covering shipbuilding was to be a “showcase” for government goals for reviving the industrial sector, especially in its standards for fair competition, and wages and hours. This code, which included the 7(a) clause as to worker representation, did not apply to the navy yards. As we have seen, the wage-and-hours history of the navy yards in these years was quite another story. But the NIRA code created the foundation upon which the more massive Vinson-Trammell shipbuilding would be built upon. Although the code mandated minimum wage rates that varied geographically, giving official imprimatur to regional discrimination, it did give the industry and its workers enough stability to allow a new, CIO union to emerge after 1933, the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, one that would by the end of the decade raise wages to above those of the navy yards, as well as attempt to challenge the AFL unions for supremacy in their old strongholds.[Note on paragraph above: “Code of Fair Competition of the Shipbuilding and Ship Repairing Industry, as approved by President Roosevelt on July 26, 1933.” Copy in RG181; NA-NY. As the Code made clear, the private shipbuilding industry had been in deep trouble since 1918 because of “a great overcapacity of physical facilities which are a heritage of the War.” Its workers were no better off. Using 1929 as a base of 100, by 1933 employment stood at 47.4 and payroll at 29.6. The Code limited workers on merchant-ship contracts to an average of thirty-six hours a week over a six-month period (and no more than forty hours in any one week), and they had to be paid at least time-and-a-half for work over eight hours in a day. On government contracts the Code mandated a thirty-two-hour week, with the same over-time provision. It set the minimum wage at $.45/hour for the North, and $.35 for the South. Casual labor, to be paid at eighty per cent of the minimum, was limited to eight per cent of the total workforce of skilled and semi-skilled workers, and minors under sixteen were prohibited from working in the industry. In addition, Roosevelt issued an executive order on 10 August requiring that all contracts entered into by the federal government or its agencies for any supplies "mined, produced, or manufactured in the United States" be made with contractors who will comply with all applicable fair competition codes for the particular industry, or if there were none, then with the provisions of the president's Reemployment Agreement. Contractors failing to live up to the contract risked termination of the contract and would be held liable for any additional costs the government accrued in fulfilling the contract elsewhere. "Executive Order, Administration of the NIRA, 10 August 1933," received in New York Navy Yard 15 August, 1933; RG181; NA-NY. On the drawing up of the NIRA codes, see Davis, FDR; Leuchtenberg, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Levine, “Politics of American Naval Rearmament.” After the Supreme court declared Title I unconstitutional, the government renewed direct intervention in the private sector’s labor policies as to work on government contracts with the Walsh-Healey Act. In mid-July the Eagle reported that Brooklyn’s private shipbuilding industry employed some 3000 in seven large plants and about 1000 more in smaller places. The shops were working 8-hour days, six-day weeks except for half-Saturdays in July and August, and were mostly open-shop. The numbers though were deceiving. In the previous year some trades had averaged only one day a week of work. The paper (before the Code was printed) estimated a possible 20% increase in jobs, provided the work was there. Laborers were already receiving the minimum Code-wage, and many trades such as the machinists and electricians were receiving 64 cents per hour (significantly below the posted navy yard rates of 92¢ and 98¢ per hour). An organization of Brooklyn shipyard workers called the Steel and Metal Workers’ Industrial Union were not happy with the code when first proposed and sent a delegation to Washington to testify at the Code hearings. They feared that the ship companies would institute the minimum wage for all builders, mechanics included. They countered with a 30-hour week with a $20 minimum weekly wage for laborers (the code provided for $16), unemployment insurance, the right to organize, no hiring under 16, no racial/ethnic discrimination, and a guarantee of 40 weeks’ work per year, and in addition, accused the AFL of a lack of support of their agenda. BDE, 13 July 1933; 17 July 1933; 27 July 1933. On the labor history of the private shipyards in this period, see the two works by David Palmer, “Organizing the Shipyards: Unionization at New York Ship, Federal Ship, and Fore River, 1898-1945,” Ph.D. diss. (Brandeis University, 1990), and Organizing the Shipyards: Union Strategy in Three Northeast Ports, 1933-1945 (Ithaca: ILR Press, 1998).]
The Problem of ProductionTop
The appropriation bills were passed and the ships awarded but it would still take at least a year before the navy yards could actually start building. Not until the second half of 1934 did the Brooklyn Navy Yard's employment reports show the beginning of a permanent rise in the trades' numbers (2033 to 2305). In the summer of 1933, Yard employees had to make do with what they had. The mechanical and ordnance shops stayed busy as they now moved in to finish the cruiser New Orleans, launched on 11 April--the first of Roosevelt’s administration, but not so for the hull shops, who lost jobs as the ship made its controlled fall into the East River. In its place the Yard had only the destroyer Hull, its keel-laying occurring almost simultaneously with FDR's inauguration, but at only one-fifth the cruisers's size, not enough to pick up the employment slack. Its sister ship, the Dale, did not have its own keel-laying until February 1934, when it replaced the Hull on the building ways. Pre-assembly began on the the gunboat Erie in the summer of 1934 and only minimal pre-assembly on the newly-awarded cruiser by the end of 1934. These latter two vessels did not receive their ceremonial first rivets until December 1934 and March 1935, respectively. [The New Orleans was launched in front of an audience of 5000 that included the president’s mother and the Assistant Secretary. Later, at a celebratory dinner the Metal Trades Council hosted Henry Roosevelt, who returned the favor by calling for new ship construction at the Yard. BDE, 12 April 1933; 13 April. A fair amount of pre-assembly could be done on a ship before its keel was laid, which is generally considered the official start of a ship. Both the Erie’s and the cruiser’s hull work were listed as being about twenty percent completed at the time of their launch. Ship repair and construction work at the BNY is chronicled on a weekly, later monthly, basis, from May 1934 through June 1937. “United States Navy Yard, New York, New York, Weekly (Monthly as of September 1935) News Letter,” in RG80; NA-DC.]
So, in the first year of Roosevelt’s administration the Brooklyn Navy Yard had to get by with finishing the New Orleans, building one destroyer up to the launching stage and prepping another, and with what repair work it could finagle. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle mused in June 1933 that the Navy must be planning to assign more work to the Yard by winter, but H. Roosevelt acknowledged the possibility that the Brooklyn yard could shortly lose up to one thousand workers. [BDE, 23 June 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to James A. Farley, Chairman, Democratic National Committee, DC, 30 October 1933; RG80; NA-DC.]
All through the summer and fall of 1933 lay the specter of the upcoming winter. Newly- appointed Commandant Yates Stirling [6/30/1933], concerned about the possible future layoffs wrote to the Navy Department to make suggestions and obtain guidance. He noted that work on the New Orleans and destroyers then provided employment for some 925 and 250 people respectively. But the cruiser would be needing fewer personnel as it came closer to its commissioning date in February 1934 and no repair work had yet been scheduled to fill in the resultant employment gap. Work on the Erie would not start until March 1934, and even by that July would provide no more than 300 jobs. Stirling proposed that the Yard be assigned a NIRA-cruiser (this was shortly before the awards were made), or that they get cruiser #40 (from the 1929 program), which would allow for construction to begin more quickly. Stirling also asked that the Yard build the two sets of engines for the NIRA-submarines, worth 400 jobs, or get one of the remaining battleship modernizations. But even in the best-case scenario, the Yard still faced winter layoffs of two to three months for at least 200 people. ["Report on Yard's Work," 1 July 1933; Letter, Commandant (Yates Stirling, jr.), to ASN(NYD), 7 July 1933; RG181; NA-NY.]
Nevertheless, public pressure was heavy in the summer of 1933 to hire as many people as possible in the Brooklyn yard, as well as in all the country's navy yards, despite any forebodings as to available future work. As a first step, near the end of July, the Navy Department revoked the maximum employment limits of its stabilization policy, propagated at the end of 1931. Still, it seemed to the BNY's public supporters as if the Department was not as concerned as it should have been with assigning work to Brooklyn. The Yard’s Boilermakers local angrily passed on a rumor to their Congressman that boilers for the Erie were scheduled to be made elsewhere, to which the ASN replied that it was too early for such decisions to have been made. In a more substantive complaint, the Brooklyn Metal Trade Council grieved the Department’s decision to relocate, after nineteen years, diesel submarine engine construction out of Brooklyn. The Department replied that it was going with a new type of engine for the four NIRA submarines, switching from diesel engines to electric engines powered by diesel-generators, and would therefore be buying them from a company that already was making them. As a partial consolidation, Brooklyn would continue to manufacture spare parts. [Memo, Commandant, to The Heads of Departments, Divisions, and Offices Employing Civilian Personnel, 25 July 1933; RG181; NA-NY; BDE, 24 July 1933; Letter, Markgraf, Secretary Lodge #23, Brooklyn, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, to William Brunner, House of Representatives, 8 July 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Rep. Brunner, 13 July 1933. Boiler construction would eventually be assigned as it was normally done: components bought outside and assembled in the Yard. Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Congressman Stephen A. Rudd, 13 October 1933; Letter, Rep. Emanuel Celler, to Claude A. Swanson, 10 August 1933; Memo, Bureau of Engineering, to ASN(NYD), 19 August 1933; Letter, Swanson to Rep. Celler, 21 August 1933; All in RG80; NA-DC. The relocation of the engine work had another repercussion. Plans to build a new foundry to replace the one built in 1865 were put on hold. Memo, Bureau of Construction and Repair, Bureau of Engineering, to Senior Member, Board for Development of Navy Yard Plans, 31 January 1934; RG19; NA-DC.]
In mid-August, the Secretary of the Navy let the commandants of the navy yards know that he expected them to “take full advantage of the availability of funds for new construction under the NIRA [so] to provide employment to the greatest possible extent at the earliest practicable date.” Layoffs were to stop and additional personnel taken on as necessary. Swanson instructed them to survey their yards as to how best to implement his directive and report back to him. A few days later the Secretary wrote to each Commandant personally to stress how essential it was to hire people quickly. While acknowledging that the construction was a public-works project he reminded the COs that naval values had to be maintained: "The keystone on which the foundation of this program was built is unemployment relief. The Department's policy on this foundation is a '4 E slogan': (a) Employment, (b) Efficiency, (c) Economy, (d) Expedition. . . . You're to carry out the spirit of the NIRA in every practicable way, . . . [even if it] may mean changes in some standard procedures now in force.” As the effects of naval supply orders amplified into the general economy by a multiplier factor of four, “if proper attention is given this matter it is believed that real progress can be made immediately toward the relief of the unemployed directly and indirectly concerned with the shipbuilding industry.” To help, the Department approved all outstanding CDO positions in the New York Navy Yard, with the order that applicants first be drawn from the Yard's layoff pool. Apparently the navy yards took the Secretary at his word, for one week later Swanson found it necessary to clarify that what he had really intended was for each navy yard to elimidate its furlough list as quickly as was practicable; yards were to maintain overall levels near to those of 1 July. This revised order did not apply to Brooklyn’s CDO. [Letter, ASN(NYD), to Commandant [s of all navy yards], 12 August 1933; Memo, Commandant, to Heads of Departments, Divisions, and Offices, 18 August 1933; Letter, ASN(NYD), to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 18 August 1933; Letter, ASN(NYD), to Commandant [s of all navy yards], 24 August 1933. All in RG181; NA-NY.]
Brooklyn’s response to the survey detailed the strengths of each shop, particularly as to what work could be started immediately without plans so as to save some of the jobs that would be lost with the New Orleans’s completion. Certain shops, such as Inside Machine, Pattern, Woodworking, the Foundry, and Flag and Sail Loft were most in need of work. The Shipfitters, Pipe, and Sheetmetal shops, finishing up the cruiser, would shortly feel the crunch. The electricians, painters, and ordnance machinists would work right up to the ship's commission before facing layoffs. As a partial remedy, Captain Dungan, the Manager, stated that he would draw up preliminary allowance lists for goods that could be manufactured before final lists were authorized (a technical violation of the law). Such goods ranged from mattresses, curtains, towels, and tarpaulins to keep the Flag and Loft Shop busy, to valves, gear parts, air ports, drains, universal joints for the inside machinists, whose shop then was at about half-strength. Many other shops could also produce minor items. He also recommended keeping more items on stock than was previously the rule. Dungan reiterated the now-familiar warning about winter layoffs and stressed that future employment in the Yard depended on the timely receipt of plans and materials. In fact, the “actual building of vessels is simple in comparison with the efforts required to produce the working plans and to procure materials by the time they are needed to carry out the building schedule.” This was the bottleneck. Organization was everything. Acquiring a drafting and clerical force of sufficient size was the Yard’s primary need in the short term. [Letter, Commandant (P.B. Dungan, to ASN(NYD), 1 September 1933; RG181; NA-NY.]
At the end of September 1933, Henry Roosevelt came to the BNY to meet with the Commandant and Representative Delaney, and there he proclaimed publicly that design plans were progressing as quickly as possible, that orders for material had been placed, and that the Navy and the government were doing everything they could to help relieve unemployment. There was truth to the Secretary’s claim; a week earlier the two main construction bureaus had released over a half-million dollars of NRA money to the Yard. However, Sterling felt the need to remind everyone a short time later that it would still be some six months before substantial work could begin. [BDE, 20 September 1933; Telegram, Bureau of Engineering, Bureau of Construction and Repair, to Navy Yard, New York, 22 September 1933; RG181; NA-NY; NYT, 30 September 1933.]
However modest the beginnnings of the new naval building program, so many people besieged the BNY's Labor Board looking for work that in August 1933 its Recorder (chief civilian clerk) asked management to approve another position in the office to help handle the flood of applicants. The request was turned down for lack of funds, forcing the Labor Board to close its office to job seekers wanting applications and instead open up counter windows for their disbursal. [Memo, Senior Member, Labor Board, 10 August 1933; Letter, Commandant, to ASN(NYD), 18 August 1933; Letter, Secretary of the Navy, to Commandant, 24 August 1933; Memo, Senior Member, Labor Board, to Recorder, Labor Board, 18 August 1933; Letter, District Manager, 2nd U.S. C.S. District, to Commandant, Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY, 23 August 1933. All in RG181; NA-NY. A year later, according to the Eagle, a call for 70 apprentices brought 1500 young men to the Yard’s employment gate the first day. Some 5000 went on to file applications, 3500 took the civil service test and 3200 passed, 41 with perfect 100 scores. The Yard went on to hire 26 in October. BDE, 22 July 1934; 19 January 1935.]
Pushing the NIRA
Government pressure to fulfill NIRA goals came in many forms, from the relatively mundane of encouraging BNY employees and officers to sign cards pledging to patronize only those businesses abiding by the NRA code, to having workers parade in support of it. On Wednesday, 13 September 1933, some 2300 navy yard employees joined one-quarter million others in marching up Fifth Avenue in support of the National Industrial Recovery Act. President Roosevelt himself reviewed the procession at 42nd Street, and listened to the various groups sing lyrics written for the occasion. Newspapers reported that the spectacle stretched into the night, as the masses trouped up the boulevard. In order for them to attend, the Commandant closed the Yard that day substituting the Monday before as a workday in its place (the Yard having just gone on the alternate 5.5 work-day/4.5 work-day cycle). The parade was a great success and the Commandant thanked the men and women from the Yard who smartly walked up the Avenue. However, many Yard workers were not pleased about the prospect of marching, as the request came hard on the repeal of the extra 17 percent pay cut. But the AFL Metal Trades felt so strongly about supporting the NIRA that John Frey, the MTD Secretary publicly rebuked the Brooklyn Metal Trades Council, telling them not to let their present problems make them lose sight of the greater picture, and in so many words ordered them to march. [Leuchtenberg, Franklin D. Roosevelt; McElvaine, Great Depression; “Commandant's Order No. 1,” from Commandant, New York Navy Yard, 8 September 1933 “Notice, NIRA Parade” from Commandant, 15 September 1933; RG181; NA-NY. The BDE had extensive coverage of the parade including a list of the groups participating: 12 September 1933; 13 September 1933; 14 September 1933. Letter, Steers, National Recovery Administration, Brooklyn Women's Campaign, 18 September 1933; RG181; NA-NY; Letter, Frey, Mahoney, Secy., Navy Yard Metal Trades Council, 5 September 1933; RG181; NA-NY.]
Naval construction itself was used to invoke NIRA goals. For instance, if a navy yard received any PWA money to purchase items, they had to be bought locally; the use of convict labor in the manufacture of said items was prohibited; and dealers’ records had to be open to Federal inspectors. All subcontractors were obligated similarly, and if a breach of contract occurred contractors were accountable for the excess cost the government incurred finishing the contract elsewhere. Private business did receive one benefit at workers' expense through the NIRA program. In March 1934, it was brought to the government's attention that the provision in the law concerning wages on government contracts--that they be “just and reasonable and sufficient to provide for the hours of labor as limited [to 30 hours] a standard of living in decency and comfort”--conflicted with the Davis-Bacon Act, which in turn stated that on contracts worth over $5000 for the “construction, alteration, and/or repair of any public buildings” that the contractor had to pay prevailing wages [read union wages in organized areas]. The government responded by suspending Davis-Bacon. [Letter, ASN(NYD), to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 6 October 1933; Letter, Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, to Commandants of Navy Yards and Stations, All Supply Officers Ashore, 17 October 1933; Letter, Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, to Commandants, Navy Yards, (et al.), 24 March 1934; (has h/w note that this suspended by ALNAV 21 on 1 June 1935); Letter, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, to Commandants, Navy Yards, Naval Districts, 22 June 1934; All in RG181; NA-NY. These and other NIRA-related directives would lapse with the law being declared unconstitutional in mid-1935. For Davis-Bacon, see Public No. 798, March 3 1931.]
Lobbying for the cruiser BrooklynTop
While the Navy Department was under pressure to hire people as quickly as possible, there were limits as to just how far the Navy could be pushed when it came to basic scheduling and production decisions even if it meant violating the law, such as in the case of awarding the contract for the cruiser Brooklyn. Before the formal awards of the thirty-seven ships were made, Representatives William F. Brunner, of Queens, and John J. Delaney, of Brooklyn and in whose district the Yard lay, met with the Commandant and Manager and then left for Washington to seek work for the Yard in general, and to lobby for [the 1929] cruiser CL40 specifically. The congressmen considered it inappropriate that with some 200 Yard workers then on furlough, the work in some shops still staggered, and some employees still on a three-day- work-week, that the navy yard should wait the lengthy period it would take for plans for a PWA-financed light cruiser to reach the Yard. They too spoke of the Yard’s capability of building the diesels, and echoed local concerns about the impending winter layoffs. [NYT, 7 July 1933; BDE, 7 July 1933. Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1933. Lobbying for CL40 had begun well before the NIRA was passed. See: BDE, 17 March 1933.]
In effect, they, and many other interested parties who wrote and lobbied, were asking the Department to strip the ship contract away from one yard and give it to another, theirs. CL39 had been awarded to the Bethlehem Shipping Company in Quincy, Massachusetts, in January as part of one of the previous cruiser appropriations. CL40, as a sister-ship would be built from the same construction plans, and as it was therefore efficient to build them both together, the New England yard received the second cruiser in the August awards. It was CL39's plans that Brooklyn’s proponents wanted a copy of so that the Yard could start in on CL40 immeditately. But there was more than plain desperate competition here. Upon hearing that Bethlehem won the contract for CL40, the Brooklyn Metal Trade Council claimed, correctly, that the award was a mistake in that the 1929 authorization mandated this vessel be built in a navy yard. They also, again, broached the prevailing fears about the projected winter thousand-plus layoffs. [The lobbyists represented various groups; see various samples such as: Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, ASN, to John Hall, President, Evergreen Civic Association Inc., Queens, 6 September 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Thomas Murtha, Secretary, Theatrical Stage Employees, Local #4, Brooklyn, 13 September 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Fernand P DeGroof, Recording Secretary, Whitestone Boosters Civic Association, Whitestone, LI, 3 October 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Gustav A. Stumpf, President, Brooklyn Teachers Association, Brooklyn; 3 October 1933; All in RG80; NA-DC.]
In response the Navy Department hit upon a legal if deceptive solution. It recalled the awards on the two vessels, reversed their designations, and then re-awarded the actual ships as before: Brooklyn’s cruiser was now to be known as CL40 and Bethlehem’s as CL44. As such, Brooklyn’s ship was removed from the NIRA budget and reassigned to the regular naval appropriation account. The Department further placated local interests by agreeing to modify its cities-only naming policy for cruisers and call CL40 the Brooklyn, thereby remedying the Department’s slight in giving BNY's previous cruiser the name of a Southern city. To the local yard’s supporters, the re-awarding was a victory, but in reality it was just a budgeting slight-of-hand. CL44 went ahead in Quincy as originally scheduled as a sister-ship to CL39, but budgeted to the PWA, and the now-CL40 remained a member of the new class of cruisers that the PWA funding introduced, although assigned to the regular naval appropriations, and its keel would not be laid down on one of Brooklyn’s building ways until March 1935. [BDE, 13 June 1933; 1 September 1933; 7 September 1933; Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1934; AR, FY 1935; BDE, 3 August 1933; 4 August 1933; 13 January 1934; BDE, 26 August 1934. See Friedman, U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1984), for a description of this new class of cruisers, which also included the Helena and the Honolulu.]
The Winter of 1934Top
By the end of October 1933, the Navy Department projected that the BNY’s ship-building schedule would provide construction jobs for 1750 to 2250 people for 2½ years, but that the work would not begin soon enough to prevent the predicted thousand-person winter layoffs. At the break of the new year, on hearing that the Department had no repair work scheduled for the navy yard for January or February the New York Times and the Eagle went so far as to report an impending layoff of 1500 workers. Even AFL President William Green pleaded to the President to send more work to Brooklyn. The Yard did receive a bonus in late January 1934 when the Treasury Department accepted the Navy’s estimates for building seven Coast Guard cutters. Two went to Brooklyn, the other five to Philadelphia. When asked by the Eagle when work on them, providing 800 jobs, could proceed, the Manager, in what appears by now to be a routine pattern of underestimation, said the upcoming summer. But it was the summer of 1935 before construction began in earnest on them and September 1935 before their keels were laid side-by-side in Drydock 2. [Letter, ASN(NYD), to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 31 October 1933; RG181; NA-NY; NYT, 4 January 1934; BDE, 4 January 1934; 11 January 1934; NYT, 9 February 1934. “Notes, Commandant's Conference,” 5 December 1933; 9 January 1934; RG181; NA-NY; BDE, 28 January 1934; “Monthly News Letter,” United States Navy Yard, New York, NY,16 September 1935; RG80; NA-DC. The Brooklyn Navy Yard thus built five smaller vessels in the late Hoover/early FDR period: two destroyers at 1395 tons each, a gunboat and two cutters, each of about 2000 tons before once more turning to the 10,000 ton cruisers, 35,000 and 45,000 ton battleships, and 27,000 to 45,000 ton carriers as its primary construction through the end of World War II. (Some minor craft would be built during the second world war.)]
In the meantime, the layoffs began. It appears that the number of layoffs did not reach the maximum forecast. The overall employment figures show a loss of some 141 positions from 31 December 1933 to 31 March 1934, and then a gain of 237 jobs by 30 June 1934, marking the beginning of a three-year rise in the employment levels. As should be expected, the IVb force, which included the CDO staff, actually increased their numbers in this period, by seven per cent. But this was more than countered by the trades’ loss of six percent of their larger workforce, leaving the Yard with a net loss of 141 over the three-month period. But these are only two aggregate figures. Much could happen in three months as to personnel being let go and rehired, and from a look at the reports the Yard filed it seems that the Brooklyn Navy Yard did come close to losing 1000 workers for some short period of time. In a report to the ASN on 10 January 1934 the Commandant forecast the Yard placing 367 production workers on indefinite leave without pay in January, 199 the following month, and 53 in March, for a total of 619, to be joined by 125 workers in the Public Works Department. (It is not clear if the layoffs of the latter was directly related to the lack of production work or to parsimony in general.) The Yard also planned to discharge 177 temporaries outright. This, added to 90 placed on indefinite leave in December brings the total up to 834 permanent employees lost for some period of time (and over 1000, if the temporaries are included), most due to the completion of the New Orleans, which was commissioned in February 1934. Part of the reason these numbers do not show up in the quarterly totals is that civil service regulations required agencies to keep furloughed workers on the rolls up to one year. The Commandant lists a roll of 4051 on 10 January 1934, of which 3304 were I-IVa. Of these, 200 were on leave without pay and 40 on rotative leave, for a total of 3064 in this group “actually working.” [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(NYD), 10 January 1934; RG181; NA-NY. “Leave without pay” was for workers who were expected to be brought back within 30 days; “indefinite leave without pay” was for those kept on the rolls who were not expected to be brought back within that time, but whom the Yard did not wish to outright discharge for lack of work or funds. On the one year rule, see USCSC, Civil Service Act and Rules: Statutes, Executive Orders and Regulations, amended to June 30, 1939 (Washington: GPO, 1939).]
However, not all changes in the Yard’s employment level at this time were negative. In the same memo detailing the layoffs the Commandant also stated that since December some 100 men from various trades had been called back to do finishing-up work on the cruiser and to manufacture turbine blading for the new destroyers. In mid-February, the Commandant reported to the House Naval Affairs Committee that the Yard had hired 307 new workers since the NIRA was passed. Of the 216 workers on furlough and the 249 on part-time as of 1 August, all 249 had reverted to full-time status, and of the laid-off employees, 108 had returned, 8 were still out, and the rest had been discharged. The Commandant claimed that 94 employees, including 66 draftsmen, had retained their positions, rather than be let go, specifically because of NIRA work on the Erie, and another 20, of whom 16 were draftsmen, remained at their tables to work on the Brooklyn. But there were now 300 on indefinite leave and he expected 120 more to join them in the next two months. This was about one-half the previous month’s prediction, though. [Letter, Commandant, to ASN(NYD), 10 January 1934; Joint Letter, Bureau of Construction and Repair and Bureau of Engineering, to Commandants, Navy Yards, [et al], 30 January 1934; Letter, Commandant, to Chief of Bureau of Construction and Repair, Chief of Bureau of Engineering, 13 February 1934; RG181; NA-NY.] Such were the frustrations for the average BNY worker in the winter of 1934; without enough steady work one tradesman could walk out the Yard’s gate having just been furloughed for lack of work in his trade, and perhaps consider applying for a Civil Works Administration job to hold him over, only to see another worker previously on layoff coming in to resume work. In terms of employment, Hoover’s pacifism and parsimony were still having their effects a year later.
But there may be another reason why the presumed number of layoffs did not reach one thousand, but topped off at about 600 production workers in March: official tolerance of make-work. At one point in the notes of the Commandant’s Conference of 9 January 1934, Captain Simmers, the new Manager, and Commandant Stirling discuss costs. The former mentions, almost in passing, that “there are so many ways to lose money, for example, by piling men on the ship to clear the ways for the next ship.” Stirling replies, “We’re doing that primarily to employ more men? Then [sic] think should charge the extra money to NIRA.” The conversation veers elsewhere after that. [The figure of 600 layoffs is from: Letter, Commandant, to Chiefs of Bureau of Construction and Repair, and Engineering, 4 March 1935. A work schedule was not found for these months. “Notes,” Commandant's Conference, 9 January 1934. Both in RG181; NA-NY.] Looking at the ships’ construction schedule there does seem to be some tentative evidence to support that this happened. There is a 50-week gap between the time the Dale’s keel is laid and its launch, while the gap for the Hull, its earlier-built sister-ship is 47 weeks. The Hull was launched on 31 January 1934, and its place on the ways officially taken by the Dale on 10 February. This is the period of time in which the Commandant and the Manager are talking. [As to the timing of the two vessels’ construction up to launch, of course there could be many other reasons to account for their differences. This observation is offered only for what worth it has as a complement to the two officers’ remarks in the aforementioned “Notes.”]
But the bottom of the job trough had been reached by the beginning of spring 1934, even if, as it is clear in other reports that the Commandant had to file, a significant increase was still the better part of a year away. In a response to NIRA administrators’ desire to know the proposed number of trades workers and their approximate peak period of work, the Commandant drew up the following chart.
Projected Trades’ Employment Schedule as of early 1934 Trade Approx. # at Peak Approx. Time of Peak Draftsmen 108 1/34 - 6/36 Loftsmen 65 5/34 - 9/35 Welders 216 11/34 - 11/35 Shipfitters 200 1/35 - 11/35 Anglesmiths 5 4/35 Plate & angle furnacemen 3 4/35 Chippers/caulkers 70 5/35 - 12/35 Sheetmetal workers 140 5/35 - 12/35 Coppersmiths 95 6/35 - 1/36 Riveters 30 6/35 - 12/35 Pipefitters 170 7/35 - 1/36
In another report to the construction Bureaus, Stirling estimated the maximum force needed for the Erie to be 650, to peak in November 1935, and a maximum of about 1300, to peak in May 1936, for the Brooklyn. The CDO would require another 145 people to handle the work. [Letter, ASN(NYD), to Commandant [of all Navy Yards], 9 December 1933; RG181; NA-NY. The chart on the trades is reordered to place them in their chronological order of need. Letter, Commandant, to ASN(NYD), 5 January 1934; Letter, Commandant, to Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, Chief of the Bureau of Engineering, 13 February 1934; RG181:NA-NY.]
List of NIRA-Authorized Vessels and Shipyards Assigned Them
Source: "Ships Under NIRA," in Letter, Inspector of Naval Material (H.I. Thompson), to Commandant (s of the navy yards), (and others), 20 September 1933; RG181; NA-NY.
Additional non-NIRA ships authorized at the same time in brackets. Source: SN, ARFY 1934.
Navy Yards Boston: DD370, 371 Charleston: PG51 Mare Island: DD378, 379 New York: PG50; [CL40]* Norfolk: DD374, 375 Philadelphia: CL41; DD372, 373 Portsmouth: submarines 172, 173 Puget Sound: DD376, 377
Private Yards Newport News, VA: CV5, 6 New York Shipbuilding, Camden, NJ: CL42, 43; DD356-359 Electric Boat, Groton, CT: submarines 174, 175 United Dry Docks, Staten Island: DD364, 365 Bath Iron Works, Maine: DD366, 367 Federal Shipbuilding, Kearny, NJ: DD368, 369 Bethlelem, Quincy, MA CL44*; [DD360-363] CL=cruiser CV=aircraft carrier DD=destroyer PG=gunboat
* Ships' designation numbers and appropriation budgets reversed.John R Stobo © October 2004
IVb Force in the BNY, 1933-1937