The Assistant Secretary of State ( Berle ) to the Mayor of the City of New York ( La Guardia )
Dear Fiorello: I wonder if you could lend a hand on something that is worrying us.
We have had seamen deserting from Allied ships, and have cleaned up the situation in one way or another. We are now down to the last main problem which is that of the Chinese seamen. They desert pretty regularly. They are mainly employed on British ships. The pay is not equal to the British but under some help from us, it is not very far away from it. The British seamen get $72 per month; the Chinese $68.
The Immigration people report that the real reason for desertion is that they are wanted for labor in Chinatown where wages are higher than on British ships, especially as labor gets increasingly tight. The Chinese Consul General in New York probably is standing in with the restaurant keepers and laundrymen who are the principal employers of these deserting seamen.
Marshall Dimock of the War Shipping Administration thinks that something could be done if we could rally the Chinese in Chinatown and have them lend a hand in sending the sailors back to work. Since the Chinese Consul General can’t help, this means we should have to [Page 792] find somebody familiar with the community who was in sympathy with the war and would lend a hand. Do you think that you or the Police Department or anyone up there could suggest a way to begin?
The subject is important. There are four ships presently held up in New York harbor because part of their Chinese crews have deserted; and almost without exception these ships are carrying supplies and troops to our own boys in North Africa.
The only other alternative is to go at it hammer and tongs and allow no Chinese crews ashore, which probably would get results, and incidentally make very bad feeling with Chungking.
You may have some ways to suggest that would help us to get the Chinese community in New York to look into this.
With kind regards [etc.]