The Mayor of the City of New York ( La Guardia ) to the Secretary of State

Att: Hon. A. A. Berle, Assistant Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I have a communication from the Department of State dated January 1 [4], 1943, requesting that I “lend a hand” in the deserting Chinese seamen situation. As always, I am happy to be of assistance to the Department of State although I do not enjoy extra-territoriality which, perhaps, would solve this problem very easily.

Frankly, there are two sides to this question, and something must be done to protect Chinese seamen shipping on foreign vessels. I am convinced that the British Government is not only concerned but really intends to protect Chinese seamen shipping on British ships. The fact is, however, that either agencies of the Government or private steamship companies have been guilty of the most unpardonable and cruel treatment of these men. In the first place, there are instances where no record is taken of the seaman’s next of kin, and therefore apparent that there is no intent to pay such next of kin the war risk compensation in the event of death. Then, another point which I believe is justified: there should be no difference in allowance made for death compensation between seamen. If these men ship on British ships, they should get the same death benefits as are given to any other seamen on the same ship.

As you state, the compensation has been fixed for an ordinary seaman at $68 a month, but most of the deserters in this port have never received [Page 793] that rate of pay. What is more, many of them have pay coming to them and are unable to collect. The treatment on board ship of Chinese seamen is quite different from that of others and it goes without saying that in this day and age everyone on the ship should be treated alike.

I had a conference in my office at which Mr. Marshall E. Dimock of the U. S. War Shipping Administration sat in. At this conference, I invited representatives of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, various fraternal organizations, businessmen and representatives of the Chinese press. Mr. Dimock was most helpful and forthright. Many of the complaints he acknowledged were justified. Confidentially, a threat of a round-up with subsequent internment would be far more preferable to these Chinese seamen than going back to their ships under the old conditions. Our local Chinese residents are willing to cooperate but something must be done to protect the rights of these men if they are really wanted and needed back on the ships. As I have said, internment is paradise to the hell that they have gone through.

Cases were cited of men whose ships had been torpedoed, and were saved, on coming out of the hospital and being brought to New York, were given $5, and unable to collect their past due pay.

To come to the point, I have suggested the following plan, and I am sure that we will get full cooperation from our own Chinese residents and from the men themselves:

We must have some assurance from you that the British Government will keep proper records of the next of kin and assure compensation in case of death the same as given to British subjects.
That the rate of pay will actually be paid and that at the expiration of the present agreement, which expires in April, parity of pay will be provided.
The Chinese seamen in question will register at some place designated by the U.S. War Shipping Administration, and when they sign on, it will be under the supervision of an agency of the War Shipping Administration which will see that the rights of these men are fully protected. Mr. Dimock agrees to this.
I will immediately get in touch with the Seamen Service in this city to establish a Seamen’s Club in or near the Chinese section of Manhattan. I understand funds are available for this purpose.

Therefore, may I suggest that the matter be taken up with British authorities, and on receipt of the assurance above indicated, I think we can get the whole matter in operation. The necessity of the reforms suggested is not only to care for the four hundred odd deserters now in this port, but to make certain that the several thousand Chinese seamen now on British ships will not desert on arriving at an American or friendly port.

I await your pleasure in the matter.

Sincerely yours,

F. La Guardia