The Governor of the Panama Canal ( Mehaffey ) to the Ambasador in Panama ( Hines )


My Dear Mr. Ambassador: Your letter of September 11th was received on the 13th. I was sorry to have to ask for clarification of the message which Mr. Blocker88 read to me over the telephone but it was not clear to me just what changes you had in mind in writing it.

Development of the grievance procedure which I outlined to you during our conversation on September 2d has been practically completed, but I do not wish to publish it without first giving the unions (both gold and silver, because the procedure applies equally to all employees) an opportunity to comment on it, which I hope to do this week. I do not anticipate any serious objections to the procedure, since it follows States practice quite closely; and it should be possible, therefore, to publish it in the near future. As I informed you, it provides for the handling of grievances in four stages, the first being consideration by the immediate supervisor of the complainant, and the last consideration by the Executive Office. The procedure does not materially change the practice that has been followed in the past, but it will regularize and publicize that practice and will, I think, have a good effect.

With respect to substituting other terms, such as graded and ungraded, for silver and gold, I have informed both the CIO Union and Dr. Alfaro that I am willing to consider making the change only if I am assured by all concerned that they thoroughly understand that the change will not (at least for the time being) affect anything but the names, and that they nevertheless desire to have it made. I have not yet received such assurances from either source, and I am therefore not in a position to make the change at this time.

In this connection, I should like to reiterate my conviction that a change of the present names of the two employment categories, without any material changes in the things which have been associated with them, will have no permanently beneficial effect. The same is true, in my opinion, with respect to measures designed to bring about an increase in the number of Panamanian citizens on the gold roll, which could not be large unless the past standards of qualification are abandoned. Based on public statements made by representatives of the Government of Panama and of the CIO union, it is safe to say that the mass of the silver employees will not be completely satisfied with anything less than an increase in their wages and privileges sufficient [Page 1162] to make them substantially equal to those of the gold employees, and the complete abolition of any segregation in the Canal Zone. The first of these objectives is unattainable unless the United States Government is willing to pay out to silver employees annually some $30,000,000 more than it is now paying, the increase being in effect a gift, since neither the skill nor the industry of the great majority of the silver employees is such as to justify such high wages. The second objective could not be granted immediately or in the near future without wrecking the Panama Canal and Panama Railroad organizations, as most thoughtful observers, including many on the silver roll, will agree.

I trust that the United States delegates to the forthcoming ILO meeting in Montreal will not permit untrue and insulting statements by Panamanian delegates to go unchallenged, as similar statements apparently were at the last meeting. And I particularly hope that if the allegation is repeated which forms the basis for nearly all Panamanian complaints of discrimination, i.e., that the so-called gold roll is composed exclusively of United States citizens, while all Panamanian citizens are relegated to the silver roll, it will be promptly and energetically refuted. As I pointed out in my letter to you dated August 20, 1946,90 commenting on the allegations made by the Panamanian delegates to the ILO conference in Mexico City, those citizens of Panama who have a sufficiently high degree of skill are employed on the gold roll, and when so employed receive exactly the same rates of pay and leave privileges as the citizens of the United States. Only those Panamanians whose skill does not qualify them for gold roll positions are forced to seek employment either on the silver roll or in the Republic of Panama. The large number of Panamanians who are now employed on the silver roll and the continuing volume of applications for such employment would seem to indicate that the wages and working conditions are equal to or better than those which prevail in the Republic of Panama.

If any ILO investigation on the Isthmus is proposed, it should include the investigation of certain conditions affecting workingmen in the Republic of Panama, such as the squalid and insanitary housing in which thousands of United States employees are forced to live, at exorbitant rentals, and also the discrimination against the citizens of other countries except the United States resulting from the nationalization of retail commerce. It is inconceivable to me, however, that the United States would permit the ILO to investigate the treatment of Panamanian employees in the Canal Zone, any more than it would permit that organization to investigate the treatment of Mexican [Page 1163] or Jamaican laborers in the continental United States. If such a precedent should be established, it seems to me that the gates would be open for a flood of similar investigations, not only in the United States but in other member states, and that the ILO would be transformed from an advisory body into an inquisitorial super-state. I believe, therefore, that the United States delegation should firmly and definitely reject any proposal for such an investigation.

I am [etc.]

J. C. Mehaffey
  1. William P. Blocker, Counselor of Embassy in Panamá.
  2. For text of this letter, see p. 54.