Lithuanian Seafarers’ Union (1923-2009)
The course of history did not bring Lithuania to the sea. Wars, political treaties and foreign authorities have lead to the situation when the independent Lithuanian state formed after the First World War was in danger of having no access to the sea. Agreements with crusaders concluded in the beginning of the XV c. legalized belonging of the territory of the Klaipeda Region to the Order (later to Prussia, the German Empire). Germany’s eastern border had existed almost without changes for 500 years.
In 1819 by the decision of the tsarist government Palanga sea shore from the Kaunas province (which then included most of the Lithuanian lands) was joined to the Curonian province. In 1919-1920 intensive negotiations were held in respect of this part of the shore between Lithuania and Latvia, during which a decision was made to pass solution of the issue of determination of the border to the international arbitration committee. On March 30, 1921, the arbitration committee lead by a professor of Edinburgh University J. Simpson decided to give the 19,5 km long shore area with Palanga and Sventoji to Lithuania. The only plaace suitable for a port here was the river Sventoji orifice, although huge investments were needed to build a port here.
On January 15, 1923, Lithuanian Government made a brave and decisive step – it annexed Klaipeda Region together with the Klaipeda port administered by the Entente. Without going deep into political context of this action, one should stress its huge importance of the state’s economy. Lithuania now had a sea port, thus conditions were created for development of its own fleet, prepare professional seamen, intensify development of economy and culture. Annexing the Klaipeda port created conditions for Lithuania to become a sea country.
This political event stimulated foundation of LSU. More than ten former seamen of Russian military and merchant fleet lived at that time in Kaunas. Most of them could not work in the profession, only a few of them were admitted for service in the Kaunas Water Ways District and at shipping companies’ inspections.
The initiators of foundation of LSU, apart from S. Kuizinas, were captain Juozas Andzejauskas, politician and businessman, founder of JSC “Lietuvos garlaiviai” S. Banaitis, captains Alexander Azguridi (then Nemunas shipping company’s superviser) and Bronius Platakis.
On March 11, 1923, at the office of JSC “Lietuvos garlaiviai” in Kaunas (Aleksoto St.,, 6) there was held a foundation meeting where 28 seamen and their supporters took place. A 3 people committee was elected to prepare a project of LSU bylaws. The meeting decided that “LSU should become only a special organization and only those people may be its members who has a special maritime education and practical workers with corresponding education”. It was then when it was decided that “LSU, being the core of navigation, shall found a special institution for seamen’s training and only in this way it shall raise the number of its active members”.
At the second meeting that took place on March 25, 1923, with participation of 33 seamen, general V. Nagevicius with initiative group, with the meeting’s presidium, the project of LSU bylaws was discussed. The committee to prepare the bylaws was instructed to edit it and register it at the office of the Head of the Kaunas Region. LSU’s goal was declared to arouse the nation’s notion about importance of fleet for Lithuania, its necessity and value. Members of the union decided that they due to their knowledge and experience would help Lithuanian public to found fleet as soon as possible and to develop water transport. All this had to encourage raise of the country’s economy and to provide jobs for seamen. Thus, it was already during foundation of LSU that two directions of activities were provided: propaganda of foundation of fleet and creation of legal, technical prerequisites for it, as well as defense of professional interests of seamen. LSU was founded as a non-political organization. Seamen of military and merchant fleet, ship builders, naval physicians and radio technicians, river fleet workers, divers’ headmen, pilots, crewing specialists could become its active members. People who donated to LSU at least 10 000 LTL or “having worked hard for the benefit of the unit and raising the national flag” could become honoured members of the union. The entrance fee was 10 LTL. It was also provided that all the union members would pay a monthly fee in the amount of 1 per cent of their salary.
On March 29, 1923, at the meeting held in the office of the Military Museum the SLU Board and the Revision Committee were elected. General V. Nagevicius was elected for the LSU Chairman, colonel T. Daukantas became the chairman of the Body, P. Suipys and B. Platakis were elected members of the Body, A. Jurskis and A. Ciuzas became secretaries. The Board was instructed to hold on April 8 an official LSU opening and the flag consecration ceremony, to invite for this event L. Stulpinas from Liepaja, to get in touch as soon as possible with Klaipeda seamen. With consent of V. Nagevicius LSU office was open in the office of the Military Museum.
LSU actively propagated its ideas in press. The official newspaper “Lietuva” regularly published information of S. Kuizinas about LSU’s activities, its offers and invitation to events. A. Azguridi wrote about navigation, fleet, published his marine pieces under the pen name Captain Nemo. The issues of military and merchant fleet, maritime equipment and education were covered by T. Daukantas and T. Reingardas.
LSU management tried hard to quickly get in touch with colleagues – Klaipeda seamen. Most of German specialists who worked in port services and shipping companies in Klaipeda looked unfavourably at transfer of the port in Lithuania’s jurisdiction. There were conflicts, facts of sabotage, although new authorities often had to make concessions. There were simply no specialists who could replace local ones. Yet, LSU authorities managed to make part of Klaipeda seamen unite in a common trade union. On June 15, 1923, in Klaipeda, in the prefecture’s conference hall, a foundation meeting of the Klaipeda department of LSU was held. Commodore Max Radke and the chairman of the fishers society Friedrich Suchr were elected Chair Persons. The Klaipeda Department was small – only 19 people. On June 30, 1923, by invitation of the Klaipeda residents SLU delegation visited Klaipeda, took to the sea, watched studies of the Kopgalis rescue station crew. On August 1 near the Locu tower M. Radtke hoisted the flag handled by V. Nagavicius. Activities of the Klaipeda Department before the early 40-ies was limited by professional interests of LSU members. Ideas of creation of national fleet and foundation of a maritime school supported by LSU in Kaunas did not seem so attractive to Klaipeda residents, although the most important documents and memorandums were signed also by leaders of this department.
As the number of Lithuanian seamen and port workers grew, the center of maritime activities was transferred here. Since 1932 the activities of this LSU department intensified. On October 22 the general meeting accepted 12 new members of the union. Among them were people who received education abroad: in Finland – Daugela, Babarskis, Slesoraitis, Limba, Marcinkus, Domeika, Kristopaitis; in Italy – Kaminskas. Paulius Lindenau was elected the Chairman of the Department, L. Stulpinas became the vice chairman, Z. Domeika and Jankovskis were elected secretaries, G. Berving became the treasurer. It was decided to hold meetings once a month. Activities of the Klaipeda Department of LSU still was limited by defense of professional interests of the union. In 1934 the number of members of this department was 42 people. In 1934 increase of the number of Lithuanian elements in Klaipeda brought about some changes.
In August, 1935, the first issue of the magazine “Jura” (“Sea”) was published. The publication’s predecessor should be called the magazine “Inkaras” (“Anchor”), issued in 1928 in Kaunas (editor Т. Reingardas). Only three issues of this magazine were published. Publishers of the magazine “Jura” were LSU and the Union of Lithuanian Women To Support the National Fleet. The magazine illustrated the routine of the Lithuanian fleet under formation, news of world navigation, activities of the Klaipeda and other ports, top issues of life of yachtsmen and naval scouts. It also published articles of educational character and maritime fiction. Before June, 1939, 43 issues of the magazine were published. Since June, 1939, the magazine was published in Kaunas (until June, 1940, 1? Issues were published. The office of the executive editors of the magazine “Jura” was held by LSU members: A. Daugirdas, Z. Domeika, B. Kristopaitis and J. Simoliunas. Among the most active authors the following should be mentioned: navigators R. Vilcinskas (Vilkas) and L. Serafinas, journalists F. Vainoras, V. Bakunas. The magazine was rather popular, its circulation reached 5000 copies. To cover editing expenditures the directorate of the Klaipeda port granted a concession of “tying up ships in the port”. In 1937-1939 ideas of LSU were propagated by Klaipeda radiophone. Here they were distributed by V. Bakunas during half an hour programs.
In October, 1938, retired general T. Daukantas who was elected as the Chairman of the LSU K Board working in the position of the shipping company’s inspector in Klaipeda in the memorandum of LSU K of February 10, 1939, addressed to the governor of the Klaipeda Region set the question of improvement of seamen’s situation demanding to review their salaries and to set them in accordance with the norms accepted in the Western Europe, to insure seamen, to found a health insurance fund, to award pensions for seamen who had worked a certain number of years, to guarantee by law annual vacations of no less that one month for all the seamen working at sea.
In March, 1939, after annexing the Klaipeda Region and the port to Germany, most LSU K members had to leave their jobs and move to the Major Lithuania. On June 21, 1939, the session of LSU K Board was already held in the office of the Military Museum in Kaunas.
Under the political circumstances that occurred later LSU activity was limited by solution of current issues at sessions, publication of magazine “Musu jura” (“Our Sea”), maritime propaganda. In June, 1940, LSU was liquidated by USSR authorities. On March 22, 1941, former LSU officer B. Valaitis passed the property of the union left at the Sea Museum (files, inventory, magazines “Musu jura”) to the authorized representative of the Central Bureau of PC LSSR the head of the bureau J. Vendrikis.
Then the Second World War started. Lithuanian fleet was captured or drowned, while Lithuanian seamen had to face a rough fate: some were exiled to Russia, others perished, and some managed to settle down abroad. After the end of the war many emigrant Lithuanian seamen settled in Flensburg (Germany). On May 10, 1947, there was held a meeting that decided to restore LSU and to call it the Lithuanian Seamen’s Union Abroad. On January 24-25, 1948, in Flensburg’s Lithuanian school there was a general congress of the emigrant seamen. The congress adopted the Articles, elected the chairman of LSU Abroad (Povilas A. Mazeika) and the Board (T. Daukantas, L. Balsys, R. Vicinskas (Vilkas) and Sredersas). The main goal of LSU Abroad was «…to unite and take care of all the Lithuanian seamen, fishers and other people who used to work and works at the sea transport of in fleet living abroad, to establish and keep close mutual contacts during the period of exile or emigration, to ensure their professional needs, to grant them help and take care of other issues regarding seamen». In autumn, 1948, P.A. Mazeika, leaving for the USA, transferred the chairman’s duties to L. Balsys. Since December 29, 1952, the center of LSU Abroad moved to the United States of America. The center’s Board included P.A. Mazeika (the chairman), P. Vilcinskas (Vilkas), М. Slapsis and А. Milasevicius.
The Lithuanian Seamen’s Union (LSU), which was between the wars a powerful organization in Lithuania, during the Soviet times, was prohibited, but it revived even earlier than Lithuania got its independence again.
On May 27, 1989, a general seamen’s meeting was held at the Klaipeda Merchant Port’s Culture Palace, it decided to restore the Lithuanian Seamen’s Union, confirmed its articles and attributes, adopted resolutions. The meeting elected LSU Board the members of which became: G. Areskevicius, the captain’s mate of the Sea Nerchant Port’s tractor, E. Astikas, a deep sea master, J. Karvelis, a deep sea master, А. Kulbokas, a deep sea master, V. Pakalniskis, the captain of the Sea Finshin Port, a deep sea master, P. Piksris, a teacher of the Maritime school, S. Ranonis, a deep sea master, R. Starkus, a teacher of the Maritime School, S. Sileris, the chairman of a fishing collective farm «Baltija», a deep sea master, R. Tijunelis, a chief engineer, А. Valiukenas, a deep sea master, an economist, D. Varkalis, a marine engineer. The chairman of the LSU Board became Juozas Karvelis. Goals and tasks of the revived Lithuanian Seamen’s Union: to keep vessels restored in Lithuania, so that they would not be moved to Russia, to raise the Lithuanian state flag on the ships registered in Lithuania, to strive for revival of the national fleet, to represent and defend professional, social and financial interests of Lithuanian seamen, their civil and human rights both on shore and at sea, to propagate among the Lithuanian youth maritime professions, to objectively inform Lithuanian public about seamen’s life, problems, etc.
On August 25, 1989, Lithuanian Seamen’s Union was registered and legalized by a separate decision of the Board of Ministers of the Republic of Lithuanian Soviet Social Republic (LSSR) as a republican public organization. In three days after the registration LSU addressed the LSSR Supreme Soviet with a proposal to define the order of navigation of the ships registered in the Klaipeda port with national Lithuanian documents and with Lithuanian flag. At that time it was a challenging proposal, and it brought about a storm of anger in the top authorities. In November, 1989, LSU demanded to unite the Merchant and Fishing Ports and to found single Klaipeda Port and joint captain’s service at the Klaipeda municipality. At about the same time it raised an issue of necessity to reform training of Lithuanian seamen on the “three stages” basis, to reorganize the Klaipeda Maritime School into the Lithuanian Maritime College. Back in 1990 LSU was the first to start saying that it was necessary to introduce national Account of wages books and a uniform, to adopt Lithuanian Maritime Code, to found Lithuanian Maritime Department in Klaipeda. SLU did not only talk and raise various issues, it also prepared the necessary legal documents. A member of the board, lawyer Aleksandras Nagys prepared document regulating work of the Maritime Department, an example of account of wages book and the order of its issue, a member of the board Vilius Pakalniskis started to prepare the Lithuanian Maritime Code. In 1992 an order of the Minister of Communications of the Republic of Lithuania J. Birziskis legalized the account of wages book, the Maritime Department was founded in Klaipeda. In 1994 a Lithuanian seaman’s uniform was approved.
The first board of the revived LSU was lead by a sea master Juozas Karvelis who had a great authority in the maritime world: on February 24, 1990, he was elected a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania, on March 11, 1990, Lithuanian SS unanimously made a decision to declare Lithuania an independent state, and its deputies signed the Independence Act. Lithuanian Seamen’s Union supported declaration of independence and on March 28, 1990, sent telegrams of support to the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania V. Landsbergis and the President of the USSR M. Gorbachov. On March 13, 1991, J. Karvelis resigned from the position of the chairman of the LSU board due to his significant work load at the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania, and a deep sea master A. Valiukenas became the chairman of the LSU board. On September 04, 1991, A. Valiukenas was superseded as a chairman of the LSU board by a radio navigation specialist, economist A. Tenkutis.
Under the circumstances of growing demand for defense of interests of seamen and development of cooperation LSU on December 4, 1991, decided to re-register from a public organization to a trade union one. The new version of bylaws of the Seamen’s Union was registered on March 2, 1922, by the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania.
At that time a considerable number of seamen of the State Shipping company “Jura” lost their jobs, and LSU tried to get in touch with foreign trade unions of seamen in Norway, Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Estonia and other countries looking for possibilities to employ seamen. Soon LSU members became regular participants of meetings of representatives of trade unions of Baltic countries seamen. Finally Lithuanian seamen entered the international labour market.
LSU understood that alone it would not be able to defend rights and interests of seamen working on Lithuanian and foreign ships far away from the Motherland. Therefore on June 28, 1995, it addressed the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) asking to discuss a possibility to join this organization.
From February 1 LSU became a full member of the International Transport Workers Federation with its branch in Lithuania.
In 1995 LSU signed the first cooperation agreement with the crewing agency “Saga Agency” and seamen’s trade unions in Norway. Later a trilateral collective agreement between Norwegian Ship Owners Association (NIS), Lithuanian Seamen’s Union and Norwegian seamen’s trade unions was signed. This collective agreement with amendments and changes is still reviewed every two years.
After joining ITF wide possibilities have opened for the Lithuanian Seamen’s Union to cooperate with seamen’s trade unions all over the world and better conditions appeared to defend rights and interests of seamen both in Lithuania and abroad. On the basis of ITF Constitution, in case of conflict between seamen and ship owner or in order to defend their own interests LSU members can turn for assistance to a seamen’s trade union or an ITF inspector of the country in a port of which the ship is, and they should receive all the possible assistance. LSU made a lot of efforts to help foreign seamen having troubles at the Klaipeda port because their trade unions are ITF members.
In 1999 LSU became a member of European Transport Workers Federation (ETF).
Taking a favourable view of LSU activities directed to defend rights of seamen, ITF management opened a position of ITF inspector in Lithuania and appointed LSU labour inspector Andrey Chernov for this position since April 1, 2003.
LSU labour inspector Andrey Chernov inspected many ships moored at the Klaipeda port, and almost on all the ships he found violations of collective labour agreement or legislative enactments. Measures were taken to eliminate such drawbacks, ship owners and ITF management were informed about it. For the last five years seamen and their families assessed by LSU have received over 2 million US dollars of unpaid salaries, social security payments.
In 2000 LSU founded a public institution “International Mission For Consulting Seamen”. In 2001 LSU joined with trade unions of JSC “LISCO Baltic Service” and JSC “Lietuvos juru laivininkyste”. An LSU LISCO division was founded. Petras Bekeza was elected the Chairman of the division and appointed to this position under a labour agreement, he became the first salaried LSU chairman since its restoration.
In 2005 there was a solemn ceremony of opening of the “Seamen’s Center” built due to LSU care (Agluonos St., 5).
On May 29, 2009, 20 years anniversary since restoration of LSU was celebrated.
Activity of any organization, results of its work depend on people working in this organization. To show respect to the most active union members Lithuanian Seamen’s Union instituted a title of Honoured LSU member.
On March 28, 1940, at the general LSU meeting in Kaunas brigade general Vladas Nagis-Nagevicius was called the first Honoured LSU member for his long service for Lithuanian navigation’s and LSU benefit. For meritorious service to Lithuanian navigation and its international prestige the title of Honoured LSU member was granted in 1966 to professor Narcizas Prielaida, a doctor of maritime law, an ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to the UN headquarters in Geneve, in 1996 – to Povilas-A. Mazeika, a deep-sea master, a doctor of oceanography, in 2003 – to Juozas Karvelis, a deep-sea master, to Lithuanian Independence Restoration Act signator Dionizas Varkalis, to a member of LSU Board marine engineer Vilius Pakalniskis, to a member of LSU Board, a deep-sea master, teacher of maritime law Romas Tijunelis, a member of LSU Board, mechanical engineer Aleksandras Nagis, vice-chairman of LSU and a lawyer, deep sea navigator, master of maritime law, in 2008 – to Vaclav Stankevic, a deep sea master, in 2009 – to Petras Bekeza, LSU Chairman, a deep sea master.