The Carter administration is quietly moving to persuade fiery Thomas W. Gleason, president of the International Longshoremen's Association (ILA), to modify his boycott of Soviet ships.
The administration hails support from the union -- which handles cargoes on the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes, and Puerto Rico -- but it does not want its modified grain embargo expanded in the dangerous game it is playing with Moscow.
The awesome power of the White House to direct American public opinion in foreign affairs is once more illustrated here. Mr. Carter's nationwide TV address Jan. 4, reproaching Moscow for "callous violation of international law" and mentioning "sacrifice" instantly affected the nation. Many see a return to the cold war. Mr. Carter's problem, illustrated by the dockworkers, may be to guide the response. Some feel the emotional surge will bring back an era of intense anticommunism.
Labor Secretary F. Ray Marshall is in touch with Mr. Gleason, it is understood, and the latter says he will not "second guess" the President if he receives a White House request. Earlier he said emphatically that "so far as we're concerned grain shipments will stop. We will stop handling Russian cargo, whether it's carried on Russian ships, foreign ships, or American ships." He said that while a boycott will hurt workers' pocketbooks, they are "showing the farmers that they are not the only ones making sacrifices."
The ILA office here recalled that in 1972 President Nixon successfully appealed to the union to call off a 20-year boycott of Soviet ships. At that time Mr. Nixon was seeking to thaw the cold war, expand trade with the Soviet Union, and take steps which ultimately became SALT I -- the first treaty to regulate the manufacture and use of nuclear arms. The ILA, at the White House's request, agreed to harmonize its foreign policy with the State Department.
Meanwhile, the East Coast boycott affected isolated Soviet cargo vessels in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and other ports. In Boston, longshoremen announced they do not intend to unload a Soviet freighter scheduled to arrive there Jan. 23. In Philadelphia, a Soviet freighter remained tied up and empty with its intended cargo for West Germany and Britain still on the docks. Longshoremen in Baltimore also refused to accept containers for the same Soviet freighter, scheduled to arrive there later.
President Thomas (Teddy) Gleason heads a militantly anticommunist East Coast union which does not have jurisdiction on the West Coast. The organization there is the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, representing some 12,000 Pacific dockworkers. Officials said they had no plans to join the Gleason boycott.
The White House gave a guarded comment on the Gleason boycott. Press secretary Jody Powell says it indicates "his desire to advance the goals of American foreign policy." He adds that "the ILA is reacting with outrage to Afghanistan." The White House is discussing the matter with the dockworkers for an agreement to "further the goals of American foreign policy."
The administration is glad to signal Moscow of the support it is getting at home for its sanctions, in spite of the protest of some farmers. Mr. Carter proposes to deliver the minimum grain exports pledged by agreement with Moscow, but to eliminate an additional 17 million tons ordered by the Soviets. The Soviet harvest is poor -- about one-fourth lower than last year's. American corn is used to fatten livestock and the cutoff will probably require slaughter of the lifestock, with an immediate increase in meat supplies followed by sharp scarcity.
The dock boycott illustrates Mr. Carter's difficult problem of balance in world crisis. He wants a cold war that is totally congealed; pressure on the Soviet Union that does not provoke force; preservation, if possible, of the unratified SALT II treaty; and support of political forces like the ILA with an election just getting under way.
In campaign speeches in Iowa, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy calls on Mr. Carter to lift the embargo. It will cause "enormous kinds of disruptions" he says. "We have seen American domestic and foreign policy lurching from crisis to crisis," he charges.