Mafia Still a Power On the Waterfront

In the classic film On the Waterfront (which I haven't seen and don't intend to, unless someone tells me otherwise), the laborers who worked on New York's docks "were reluctant, even frightened, to talk to the authorities, whether a priest or a detective, because the mob controlled the waterfront," the New York Times noted recently.

Longshoremen in 1940s New York

REVISED: Most longshoremen were indeed conflicted during much of the 20th century about the notion of revealing what they knew regarding members of a certain secret criminal society.

In Brooklyn, that meant informing on a man who had demonstrated he'd go all the way -- meaning, murder you, your wife and your entire family -- if he had even an inkling you were informing on him (or were planning to or were even thinking about the possibility). And considering the wide-scale corruption of police, union officials, politicians, basically all civilization's "managers," if you will, chances were the "Lord High Executioner" Albert Anastasia and brother Anthony (Tough Tony) Anastasio would know. (Albert spelled his surname differently allegedly to buffer his parents from his blood-soaked ways; longshoremen who knew of this probably took little comfort from it.)

Anastasia -- but to an even larger degree, his brother, Tough Tony (who remained a power far longer, years into the regime of the man who killed Albert) operated the Brooklyn waterfront for the entity that evolved into today's Gambino crime family.

Vincent Mangano, original boss
of what is today the Gambino crime family.

The Mafia's control of Brooklyn's docks was truly solidified once Tough Tony became the chief of Local 1814 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA).

Controlling such a union was like gaining access to an ATM machine that never runs out of cash. That's really what the waterfront, in New York and New Jersey, was for the Mafia.

These "ATMs" got immense cash reserves in several ways.

READ Waterfront Case Recalls Farace Hit

In Brooklyn, for example, it got a fat percentage of kickbacks from every worker who sought waterfront employment each morning as per "the shapeup". Tough Tony appointed the foremen who did the hiring each morning. Anastasio got a solid piece of each under-the-table payoff.

A website dedicated to historical information about longshoremen and workers in the numerous tertiary trades notes why the waterfront was ripe for infiltration by racketeers:

In the era before containerized shipping, longshore work was labor intensive, requiring complex teams of workers to clear and load cargo. These included longshoremen, gang bosses, hatchtenders, winch drivers, donkey drivers, boom men, burton men, sack-turners, side runners, front men, and jitney drivers. Long hours and irregular work was normal. Employers were able to leverage entry level jobs and throngs of workers seeking employment to reduce pay rates and lower standards and working conditions. In the “shape-up” system, workers had to ask for employment each morning, and jockey against each other for a job for the day...

Anyone who balked, who tried to fight this system, had the Mafia to fear.

The Mob ran gambling operations for dockworkers, which in turn, fueled the growth of gambling’s natural tertiary business: loansharking.

The mob even paid generously to those who provided it with inside information about valuable cargo poised to enter port. The mob knew when riches in various guises were arriving, and they'd steal as much as possible.

Read Decades of Mob Violence Behind Waterfront Case

Over time, the waterfront grew to be less vital in general due to changing economic dynamics. Greater efficiencies were realized, such as the use of containers. There was less cash to fill the ATM.

Then there was law enforcement, which slowly learned about labor racketeering and fought back, launching increasingly sophisticated investigations.

Time was New York and New Jersey's once-lucrative waterfront industries provided good, steady employment for men who needed the work. (The Mafia's presence usually was a signal an industry was healthy and vital.)

Now the various waterfront regions are starting to vanish as wealthy developers gobble up parcels of shoreline on which to build condos and co-ops. "Organized gentrification" has replaced organized crime.

But as The New York Times story notes, despite the evolution of the waterfront, the Mob still has a presence.

Last January, there was an enigmatic strike "all over New York harbor."  Enigmatic, meaning for starters, no one knows who the hell called for it, never mind why.

The Waterfront Commission has questioned dozens of longshoremen under oath (about the strike). One told the commission he learned of (a) strike early that morning, when it was too dark to see the face of the man giving the order. It could have been anyone.
It was the old D & D — Deaf and Dumb, the classic longshoreman’s response, popularized in the 1954 film “On the Waterfront.”
While investigators say the mob and the waterfront remain entwined, both institutions are much diminished today, pushed to the margins of New York City. The finger piers that once extended from much of Manhattan and Brooklyn are mostly gone. These days the most famous shipping line in the city is the Circle Line, which does sightseeing tours.... 

READ Along New York Harbor, ‘On the Waterfront’ Endures


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