To begin with, Kazan’s story revolved entirely around the 1950s NY harbor docks, and was based upon a twenty-something piece exposé published in the New York Sun. In fact, the series won Malcolm Johnson a Pulitzer prize for local reporting in 1949. There was no real analog to such eye-opening circumstances in other ports. While Johnson’s exposé discussed all port areas within the bi-State harbor, Kazan’s book, the subsequent Schulberg screenplay and the Brando movie were rather location-unspecific. Believe me: there were (and are) big differences.
Within that context, “Our modern version of the commission…” is not, as Mr. Lott writes, the US Labor Department’s OLMS. Rather, it is the Waterfront Commission of New York & New Jersey (The Waterfront Commission). The Waterfront Commission is an organization established by a US Congress-approved compact between the States of New York & New Jersey (Circa 1953), within which plenary oversight (including the licensing of all waterfront workers within the harbor) is granted to a police-like agency that was once probably quite useful but is now a general millstone around the collective neck of the NY/NJ region’s population. I say millstone, inasmuch as a per-ton assessment is levied on all NY/NJ import and export cargo in order to fund the Waterfront Commission’s annual budget. Sadly, however, the agency does very little in the way of productive work and is quite often the object of investigation itself. As an agency at the relative bottom of the political food chain, no one should be surprised.
Moreover, the presence and influence of organized crime on the NY/NJ waterfront, while once probably sizable, is now overblown and likely exaggerated. That’s not to say that this particular industry (or any other) is lily white, but it is an assertion which acknowledges that all facets of industry, government, religion, etc., etc., are vulnerable to greed, avarice and the like. The waterfront industries (within any U.S. port) are no more susceptible to these human conditions than are any other public or private sector entity.
That being said, I’m uncertain as to which public agency should be tasked with general oversight over all Labor/Management interactions. Perhaps none should. Perhaps there should be several. Perhaps it should be left in the hands of local law enforcement. I really don’t know.
What I do know, is that as a 14-year, relatively high level employee at US Dept of Labor Headquarters in Washington; focused on the marine cargo handling industry, I was fully unimpressed with the Federal government’s ability to act in a meaningful way when addressing almost any manner whatsoever. In such a light, under-funding a government agency may make a lot of sense.
I’m sure Mr. Lott is correct in his coverage of OLMS’s successful prosecutions of labor union officials during the last two Bush Administrations. I also think it’s appropriate to prosecute individuals who would illegally profit off the blood and sweat of their “brothers and sisters.” But given the financial impact on the country as a whole, such “crooked” actions by Labor “leaders” probably can be considered as trite in the face of the hundreds of billions of dollars ripped from the savings and retirement funds of countless citizens by greedy bankers and related corporate schemers within the same span of time…
The American Spectator
Entry filed under: Dive In, Region, Working Waterfront. Tags: Budd Schulberg, crime, Malcolm Johnson, New York Harbor, NY Sun, On the Waterfront, organized crime, Waterfront Commission of New York & New Jersey.