the early 1950's, an aging freighter, its belly loaded with crates,
cartons, barrels and drums, is docked alongside one of the many
ancient finger piers jutting into the waters of the Port of New
York-New Jersey. At the sound of a whistle blown by a hiring
foreman, a semi-circle of apprehensive longshoremen gathers in
the hope that they will be selected to unload the vessel.
The foreman, often an ex-felon
with a long criminal record, chooses laborers who are willing
to "kickback" a portion of their wages for the opportunity
to unload the ship, piece by piece. Each hapless dock worker
must subject himself to this notorious daily "shape-up" to
attain even the possibility of employment. The union, dominated
by racketeers and criminals, does little to ease the burden
of the rank-and-file worker.
Elsewhere on the pier lurk the
loansharks, all too willing to "assist" the underpaid longshoreman
in feeding his family or in supporting his vices. The inability
to repay these usurious loans results in violent consequences
for the longshoreman-borrower. Bookmaking on the pier increases
business for the loansharks.
Cargo theft and pilferage are
rampant. Pier guards are unwilling or unable to contain thievery.
At the foot of the pier, a parasitic "public loader" coerces
truckers to employ him to unload and load trucks, even though
the "services" of these loaders are not needed or wanted.
In a downtown restaurant, an
officer of a stevedoring firm pays a "gratuity" to a waterfront
union official to insure "labor peace." "Quickie" strikes
are commonplace. The stevedore company official gladly bribes
an executive of a steamship company for a lucrative contract.
This pervasive corruption on
the waterfront in the Port of New York-New Jersey was documented
in the early 1950's by public hearings held by the New York
State Crime Commission with the assistance of the New Jersey
Law Enforcement Council. As a result, in August 1953, the
States of New York and New Jersey, with the approval of the
Congress and the President of the United States, enacted
a compact creating the Waterfront Commission of New York