Labour History Review

New York City and London Dockworkers: A Comparative Perspective of Rank-and-File Movements in the Post-Second World War Era

Labour History Review (2000), 65, (3), 295–316.

Abstract

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For discussion of theoretical debates concerning rank-and-file action, see Jonathan Zeitlin, ‘Shop floor bargaining and the state: a contradictory relationship’ (pp. 1-45) and Noel Whiteside, ‘Public Policy and Port Labour Reform: The Dock Decasualization Issue, 1910-1950’ (pp. 75-107), in Steven Tolliday and Jonathan Zeitlin (eds), Shop floor Bargaining and the State: Historical and Comparative Perspectives, New York, 1985, and especially essays on ‘Rank and Filism’ in International Review of Social History, vol. 34, no. 1 (1989), pp. 42-102 Google Scholar

Relatively speaking, little work has been done on New York City dockers in the post-WWII period but those studies that have actively addressed the port workers include Colin J. Davis, ‘"All I got's a hook": New York Longshoremen and the 1948 Strike’, in Cal Winslow (ed.), Waterfront Workers: New Perspectives on Race and Class, Urbana, Ill., 1998, which examines the post-WWII revolt against employers and a corrupt trade union. William DiFazio, Longshoremen: Community and Resistance on the Brooklyn Waterfront, South Hadley, MA, 1985, provides a sociological study of Brooklyn longshoremen and how the guaranteed income transformed employment relations. Labour economist Vernon Jensen provided a slew of studies of New York longshoremen. Additionally, as a faculty member of the Industrial and Labor Relations School, Cornell University, he acted as arbitrator regarding wage judgements. His relevant publications include: Vernon H. Jensen, Strife on the Waterfront: The Port of New York Since 1945, Ithaca, NY, 1974; Hiring of Dockers and Employment Practices in the Ports of New York, Liverpool, London, Rotterdam, and Marseilles, Cambridge, MA, 1964; ‘Hiring Practices and Employment Experience of Longshoremen in the port of New York,’ International Labour Review, 11 (April 1958), 342-69. A further study that follows the more labour economist path is Charles Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall: A Comparison of Hiring Methods on the New York and Seattle Waterfronts, Westport, CT, 1976 Google Scholar

The literature on London dockers in the post-war period is more extensive than its New York counterparts; for example, Peter Turnbull, Charles Woolfson and John Kelly, Dock Strike: Conflict and Restructuring in Britain's Ports, Brookfield, US, 1992. Studies that have taken either community or technological approach to London dockers include Stephen Hill, The Dockers: Class & Transition in London, London, 1976, and Gordon Phillips, Casual Labour: The Unemployment Question in the Port Transport Industry, Oxford, 1985, and D. F. Wilson, Dockers: The Impact of Industrial Change, London, 1972. Sociologists, economists industrial relations scholars have taken a keen interest in dockers generally. Jim Phillips, ‘The Postwar Political Consensus and Industrial Unrest in the Docks, 1945-55,’ Twentieth Century British History, no. 3 (1995), pp. 302-19; Jim Phillips, ‘Inter-Union Conflict in the Docks, 1954-55,’ Historical Studies in Industrial Relations, p. 1 (March 1996), pp. 107-30; Peter Turnbull, Julia Morris and David Sapsford, ‘Persistent militants and quiescent comrades: intra-industry strike activity on the docks, 1947-89,’ Sociological Review, vol. 44 (November 1996), pp. 692-727; Bill Hunter, They Knew Why They Fought: Unofficial Struggles and Leadership on the Docks, 1945-1989, London, 1994 Google Scholar

For studies that highlight racial and ethnic control in New York and London see Colin J. Davis, ‘The Elusive Irishman: Ethnicity and the Post-1945 World of New York City and London’, Racializing Class: Labour and Difference in the United States, Britain, and Africa, in Peter Alexander and Rick Halpern (eds), London, forthcoming; Lester Rubin and William S. Swift, The Negro in the Longshore Industry, Philadelphia, 1974; Sterling D. Spero and Abram L. Harris, The Black Worker: The Negro and the Labor Movement, Port Washington, NY 1931, pp. 199-205; Herbert Northrup, Organized Labor and the Negro, New York, 1971, pp. 137-44 Racializing Class: Labour and Difference in the United States, Britain, and Africa Google Scholar

Howard Kimeldorf, Reds or Rackets?: The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront, Berkeley, CA, 1988, pp. 154-5 Reds or Rackets?: The Making of Radical and Conservative Unions on the Waterfront 154 5 Google Scholar

‘Testimony of Julius E. Bagley,’ Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Fair Labor Standards Act, Amendments, Part 1, 80th Cong., 2nd sess., p. 994; The second quote is from Charles P. Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall: A Comparison of Hiring Methods on the New York and Seattle Waterfronts, Westport, CT, 1976, p. 74 Google Scholar

Malcolm Johnson, Crime on the Labor Front, New York, 1950, p. 116 Crime on the Labor Front 116 Google Scholar

‘Testimony of Cleophas Jacobs,’ Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, To Clarify the Overtime Provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, As Amended, 81st Cong., 1st sess., 1949, pp. 488-91; ‘Notice-To All Members Of Local 1291’, James I. (Carfare) Keys, ILA-TAM, Box 3 Google Scholar

Testimony of Ross J. DiLorenzo,' Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, To Clarify the Overtime Compensation Provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, As Amended, 81st Cong., 1st sess., 1949, p. 272; Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall, p. 55 Google Scholar

Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties, Glencoe, II, 1960, 159-90; Bernard B. Turkus and Sid Feder, Murder, Inc.: The Story of the ‘Syndicat’, London, 1952 The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties 159 90 Google Scholar

Malcolm Johnson, Crime on the Labor Front, New York, 1950, p. 91 Crime on the Labor Front 91 Google Scholar

Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall, p. 26 Google Scholar

Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall, pp. 19 and 63 Google Scholar

‘Testimony of Mitch Berenson,’ House Committee on Education and Labor, Amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Volume 1, 81st Cong., 1st sess., 1949, pp. 611-12; ‘Testimony of John J. Gannon,’ NTS Crime Commission, Vol. 3, pp. 2000-1 Google Scholar

It was reported later that Panto, after being lured to a house in Staten Island, realised he was in danger and attempted to escape. But, as mobster Mendy Weiss explained, ‘It was a lucky thing I was there, he would have got away. I grabbed him and mugged him, and when I mugged him, he started to fight and he tried to break the mug, and that's when he scratched me, but he didn't get away.’ ‘Testimony of Edward A. Heffernan,’ NTS Crime Commission, Vol. 5, p. 1563; New York Herald Tribune, 19 December 1952, p. 1; New York Times, 19 December 1952, p. 1; Kimeldorf, Reds or Rackets, pp. 124-5 Google Scholar

The Rank and File Committee, This Is Our Story, located in ILA-TAM, Box 3; Father Benjamin L. Masse recounted that ‘The day after the strike ended, Warren reported for work — and fell and hurt himself; i.e., he was beaten up. Nice place, the New York waterfront.’ Quoted in Johnson, Crime on the Labor Front, p. 158 Google Scholar

Letter to Hon. Christopher C. McGrath, House of Representatives, from John Corridan, 6 June 1949, Records of the Xavier Institute of Industrial Relations, Series 2 — Father John M. Corridan, S. J., Box 10, Folder 15. Hereinafter cited as XIIR. ‘Labor Day Speech, 1948, Father John Corridan,’ XIIR, Box 11, Folder 30. For a study of Father John Corridan, see Colin J. Davis, ‘"Launch out into the deep and let out your nets": Father John Corridan S. J., and New York Longshoremen in the Post-World War II Era,’ Catholic Historical Review, 86 (January 2000), pp. 66-84. See also Joshua Freeman and Steve Rosswurm, ‘The Education of An Anti-Communist: Father John F. Cronin and the Baltimore Labor Movement,’ Labor History, 33 (Spring, 1992), pp. 217-47, and Monsignor Charles Owen Rice, ‘Confessions of an Anti-Communist,’ Labor History 30 (Summer, 1989), pp. 449-62 Google Scholar

Interview with Father Philip Carey, Oral History — Collection Title: New Workers At Work, Wagner Labor Archives. Hereinafter cited as NYAW Google Scholar

The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act had been passed to regulate minimum wages and overtime payments of time-and-one-half for work done after forty hours. A. Howard Myers, Labor Law and Legislation, Cincinnati, 1968, pp. 764-839; John S. Forsythe, ‘Legislative History of the Fair Labor Standards Act,’ Law and Contemporary Problems, 6 (Summer, 1939), pp. 464-90 Google Scholar

Interview with Sam Madell, NYAW. Google Scholar

Report to Harry Bridges from William Glazier, 19 August 1948, ILA-TAM, Box 1 Google Scholar

For the shippers' and Ryan's opposition to the overtime on overtime issue see ‘Testimony of Frank Nolan, Chairman, Stevedoring Committee, NYC,’ Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, Fair Labor Standards Act Amendments. Part 1, 80th Cong., 1st sess., 1948, pp. 381-421; ‘Statement of Joseph Ryan,’ ibid., pp. 1063-79. For the original suit and the following decisions through to the Supreme Court, see ‘Statement of Louis Waldman, General Counsel, ILA’, Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, To Clarify the Overtime Compensation Provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, As Amended, 81st Cong., 1st sess., 1949, pp. 4-35 Google Scholar

Quoted in Citizens Waterfront Committee, The New York Waterfront, p. 13 Google Scholar

Report of Board of Inquiry — Maritime Industry (East Coast Longshoremen) (GPO, Washington DC, 1948); Final Report of Board of Inquiry, October 21, 1948 (GPO, Washington, DC, 1948), pp. 1-2. Under the terms of the Taft-Hardey Act the Federal government had the power to order a cooling-off period and create a Board of Inquiry to investigate the dispute. R. Alton Lee, Truman and Taft-Hartley: A Question of Mandates, Lexington, 1966, p. 76 Google Scholar

‘Status Report of Thomas R. Steutel,’ 26 October 1948, Federal Conciliation and Mediation Service, Dispute Case Files, 1913-1948, RG 280, Box 2357; ‘Last Offer of Settlement by the New York Shipping Association and the International Longshoremen's Association, submitted to the Presidential Board of Inquiry, Thursday, October 21, 1948,’ Federal Conciliation and Mediation Service, Regional Dispute Files (Nationally Significant), 1948-1950, Category One, RG 280, Box 2522; Final Report of the Board of Inquiry, pp. 3-6 Google Scholar

K Daily Worker, 14 November 1948, p. 1; New York Times, 10 November 1948, p. 59; Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall, p. 32 Google Scholar

Interview with Sam Madell and Father Philip Carey, NYAW. Google Scholar

‘Statement of Alfred Corbett, Chairman, New Jersey Back Pay Committee,’ Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, To Clarify the Overtime Compensation Provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, As Amended, 81st Cong., 1st sess., 1949, p. 341 Google Scholar

Sampson's hold on Local 791 is discussed in Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall, p. 34. For the public clash between Ryan and Sampson, see New York Times, 11 November, pp. 1 and 31; New York Telegram, 10 November 1948, p. 5 Google Scholar

New York Times, 13 November 1948, p. 1; New York Sun, 12 November 1948, pp. 1 and 10; New York Times, 17 November 1948, p. 3 Google Scholar

‘Shapeup, Unemployment Main Issues in Longshore Strike,’ Fred Zeserson, Federated Press, Eastern Bureau, 18 November 1948, ILA-TAM, Folder Agreements, Negotiations & Strikes, Box 1 Google Scholar

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Final Report of Board of Inquiry, p. 15 Google Scholar

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New York Times, 28 November 1948, pp. 1 and 66. Eugene Sampson's Local 791 over-whelmingly voted for the agreement 635 to 81 Google Scholar

Interview with Sam Madell, NYAW. Google Scholar

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Memorandum, ‘Men on Strike and Ships Affected,’ National Dock Labour Board, June 1948, BK/72/NDLB, PRO. Google Scholar

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Daily Mirror, 21 June 1948, pp. 1 and 8 Google Scholar

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Author details

Davis, Colin