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Port Fear By: Lowell Ponte
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, March 16, 2006

Last week, invoking national security concerns, members of Congress hastily acted to prevent a company from the Persian Gulf nation Dubai from taking ownership of facilities at several American ports. This Wednesday Dubai Ports World announced that it plans to sell all its United States operations, presumably including the Port of Miami facility it has run for years without any problem, to an American-controlled company within the next six months.

Longshoremen union members will continue to handle packages at America's ports, no matter who owns the facilities. Oddly, none of these same members of Congress have called for inspecting the disturbing history of these unions. 

At least three aspects of Longshoremen history suggest that these union members at our ports might pose a risk to national security. They have been associated with organized crime, specifically the Mafia. They have a history of anti-American radical politics and have committed acts of violence.


But the Longshoremen have been shielded from scrutiny by their high-placed political allies – including Hillary Clinton – who have received the union’s campaign funds and pushed for their union agenda. The Longshoremen were eager to block the deal by Dubai Ports World, an efficient company that might have found ways to trim union-related power and profits on the waterfront. 

Mob Ties

“Justice Department lawyers warned eight months ago that a nefarious element had infiltrated important East Coast ports,” wrote Associated Press reporter David B. Caruso in a little-noticed story last Saturday. “But they weren’t talking about terrorists or Arab shipping companies. They were talking about the mafia.”


Last July, wrote Caruso, Federal prosecutors filed a civil lawsuit accusing the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) whose 65,000 members work at ports from Florida to the Canadian Maritimes of being a “vehicle for organized crime.”


“From 1977 through 1981, prosecutors won conviction of 52 union officials on various mob and racketeering-related charges” involving dockside corruption, wrote Caruso. “In the most recent case, reputed Gambino boss Peter Gotti was convicted in 2003 of waterfront racketeering.”


Mob influence at America’s ports is so widely recognized that it has become a theme of popular art. The 1954 movie “On The Waterfront” reportedly was inspired by corruption and violence at the ILA’s Local 1814. The same theme echoes in HBO’s “The Sopranos,” which resumed its new season Sunday night.


“Several decades ago a deal between New York’s Gambino and Genovese crime families established the existing regime,” according to the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC). “With the cooperation of ILA locals, the Gambinos would control the Brooklyn and Staten Island docks; the Genoveses would run the ones in Manhattan and New Jersey.”


Last November, a federal jury in Brooklyn acquitted three ILA-linked defendants of conspiracy and fraud charges associated with steering Longshoremen union benefit funds into a pharmaceutical company with purported mob ties. ILA Executive Vice President Albert Cernadas, wrote Caruso, “pleaded guilty to fraud but received probation.”


One of those acquitted was Lawrence Ricci, “reportedly an acting capo of the Genovese family” according to the NLPC.


But Ricci, 60, was nowhere to be found. He had vanished on the eve of his October 7 court testimony, during which he was expected to be the prosecution’s star witness against organized crime and the Longshoremen union officials.


Ricci’s rotting body was found in the truck of his car outside a diner in Union, New Jersey, on November 30, 2005. He had been slain gangland style – one more reminder that from its protection and shakedown rackets, to its chemical warfare against American children via illicit drugs, to its use of extortion and murder, the Mafia itself is a domestic terrorist organization.


Union, NJ, crime writer J.R. de Szigethy observed, is “the town that is the headquarters for the DeCavalcante Family, the real-life inspiration for HBO’s “The Sopranos.” The DeCavalcante Family, he wrote, has along with the Genoveses and Gambinos, “controlled” the waterfront dockworker unions.


Terrorists could use gangland networks to their advantage, as former Customs Service agent and now John Jay College of Criminal Justice Professor Joseph King told the Associated Press.


“It is an invitation to smuggling of all kinds, whether it is heroin, or weapons, or human trafficking,” King told AP’s David Caruso. “Instead of bringing in 50 kilograms of heroin, what would stop them from bringing in five kilograms of plutonium?” 

Marxist Ties

A specter haunts the Longshoremen’s union movement – the specter of its most famous founding father, Harry Bridges, and his radical leftist ideology. His poisonously anti-American radicalism continues to infect a significant fraction of workers and activists in the unions Bridges shaped.


Born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1901, Bridges became a merchant seaman at 16 and arrived in the United States in 1920. In 1921 he joined the anarchist Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Bridges was among the young radicals who looked to the fledgling Soviet Union and to expropriation of American property by governments such as Mexico as his inspiration.


“My thinking is Marxist,” Bridges later proclaimed. “And the basic thing about this lousy capitalist system is that the workers create the wealth, but those who own it – the rich – keep getting richer, and the poor get poorer.”


Bridges became the chief organizer of Longshoremen labor up and down the West Coast. In 1934, with Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, Bridges used union and goon muscle to shut down the port of San Francisco, most of the rest of the Pacific Coast, and Hawaii. His union for the first – but not the last – time threatened to strangle the Hawaiian Islands by cutting off all their food and fuel imports, in essence using the tactic of political hostage-taking. It used this muscle to force itself, not only on Hawaiian docks, but also onto pineapple plantation workers and other workers there.


When unemployed Depression workers tried to take the waterfront jobs that union members had walked away from, Bridges’ goons unleashed verbal and physical violence against these new workers.


“Harry’s boys got out their baseball bats to persuade the Scabs that it wasn’t worth the trouble,” boasted one dockworker union propagandist. Some replacement workers died in unusual “accidents,” including two college students. Many others were severely beaten, injured, and crippled. A deputy sheriff in Seattle who tried to arrest violent union thugs was murdered, shot through the head.


“Up and down the coast,” wrote Bridges biographer Charles Larrowe, “the waterfront was turned into a battlefield.”


FDR and his successor, Harry Truman, made unsuccessful attempts to deport as an “undesirable alien” this subversive Australian citizen, who later numbered among his closest friends the chairman of the Communist Party USA Gus Hall and the CPUSA labor secretary George Meyers.


“Ninety-five percent of the evidence against me was absolutely true,” Harry Bridges later said. “But one thing I didn’t do. I didn’t happen to be affiliated with the Communist Party.” The government, unable to prove such affiliation, lost its court cases to deport Bridges and thereafter made him a U.S. citizen.


But Bridges lied.


Emory University historian and political scientist Harvey Klehr in a book he co-edited, The Secret World of American Communism (Yale University Press, 1995), reveals that documentation from the archives of the fallen Soviet Union identifies Bridges not only as a member of the Communist Party USA but also as a clandestine member of the CPUSA’s Central Committee.


“Bridges,” said Marxist-turned-conservative David Horowitz, “was a member of the Central Committee of the American Communist Party, a perjurer, a lifelong servant of the greatest mass murderer in human history and a sworn enemy of the United States.”


While claiming not to be a Communist Party member loyal to Moscow, Harry Bridges led his Longshoremen union to do everything that Communist Party apparatchiks would do. In 1936, he ordered his workers not to load shipments of scrap metal sold to Japan. Japan at the time was at peace with the United States, but its fascist troops in Manchuria were a barrier to the Soviet empire's expansion in the Far East.


While Hitler’s Germany had a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Bridges refused to expedite FDR’s shipments of military supplies to Great Britain. But the moment Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Bridges mobilized his workers to set productivity records speeding the flow of goods to those opposing Nazi Germany. Bridges also attacked other unions’ workers who threatened strikes or work slowdowns to get higher wages when this might reduce the flow of goods to those on the Soviet side of the conflict. (Likewise during World War II the Mafia, for its own ulterior motives, helped the United States fight German troops who were occupying southern Italy.)


But during the Cold War, Bridges opposed every conflict that pitted the United States against Communism, especially the wars in Korea and Vietnam. He also pushed his workers to impede shipments to the racist but anti-Communist apartheid regime in South Africa (whose strategic minerals were essential to the manufacture of American weapons), which the Soviets were working to topple. In his later years, Bridges promoted friendly relations between his union and the Soviet empire’s slave colonies in Communist Vietnam and Cuba, two dictatorships that permitted no independent labor unions. 


Bridges died in March 1990 at age 88. He lived his last years modestly on a small pension. His mainspring was Marxist ideology and power, not personal greed. He refused to take a salary or pension any higher than that of the highest paid Longshore worker. (By contrast, on the East Coast the fat cat ILA President John Bowers takes $586,023 for himself each year in salaries strong-armed from Longshoremen union dues.) In that sense, at least, Bridges was not corrupt, as so many other union bosses are. However, Bridges’ use of radical tactics to threaten and intimidate shipping companies has led his highest paid dock workers reportedly to earn more than $140,000 a year, according to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), a cost passed on to every American consumer in higher prices. 


Harry Bridges’ reactionary strongarm labor Marxism did not die with him. It lives on in many activist members and leaders of his International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). In April 1999, for example, ILWU workers staged a shutdown in support of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal. That November, they staged a work shutdown to support the neo-Marxist anti-World Trade Organization demonstrators who were smashing store windows and burning cars in Seattle. This latter action was particularly odd, because increased world trade would mean more work for Longshoremen. In October 2002, the ILWU flexed its muscle to stage a work slowdown that cost shippers up to a billion dollars a day. Held hostage was the Christmas merchandise coming in for children throughout the United States during the only reliably profitable marketing weeks of the year.


As David Horowitz documents in his book Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left (Regnery, 2004), the collapse of the Soviet Union left many frustrated American radicals with nothing but their all-consuming hatred for capitalism and the United States. In accord with the old saying the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” some of these Marxists have allied themselves with radical Islamists with the aim of destroying the United States by any means possible. Could there be some Longshoremen who share their founder Harry Bridges' vision? If so, would the union again call shutdowns?

…Political Payoffs, Too

What do the Longshoremen unions do with the huge amounts of dues money they coerce from workers and, indirectly, from us consumers? They line their own pockets and buy politicians.


According to required filings with the Federal Election Commission, during the 2004 election cycle the ILWU Political Action Committee expended $661,718 on House and Senate candidates, 98 percent of which went to Democrats. Thus far in the 2006 cycle, ILWU PAC has distributed at least $78,500, and among its biggest beneficiaries are ultra-leftist House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco’s wharf district and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.


The Longshoremen unions were strongly opposed to the Dubai company port deal, and the lawmakers of both parties who spoke out most loudly against the deal just happened to be recipients of Longshoremen union donations. According to the New York Sun, for example, New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez has pocketed $39,500 in Longshoremen PAC contributions. New York City’s Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler has accepted $22,500 from the same union PAC.


Will these politicians keep a watchful eye on the Longshoremen's unions? Almost certainly not.


“Nobody in America cares more about port security than the longshoremen,” so said ILA spokesman James McNamara told Associated Press. But the union put politics above the national good in the past, even the recent past.


“While denying it was ever under mob control,” wrote AP reporter David Caruso, “the ILA has implemented some reforms, including the appointment of two retired judges as independent monitors of union ethics. All longshoremen hired at the ports of New York and New Jersey are subject to a criminal history check by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.” Legislation, he noted, has also been proposed that would empower the commission to investigate whether any port hires have terrorist ties.


These are useful first steps, but they apply mostly to New York and New Jersey ports and to only a fraction of ILA members. What about all other American ports? What about the ILWU on the West Coast? What about investigating the radical political background of all Longshoremen as well as their potential Mafia ties or a background of violence, intimidation, or criminal behavior?


Let’s be clear: most of the Longshoremen rank-and-file are honest, hardworking, patriotic Americans who want to protect their country. They are often as much the victims as the beneficiaries of their union bosses. But the Longshoremen unions have a troubling history.


America’s Longshoremen-financed, leftist lawmakers whipped up great concern about the hypothetical ties Dubai Ports World might have to violence-prone figures. Will these same lawmakers expend an ounce of the same anxiety over the unions’ very real history of ties to anti-American violence and to what many would define as domestic terrorists?


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Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.

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