The South Atlantic and Gulf Coast District are directly linked to the International Longshoremen’s Association. ILA was established in the late 1800s by delegates from eleven (11) ports. We organized in Detroit where they adopted the by-laws of the longshoremen’s Chicago local and the name National Longshoremen’s Association of The United States.
By 1895, the name was changed to International Longshoremen’s Association to reflect the growing numbers of Canadian members. Shortly thereafter, the ILA affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
The International Longshoremen's Association was Created
In 1892 delegates from eleven (11) ports convened in Detroit where they adopted the by-laws of the longshoremen’s Chicago local and the name National Longshoremen’s Association of The United States. By 1895, the name was changed to International Longshoremen’s Association to reflect the growing numbers of Canadian members. Shortly thereafter, the ILA affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
” In the end, the ILA was almost alone on the Lakes. Once again, caution and common sense had led ILA unharmed through a virtual firestorm. “
Struggle, Changes, Fighting Communism and Racism
As the turn of the century loomed, the ILA had approximately 50,000 members, almost all on the Great Lakes. By 1905, membership had doubled to 100,000, half of which were scattered throughout the rest of the country. ILA leaders focused on eliminating independent stevedoring firms and securing closed shop contracts. Keefe bargained with employers, guaranteeing uninterrupted work in return for badly needed improvements in working conditions and wage increases.
Keefe resigned in 1908 and T.V. O’Connor, another Great Lakes tugboat man, became the ILA’s new president. O’Connor’s presidency spanned twelve of the ILA’s most intriguing and influential years. In 1909 a bitter three-year strike on the Great Lakes pitted the employers’ Lake Carriers’ Association against every maritime union except the ILA, whose locals wisely voted against participation because it was clear to them from the beginning that the strike was a losing battle. So powerful and well equipped was the Lake Carriers’ Association that Lakes shipping ran almost regularly despite the union walkout. In the end, the ILA was almost alone on the Lakes. Once again, caution and common sense had led ILA unharmed through a virtual firestorm.
For longshoremen nationwide, and especially for those in the Port of New York, this was an era of great contradiction, where landmark legal advances to protect the rights and safety of workers stood in stark contrast to the actual conditions for longshoremen. The United States was the only country with a large foreign commerce without any laws to protect the safety of its longshoremen. Even the celebrated Clayton Anti Trust Act of 1914, which legalized strikes, boycotts, and peaceful picketing did little to improve actual working conditions for longshoremen.
“It is true that some elements-encouraged by the laws of supply and demand-engaged in illicit behavior, but never to the extent that first Hollywood and later the press would have the public believe.”
The 1914 absorption of LUPA into the ILA prompted the creation of ILA’s New York District Council and ignited an intense period of growth for the union both in terms of size and power. The organization of coastwise longshoremen in 1916 was a significant victory that greatly improved the ILA’s position at bargaining tables-shippers no longer had the option of diverting freight from striking ports along the Atlantic.
As the ILA grew, power shifted increasingly to the Port of New York, where the branch headquarters for the International were established. There, a young man named Joseph Ryan was furiously organizing longshoremen while rising through the ranks to become an officer of the New York District Council and in 1918, president of the Atlantic Coast District.
In 1921, the frenzied pace of longshoring during World War I slackened and ILA president T.V. O’Connor resigned. Anthony Chlopek, the last of the Great Lakes presidents, was elected ILA International president and Ryan served as his First Vice president for the six years of Chlopek’s presidency. Perhaps the most significant development during Chlopek’s term was the institution of the Prohibition Enforcement Law. In direct contrast to its desired effect, Prohibition actually had a demoralizing, corrupting effect on society. Despite fictitious portrayals of gangland capers unfolding on the waterfront, the true state of affairs on New York’s piers never even remotely approached the elaborate plots designed in the artists’ minds. It is true that some elements-encouraged by the laws of supply and demand-engaged in illicit behavior, but never to the extent that first Hollywood and later the press would have the public believe.
The ILA Lands in NYC and Grows Its Members
While the Lakes were pitched into turmoil, ILA locals were cropping up across the U.S. and Canada, with 307 locals in good standing by 1911-242 on the Great Lakes, thirty-four (34) on the Gulf coast, sixteen (16) on the Atlantic coast, seven (7) on the Pacific coast, and even six (6) in Puerto Rico. This extraordinary national expansion marked the end of the dominating influence of the Great Lakes locals on the union. Under O’Connor, the ILA Gulf Coast and Pacific Coast Districts were established, in 1911 and 1912/3(?) respectively. Though this was a period of overall growth for the union, the power and presence of the ILA in many ports expanded and contracted from time to time due to a number of outside factors, including economics and politics, as well as inter- and intra-union clashes.
“The ILA … set up some of the most socially and politically aware labor organizations of the day.”
The ILA successfully staved off the communist “Wobblies” in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the old-time Knights of Labor in Boston, and the unenlightened racists of the Gulf coast to set up some of the most socially and politically aware labor organizations of the day. However, nowhere was the ILA’s expansion to have more of a lasting influence on the union than its arrival in the Port of New York.
In May 1908 ILA Local 791 became the first branch in the Port of New York to survive past infancy, despite a dire need for organization. By 1914, less than ¼ of New York’s dockworkers were in unions, roughly divided between the ILA and LUPA.
Teddy Gleason Fights to Save the ILA
To combat the spread of the carpetbag IBL, the ILA sent Thomas “Teddy” Gleason, ILA General Organizer, from port to port nationwide. The urgency of the task was matched by Gleason’s unremitting ardor. Meanwhile, 17,000 longshoremen voted in the December 23rd and 24th 1953 National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election to determine representation in the Port of New York. The ILA was victorious, but immediately, Governor Dewey waged a campaign to overturn the election results.
“Many ILA officials could not simply stand by as their men fought on the docks and risked punishment to join the fight. ”
Tension on the New York piers was mounting daily. Staunch ILA loyalists and many other longshormen were at best suspicious and at worst intolerant of the IBL, which they viewed as a machine of the Waterfront Commission and a scab union. By early March 1954, the storm finally hit when Teamster boss David Beck betrayed the ILA by refusing to cross an IBL picket line. News spread and on piers up and down Manhattan, ILA longshoremen refused to touch Teamster deliveries. The cry, “To hell with these scabs, lets hit the bricks” crippled the Port of New York as gangs of longshoremen walked off the docks in a wildcat strike, which spread like wildfire.
A March 4th NLRB injunction forbade ILA leaders from striking or disrupting freight transportation. Many ILA officials could not simply stand by as their men fought on the docks and risked punishment to join the fight. Violence erupted by mid-March as the IBL, facilitated by the police and Beck’s Teamsters, smashed picket line after picket line. On March 18th the NLRB examiner effectively overturned the December elections based on the claim they were conducted “in an atmosphere of terror, coercion, and intimidation.” despite evidence to the contrary. This proved to be the last straw, for less than a week later, Bradley made the ILA strike official. Other unions and workers gave their complete support to the ILA, including a major Teamsters local, which indicated Beck’s opposition to the ILA strikers was not shared throughout the rest of the Teamsters.
The balance of power began to shift as Gleason gained ground against the IBL and longshoremen along the coast refused to handle diverted cargo. Dewey’s anti-ILA entourage responded to the shift with a series of legal actions. Then, on April 4th the NLRB officially set aside the results of the December elections and called for a new vote. The final blow, however, was the NLRB’s announcement that the ILA would be banned from future elections unless it ended the work stoppage “forthwith.” Bradley had no choice but to send his men back to work.
The ILA won a slim victory in the May 26th election, despite aggressive IBL campaigning. In August 1954, the results were finally approved and certified by NLRB and the ILA was given representational rights in the Port of New York. The IBL did not go quietly and forced a third representational election in 1956, in which it was again defeated. By the time an AFL-CIO committee recommended re-admittance for the ILA in August 1959, the IBL was active only in the Great Lakes. In October, the IBL officially dissolved itself and IBL president Larry Long became president of ILA’s Great Lakes District.
Teddy Gleason Elected President of the ILA
Teddy Gleason was unanimously elected president at the ILA International Convention in 1963. He had always been respected, and the value of his efforts as General Organizer during the troubles of the 1950s was well known. His utter devotion to the union was clear to even the most casual of observers. The delegates who elected Gleason were looking for change, progress, and modernization. Gleason took up this charge and moved the headquarters to its current location at 17 Battery Place, then focused on settling the union’s troubled financial affairs.
“As automation and containerization increased, Gleason’s foresight saved countless jobs.”
In 1965, Gleason negotiated what was at the time, the longest lasting ILA contract in history. It was also the first truly forward-looking contract the union signed. This focus on the future of longshoring in general and the welfare of ILA members was characteristic of Gleason’s twenty-four (24) year tenure as ILA president. As automation and containerization increased, Gleason’s foresight saved countless jobs. Gleason-era initiatives such as the Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) program, the Job Security Program (JSP) and the “Rules on Containers” (The Rules) have endured, often against bitter opposition, to this day. Under Gleason, the ILA once again became a strong and powerful force in the world of labor.