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On the waterfront

At fourteen, Tom Hanley had a part alongside Marlon Brando in 'On the Waterfront'. He played Tommy, the boy who helps Brando's Terry Malloy look after his beloved pigeons. The film's portrayal of corruption, extortion and racketeering on the Hoboken docks touched events in Hanley's own life. When Tom was four months old, his father was murdered at work on the docks, apparently for disrespecting the gangsters who ran the pier. By sixteen, Tom was a longshoreman himself, his brief flicker of stardom already a distant memory (along with the $500 he had earned from the movie studio).

The docks of New York and New Jersey have for generations been synonymous with organised crime, with the Genovese family in control of the New Jersey waterfront and the Gambino family in control of the New York side. Writing in 1960, the sociologist Daniel Bell described the International Longshoremen's Association as 'less a trade union than a collection of Chinese warlords, each ruling a great or small province.'

As the value of cargo moving through the port has boomed - it was measured at $132 billion in 2005 - the mob has continued to rule. To gauge their influence one can look at Local 1588, the union branch in Bayonne where Hanley worked as a crane operator. Just in the past few years, Local 1588 officials have been convicted of, among other crimes, racketeering, extortion, bribery, conspiracy, embezzlement and grand theft. Sick of the corruption that has plagued their union for decades, Hanley and the other men photographed for this story bravely stood for election on an anti-mafia ticket. Fifty years after he embarked on his career in the docks, Hanley became shop steward of Local 1588, promising change.
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