Abstract: The Political Economy of Containerization: The Port of New York/New Jersey, 1950-1975

Richard Greenwald


Containerization transformed international trade and transportation. The transformation was revolutionary and quick. In 1950, it took hundreds of men weeks sometimes to unload or load a ship. Labor (and other dock-side) costs accounted for as much as 50 percent of total costs. Corruption, gangsterism, and inefficiency were the norm. By 1975 dock-side costs were down around one percent, ships were unloaded and loaded in hours by dozens of workers. The system was efficient. Part of this story involves the labor relations regime that was created to adapt to containerization. This paper seeks to explore the ways the union of longshoremen in New York City (the International Longshoremen's Association) in responding to local issues and pressures helped shape indirectly a national maritime policy. In this case, the local affected the global.