REGIONAL LABOR REVIEW Fall 2000
Gotham Unbound: How New York City Was Liberated From the Grip of Organized Crime
James B. Jacobs, with Coleen Friel and Robert Radick. New York: New York University Press, 1999.
reviewed by Louis J. Kern
While James B..Jacobs does not maintain that the Mafia was the only organized crime group in twentieth-century America, it is his
central contention that the Italian-American controlled organized
that since the 1930s have dominated illicit
businesses—loan-sharking, protection rackets, drugs, prostitution role in infiltrating and corrupting legitimate businesses and labor
and pornography—also have played a unions in larger urban centers like the
significant and largely unique New York metropolitan area.
The Cosa Nostra, he believes, preeminent criminal economic
due to its aggressive and often violent racketeering, achieved, in the period between power that carried with it exceptional social status and significant political influence.
By the 1980s Mafia business interests were divided among five organized-crime families—the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno, and Colombo. Though the New York City mob has penetrated dozens of city industries since 1920, Jacobs focuses on six key industries that have been extensively and continuously dominated by organized crime. The “mobbed-up” industries that provide the focus for his study are: the garment industry, air freight transport and storage at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Construction and exhibition trades at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, parking and loading/unloading at Fulton Fish Market, the solid waste hauling business in the five boroughs and on Long Island, and the construction industry.
The volume is divided into two equal sections, the first providing an historical overview of the “mobbing-up” of the city, and the second detailing the legal and enforcement bases for the “liberation” of the city from Mafia control. Readers who are anticipating a general historical overview of Mafia activities in the city, however, will be disappointed since central and more colorful elements of Mafia activity—involvement with shipping and the longshoremen’s union, penetration of the restaurant, gambling and funeral trades are not considered here. The primary concern here is to offer a cross-section of organized crime and its familial basis, its status and activities, in the period 1980-85.
Those interested in the excitement and violence that has characterized such recent popular cultural representations of the
Mafiosi, from Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic
cinematic Godfather cycle (1972-90) and the
television series The Sopranos, will also be disappointed. Instead on the processes of infiltration, organization and maintenance of
of focusing on the control that made
notorious and the Mafia families so
phenomenally popular current spectacular, Jacobs concentrates dominant in these six industries
from as early as the 1920s. While economy of organized crime and
provides a solid and nuanced account of the organization, strategies and operations of the shadow detrimental impact on prices, services and organized labor, the narration is often pedestrian and
color. The book reads more like a textbook than a monographic criminology or the economics of organized crime would be its most
treatment of its subject, appropriate application.
The first section of the volume details Mafia control of industries largely through infiltration and subversion of labor unions, the use of shipping cartels and exclusionary transportation-carting zones. Examples detailed here include the Mafia domination of Mason Tenders Local 23 and IBT Local 282 (construction teamsters), the Master Truckmen of America (a garment industry trucking cartel), and the Gambino family-controlled P & S Sanitation Company (the Bronx) and the National Carting Company of Brooklyn.
Mob controlled industries were, of course, highly profitable enterprises for Mafia families and their associates, and corrupt police, politicians, and union officials also benefited from organized crime. But, as Jacobs makes clear, the general public and especially the rank-and-file members of mob-controlled unions were the primary losers under this system. He finds efforts at combatting mob control prior to 1980 largely ineffective if well-intentioned. In the garbage industry, for instance, he argues that law