Joseph Ryan – The mobster who controlled the ILA

The ILA or International Longshoremen Association began as a labour union that was legitimate within the region of the Great Lakes. Its purpose was to assist dockworkers to get their fare share from their employers. It later expanded to east cost and a council was created by 1914 for New York District. Very soon, the ILA went o to become a mob stronghold, got manipulated by few of the most dangerous Irish mobsters of those days among whom Joseph Ryan was regarded to be the most prominent.

His entering the ILA

It was in 1917 that Ryan entered the scene, as he organized an ILA branch called ‘Council of New York District’. He became Atlantic Coast District of ILA’s President in 1918. With the New York Port gaining more importance due to its proximity to Europe and IWW (Workers of World), west coast based workers placing strict competition, the ILA in 1919 managed to bring them into their fold.

His early life and rise to fame

In 1921, Ryan was appointed as the ILA’s first Vice President and its President in 1927, during the time of which, the power base completely shifted to New York Port. He had become somebody from nobody, but had to go through tough time.

It was Babylon, Long Island considered to be his birthplace on 11th May 1884. His parents were of Irish origin and immigrants. At 9, both of them died, leaving him as an orphan.  A woman had adopted him and he lived with her in Manhattan’s Chelsea section, just a few blocks south from Hell’s Kitchen region that was completely lawless at that time.

In his early age, he had to undertake menial jobs and then got a work with loading and unloading at Chelsea Piers. But having hurt his foot when unloading, he was never able to work at the docks again. However, he was appointed as ILA Local 791 secretary and from then began his meteoric rise. He was called popularly as ‘Boss Joe’ and was regarded to be a ruthless fighter, hired some of the worst imaginable men to increase his grip. He also organized fund raisers for politicians. ‘The Norris La Guardia  Act’ passed on by Roosevelt only enhanced his power further. But it was the west coast that proved to be his downfall and in 1851 lost control over ILA. In 1955,  after being convicted and fined, he never was seen near the waterfronts.