Zane G

            The 1954 film, On the Waterfront, was not only a fantastic display of acting, storyline and dialogue, but it also raised important issues involving corrupt union leaders in American blue-collar jobs.  The film told the story of Terry Malloy, a torn worker, whose casual involvement with the Mob union leaders (through his brother) clashed with his good conscience and his love for Edie Doyle, the sister of a man killed by the Mob.  The workers, afraid to stand-up to their union leaders for equal opportunities and safer working conditions, were also too afraid to go to police authorities about the corruption and the murders occurring in the community.  It seemed only the priest, Father Berry, had the courage to rally the men and Malloy to finally expose the truth about the Mob and its bullying practices.

            The struggle between the dock laborers and the union leaders in the film can be seen as neoclassical dichotomy.  The workers want some level of job security, a minimum wage and decent working conditions.  The union leaders, according to neoclassical theory, are self-interested and probably want to capitalize on their authoritative position at the expense of the workers.  In a sense, these Mob leaders are operating as Moneybags.  From a contemporary Marxist perspective, they want nothing less than total control.  That is, that last thing they want to happen is a revolt because, not only are they outnumbered, but should they be exposed, they would surly lose their power and would be shunned from the community.  Thus, the union leaders bring in the element of fear.  Instead of a legitimizing function so the workers wouldn’t revolt, the Mob rules by threats in order to prevent a revolt – some of which are carried out.  They then rely on subtle word of mouth and unspoken rules like playing ‘dumb and deaf’ to withhold their power.  The social environment of the waterfront is conducive to this policy as well as it is perceived to be shameful to name names.

            Corrupt union authorities cause the power of the voice of workers to break down.  The workers can demand better wages, conditions, etc., but it all depends on what the leaders (in this case, the Mob operating as Moneybags) wish to happen.  We can see the Marxist theory at work in On the Waterfront when the workers finally recognize their common plight and revolt against the Mob, so that “the expropriators are expropriated.”


Yin W

“On the Waterfront” presents a story of mind blowing corruption within the dock union. The union leaders abuse their power by exploiting workers and committing vicious crimes. Their organization is looked upon with fear and the community remains in silence. Terry Malloy’s heroic efforts to stand up against wrong doing stopped this reign of terror. The depiction of union corruption is vividly shown through various murders and selective hiring.
   Unions were put into place to help workers gain certain rights such as better wages and safer working conditions. This film provides the gruesome reality of the negative effects unions can have. Johnny Friendly, with a satirical name, is the union boss and can be seen as the Moneybags through the Marxist perspective. His primary goal is to maximize profits at any cost, whether it is through selective hiring or killing those who interfere with his illegal activity. Dock workers depend on him for employment and knowing this, the hirer only selects a few each morning. By doing so, it will keep the dock workers contained and separate from one another as they act only in pursuit of their own self interests as explained by the Neoclassical view. Each dock worker waits in hopes of being chosen for that day, instead of rallying together to fight for equal opportunity to work.
   With so much power given to these union leaders, an authoritarian type of environment is created. The workers remain “d&d,” which leaves them helpless and union leaders with the ability to continue their sketchy activities. Johnny Friendly and his gang are able to commit many murders.  It is here you would think the government would intervene to protect the welfare and safety of these people, but there is nothing that can be done since no one is willing to talk due to fear. Fear explains why the people do not fight back and are very cautious with the way they act.
  The code of silence is broken when Terry realizes that he is the only one who can bring about change. He chooses to testify against Johnny Friendly, which brings the dock workers together whom decide not to work unless everyone is able to. The coming together of these dock workers force the hiring people to give in to their demands. This concept plays in to the Marxist belief that as long as individuals are ignorant of uniting, they will not realize their strength in numbers. Once the dock workers unite, they hold the power and the voice that no one could avoid.


Janette G

On the Waterfront emphasizes the complications of a town run by the “mob.”  Terry’s struggles throughout the film emphasize the crucial events that relate to the Neoclassical, Marxist, and Liberal theories. Throughout the film there were individuals such as the priest and detectives whom attempt to solve the mysteries of the unfortunate deaths.  This relates to both the Liberal theory and the Marxist theory in the importance of the role of government intervention.  The priest and detectives, in this case acting as “the government,” are determined to get to the root of the deaths because they feel that it is necessary to create a safer environment for the public.  The curiosity, however, is making matters worse by putting the “stoolers” at risk.  The liberal theory believes that the government intervention is making humanity better by intervening.  However by intervening, the Government is putting more people in danger because they are singling those individuals out, which relates to the Marxist theory.

The competition among the workers is very strong, and an aspect of the neoclassical theory was touches upon the construction of this competition. The strong competition was created by the men attempting to work in “the hole,” who are competing with one another to be picked to work for the day.  Men would end up fighting each other for the coins, which determined which individuals would work that day.  Men were so eager to work, because they needed the money in order to survive and pay for rent, that they would push their way to the front just to increase their chances of getting picked to work that day.

The film concludes by emphasizing an aspect of the Marxist theory relating to the workers revolting.  The workers got to a point where they were so unhappy with the way they were being treated, and how the mob controlled who was picked to work and who was not.  The workers finally joined together and took a stand against Johnny by not going back to work until Terry was allowed to work with them.  The ending of the film was very effective, because it sent the message that in order to get what they wanted they would have to join forces rather than have every man work and fight for themselves.


Brian O

“On the Waterfront” explores the problems that arise in a corrupt union.  The union leader is Johnny Friendly, who is practically a mob boss for his small band of miscreants.  Friendly and his small group of people at the top exploit the union members, they do so by doing such things as taking union dues to pay for their own personal things.  This illegal activity is protected by fear of violence, which we clearly saw when a couple of workers who spoke out against Friendly were quickly eliminated.

In this film the longshoremen union brings to mind the class system that is discussed in the Marxist perspective.  In this case the worker class at the docks is comprised of very poor men who have few options in life.  This large group of workers can only find work at the docks, and even if it means they are sometimes only picked to work two days a week, they will take that.  The fact that these workers are willing to settle for little allows the other higher class to exploit the working class.  We see the fundamental ideas of domination and exploitation at play here as Friendly takes advantage of the workers by taking money away from them to make himself better off.  Friendly(Money Bags) and his small gang benefit at the expense of the much larger working class.  They do so by generating a surplus value in which the dock workers do not see nearly as much as they produce.

The ideas of Marxism came full circle at the end of the film, when the workers finally came together and revolted.  After the murder of Joey Doyle, the workers kept to their deaf and dumb policy because of the fear instilled in them by Friendly.  But as the corruption escalated and Friendly continued to abuse his power, an opposing force of equal power grew.  Notes from the reader clearly explained what happened here, “Increasing misery grows to the point where workers recognize their common plight and revolt”.  The workers had kept quiet for so long, but the continued exploitation and misery finally culminated to a point where they forgot about their fear of Friendly and decided to unite and revolt.  The expropriators were eventually expropriated as the workers backed up Terry and stood up to Friendly and his cohorts.


Jungsoo T

On the Waterfront displays a good example of a type of conflict that arises when the law of supply and demand is the only force regulating the labor market. Here, the employers enjoy a freedom going beyond the regular labor exploitation as they act as a mob to achieve their goals through violence. The employees are at the day to day mercy of the employer when seeking a job. The hiring of laborers is made in a very arbitrary fashion. Rather than qualification and experience, docility and favors are the only decisive factors.

This climate of uncertainty turns the job seekers into animals, losing all dignity. In one scene, the job seekers are fighting against each other for a little metallic coin that will allow them to work for that day. The main character, Terry Malloy, is given favorable treatments by the mob for being “close” to them, and for playing a major role in the murder of Joey. He always gets picked for a well paying job, where he does nothing or very little work. When he distances himself from the mob and becomes strong headed, the mob turns around the favors and he does not get picked anymore.

For the mob, creating a climate of uncertainty is not sufficient for keeping absolute power over the labor market; therefore it also uses violence and fear to dissuade any worker from displaying any kind of objection against their situation. For this purpose, the mob does not hesitate to act against the law. The mob murders anyone who stands up to them, showing that they value wealth over human life.

This scenario is a good example of what can happen if moneybag has the powers and ability to do whatever it takes to achieve their goal. According to neoclassical theories, if the labor market is left unregulated, the suppliers and demanders, driven by their own self interest, will reach an equilibrium which will be satisfactory for both parties. The movie clearly shows that this system cannot work. The labor demand accumulates so much power that they are able to accomplish any goal by any means possible. Labor supply has the advantage of being far more numerous than labor demand, and therefore they should have the leverage needed to make requests regarding labor conditions. Unfortunately, this cannot happen if workers are kept divided and docile driven by a sense of fear. Some workers met and organized themselves around the very altruist driven priest, but this short-lived resistance fails when once again the mob uses violence to separate them and dissuades them from duplicating their experiment.


Patrick S

The union in the film, The Waterfront, is the epitome of what Neoclassical economists believe a union to be. It was corrupt, run by the mob and only had the interests of its bosses at heart. The waterfront union was run by Johnny Friendly, and was supposed to represent the dock workers that unloaded the tankers that came into the dock each morning. They were supposed to make sure that each worker received equal wages, and work time and that no one was overlooked or had special privileges. The truth was, however, the union made sure that only their most loyal workers got work, and these loyal workers paid extra to the bosses to ensure it.

            Neoclassical economists believe that unions do more harm then good. To these conservatives, unions do stand up for the rights of their constituents, but at the cost of the non members. This view clear in The Waterfront, and a perfect example occurs in the beginning of the film. All of the dock workers are lined up for the morning’s ship, but the union members that are in bed with Johnny are the only ones that are guaranteed work. The others all literally have to fight for their work, and a mob scene breaks out. This scene drew comparisons to day laborers looking for labor on the streets, like we saw in “La Ciudad.” These men were corrupt to the point that they killed a man because he talked to investigators about the union’s illegal activity.

            The Waterfront is an excellent film, and shined a light on the negative aspects of unions that, unfortunately, existed during this time. Most unions are, in fact, out to better the lives of their workers, but stories like this one do nothing to help. The film perpetuates what Neoclassical, conservative economists believe to be union ideals.



Ruby K

“On the Waterfront” is a film that portrays how dockworkers suffer with low pay and no working hours even though they are in a union. This is due to mob related people controlling the union. The dockworkers were treated as if they are human entertainment because they would have to fight each other to get a coin in order to work. The “Money Bags”, Johnny Friendly, murdered people when they were asked to testify against him for his threats.
    Terry Malloy, who was involved with one of the murders, was asked by the Crime Commission workers to testify against Johnny Friendly. In the beginning he was just like the rest of the dockworkers by remaining “deaf and dumb”. When Johnny Friendly decided to murder Terry and killed his brother, Charlie, instead, Terry finally realizes his conscience. This is when Marxist’s theory of revolt starts to come in play.
    Terry went to court and testified against Johnny Friendly. Although his brave action was what the rest of the dockworkers were afraid to do, they did not support him because they needed to keep their job. The rest of the dockworkers watched Terry get beat up and when they realized that that could happen to them too they stood there and did not go to work. As they watched Terry, they realized their common plight and that if they do not stand up for themselves that this will just keep happening. Terry finally stood up from being unconscious and with his life in danger, the rest of the dockworkers followed him, and they revolted against Johnny Friendly.
    The concept of “voice” was always revealed in this film. The dockworkers will need their job no matter what but because they had no other choice. Through the revolt, the workers were able to voice their minds. As people stand up for things together and have requests, the bosses just as Johnny Friendly have no choice but to have to change his ways in order to get them to work. The dockworkers were happy and more willing to work at the end, which means that they will be more productive.



Tola K

“On The Waterfront” depicts a corrupt union run by the mob, which takes advantage of the workers in a manner reminiscent of Marxist theory. One of the first scenes, where the mobsters are splitting the union dues among themselves, is exemplary of surplus value. Keeping the dues for themselves, rather than contributing them to the organization, the mob clearly shows their union’s goal is their personal benefit rather than the benefit of the workers. It is clear from the beginning that the union has very little interest in its workers, and its true purpose is to produce a profit for the mob (Money Bags).

Normally a union helps its members find work, however, this union forces its members to compete for a limited number of jobs “in the hole,” leaving any surplus dockworkers on the street without a job. As a result, the workers focus on their personal interests of finding work, rather than cooperating for more benefits or better wages. This allows the mob to stay in control because, like the immigrant workers in “The City,” the dockworkers are preoccupied earning a living, therefore, unable to organize a revolution against Money Bags.

Loyalty to the union’s leaders is another aspect of this film. The dockworkers are constantly reminded to remain silent regarding any of the union’s illicit activities, and anyone seen as disloyal is swiftly dealt with by the mob’s henchmen. Even Charley Malloy, one of the union bosses, is murdered when his loyalty to the union becomes questionable. This obligatory loyalty denies the workers any voice they hope to gain by being members of the union.

The vagrants around the dock could, from the neoclassical perspective, represent dockworkers that refused to join the union and, as a result, could not compete with the union’s bargaining power. The wage inequality of union and non-union workers causes these men to abandon hope of working, forcing them to live on the streets. From these perspectives, the net effect of this “union” is negative; however, the organization is much less a union than it is a criminal organization.


Kyle M

On the Waterfront dealt with quite a few moral questions, but when it comes to labor struggles the film focused entirely on unions. By showcasing a completely corrupt union, the film showed what can happen if union heads act individualistically with no regard to those they claim to represent. If one were to consider the union as a single entity, one could conclude that the union in this case is representing neoclassical beliefs on individualistic behavior.  Even without considering the union as a single entity, the film repeatedly showed that the men in charge cared very little about representing the desires of the workers in the union. Rather, as the priest pointed out, the men in charge cared only about the union dues and kickbacks.

            Due to this behavior by the union heads, the union in this film operated against almost every benefit liberals claim unions give their members. For example, the union provided no help whatsoever in terms of discrimination.  In fact, the union even attempted to prevent the main character from working simply because he had used his voice. This is especially ironic as voice is actually another benefit unions are supposed to give their members. However, in this film the union aggressively oppressed its members by murdering anyone who publically spoke against the heads or brutally beating anyone who attended a meeting to talk about the union. Because of this treatment, one character gives the advice, “Keep quiet, you’ll live longer.” With this statement the character succinctly portrays the total fear the union had instilled in its members.

            This fear culminated into an ending that went a bit against the Marxist belief of a worker revolt.  As the main character received a heavy beating from a few of the union head’s henchmen, the entire labor force stood and watched.  According to Marx this would be the point at which the workers revolt, but they didn’t. One can only assume this is because they were afraid to act. Instead, they refused to work unless the main character worked with them.  In a way this was a revolt, but the entire labor force overpowering the union heads would have provided a much more satisfying, and Marxist, conclusion.


Patrick W

On the Waterfront emphasizes the complications of a town run by the “mob.”  Terry’s struggles throughout the film emphasize the crucial events that relate to the Neoclassical, Marxist, and Liberal theories. Throughout the film there were individuals such as the priest and detectives whom attempt to solve the mysteries of the unfortunate deaths.  This relates to both the Liberal theory and the Marxist theory in the importance of the role of government intervention.  The priest and detectives, in this case acting as “the government,” are determined to get to the root of the deaths because they feel that it is necessary to create a safer environment for the public.  The curiosity, however, is making matters worse by putting the “stoolers” at risk.  The liberal theory believes that the government intervention is making humanity better by intervening.  However by intervening, the Government is putting more people in danger because they are singling those individuals out, which relates to the Marxist theory.

The competition among the workers is very strong, and an aspect of the neoclassical theory was touches upon the construction of this competition. The strong competition was created by the men attempting to work in “the hole,” who are competing with one another to be picked to work for the day.  Men would end up fighting each other for the coins, which determined which individuals would work that day.  Men were so eager to work, because they needed the money in order to survive and pay for rent, that they would push their way to the front just to increase their chances of getting picked to work that day.

The film concludes by emphasizing an aspect of the Marxist theory relating to the workers revolting.  The workers got to a point where they were so unhappy with the way they were being treated, and how the mob controlled who was picked to work and who was not.  The workers finally joined together and took a stand against Johnny by not going back to work until Terry was allowed to work with them.  The ending of the film was very effective, because it sent the message that in order to get what they wanted they would have to join forces rather than have every man work and fight for themselves.


Katherine V

            On the Waterfront is a perfect illustration of Marxist theory. The mobsters, who Father Barry refers to as the “easy money boys” and who Marx would call the “moneybags”, have a monopsonist control over the waterfront. They own all of the rights to the ports and thus have the ability to exploit the lower class workers to the fullest extent, thereby earning all the money without having to do a lick of work. At one point in the film Father Barry asks the dockworkers, “What about your union? No union would stand for this.” The workers explain that the union is run by the mob and that the mob is merely interested in maximizing its surplus-value and has no concern for the well being of the workers.

Further, the moneybags go to drastic measures to keep the workers from voicing their dissatisfaction, recognizing their common plight, and forming a coalition against them. By repeatedly murdering workers suspected of considering testifying against the company and against the mob, Johnny Friendly instills fear into the workers and creates a repressive environment where no worker would dare try to revolt.

In the past, when market forces and the abrasive self-interests of capitalists caused working environments to become so severely corrupted, the answer was to introduce unions to protect the interests and the well being of the workers. However, On the Waterfront poses an even more challenging question: if unions are to interject when the market produces a corrupt working environment, who is to interject when the unions themselves become corrupt?

John Burton Jr. explains that when faced with job dissatisfaction, a worker has two options: exit the firm, or voice dissatisfaction through a union. However, in the case of the waterfront, there was no viable way for the dockworkers to voice their discontent. The union was led by the mob and was thus unwilling to partake in normal collective bargaining activities. However, the workers also did not have the liberty of exiting the firm because their families’ livelihoods depended on their income and they most likely wouldn’t have been able to find a job anywhere else. In the end, their only option was to play deaf and dumb and continue working amidst unfair conditions. On the Waterfront sheds light on the issue of corruption and causes us to reconsider the necessity of exogenous intervention in order to prevent such severe extortion and exploitation.


Morgan C

If horseshoes could pay the rent, a stevedore’s problems would be solved. In the early half of the 20th century, the U-shaped debauchery surrounding a dock foreman can be attributed to the widespread corruption of the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA). Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, On the Waterfront, beautifully illustrates the stevedore’s internal conflict conceived by the soul-selling, mob-decreed, hiring scheme amidst the putrid ocean.

By 1954 (the release year of On the Waterfront), Kazan fully understood the dilemmas facing union members served with subpoenas. In 1952, under pressure by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Kazan condemned several of hi colleagues in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Given this fact, it appears clear why On the Waterfront adopts the anti-union, pro-canary viewpoint absent from One of the Hollywood Ten and Salt of the Earth. However, the implications of this claim should be analyzed further since it implies the paradoxical biconditional of union association and simultaneous union condemnation.

The fact that Kazan decided to specifically berate the power of unions to decide who is allowed to work based on the favors a worker has performed, for the union outside of the workplace, suggests that On the Waterfront is not anti-union, in the general case. In the film, longshoremen are pressured to perform corrupt tasks to assist the mob-run union in order to be hired. Similarly, filmmakers were pressured by their union to give testimony to the HUAC. On the Waterfront began production immediately after Kazan’s testimony, suggesting that he disagreed with the MPAA threatening the end of careers in order to force cooperation from its filmmakers.

The prior analysis disagrees with typical perceptions of this film as strictly anti-union and as a defense for Kazan’s testimony. The fact that the protagonist, Terry Malloy, gives testimony is often cited as evidence that Kazan attempted to portray himself as the hero. However, the major difference between Malloy and Kazan is that Malloy stood up to the pressures of the union. From this standpoint, On the Waterfront is actually not commending Kazan’s actions, but those of the Hollywood Ten.

The internal struggles of the dock workers extend to the filmmakers pressured to give testimony to the HUAC. Corrupt unions not only increase exploitation but also pin worker against worker in an attempt to achieve benefits beyond that of the work in question. Through On the Waterfront, Kazan demonstrates his disgust for his own union, and similar unions that require selling one’s soul in order to be allowed to work.


Neger S

Of all the films we have yet watched in class, “On the Waterfront” was one that failed to captivate me. Although the film incorporated labor, love, violence, and corruption, it was more difficult to unveil the deeper meaning. The irony of this film from the others we have watched in this class, is that the corrupt organization in the film was not the capitalists, but the unions themselves.
From a Marx perspective, the union leaders were seen as the “moneybags,” who were in control of the other harbor workers. The mob leaders exploited the poor by keeping all the surplus value for themselves, and the workers all abided to the rules because of capitalist stature and power. They also reaped the benefits of the unions’ power, by controlling the work pace, and the money that went through to the hard-working laborers.
Ultimately, one of the mob members, Terrie took a step outside the system when he rejected taking on a job that could pay him more than he ever desired. He knew the mob was not the type of life he wanted to lead and took a step out of the social class he was born into. This was a huge turning point in the film because Terrie broke free from human corruption within the capitalist system.
One of the most symbolic scenes in the film was when Terrie fought off the union leader “Johnny Friendly,” and the other workers chose not to work without Terrie’s presence. This scene represented the true meaning of a united voice, and how at last they all took a stance against the mob leaders, putting an end to the hostility. Karl Marx always believed in a revolution by the exploited poor and this scene represented just this. The built-up pressure from the capitalists resulted in a worker revolution against the cruel bourgeoisies.
Another primary scene in the film was when the innocent workers who were supporting the search for illegal activity in the union, were all killed for being affiliated with the investigation. This also demonstrates the corrupt side to the capitalist system and how far the “moneybags” would go in order to ensure the money would continue to flow into their hands.
Overall, “On the Waterfront,” covered all the main concepts behind the Marx perspective on labor, while still expanding on the misconception of unions. Although the unions were perceived as the corrupt force in the film, the power of “voice” ultimately conquered the mob leaders and proved positive results.



Sothida V


On the Waterfront is a beautiful film that reveals the dirty reality of corruption in capitalism.  This film shows me that corruption and capitalism go hand-in-hand, and this is a problem that is easily overlooked by the government or the justice department.  It is very interesting know that extreme corruptions that involve crimes do exist in capitalism.  What is even more interesting to know is that people are willing to commit crimes for their selfish goals.  On the Waterfront is somewhat based on a true story, and it is sad to imagine these crimes and corruptions happening in real life.   
            Friendly is extremely talented in hiding his dirty deeds, and this film shows many corruptions done by him. To me, corruption can be sensed easily, but it is extremely hard to prove it.  It is something that everyone knows about but refuses to talk about.  Usually, the corrupter can bury the corruption so well that it rarely comes up to the surface.  Money and power are the two main reasons why corruption can persist, and this is a serious issue that the government should do something about. 
            Friendly’s self-centered actions have caused Terry serious hardship.  It is heartbreaking to know that Terry has to lose the boxing match because of Friendly’s greed of winning his bet.  Furthermore, Friendly’s abuse of power has caused Terry to distrust Charley, because Terry could have made it big in his boxing career if Charley did not tell him to lose the match.  It is disturbing to know how many lives have been ruined by Friendly.  After all, Friendly is not that friendly considering how many people he has murdered.  It is sad to see how he value money and power more than human’s lives.  In addition, this film shows me that capitalism brings out the worst in people because everything they see is money.            


Damon W

Wanting your older brother to look out for you is a natural wish to have. Tommy, however, was not watching out for himself. Not that he should have known how, for no one had taught him. He answered to the man with the money, a practice much easier to pick up for a hungry orphan. Being paid off has the effect of sedating any ambitions away. While under the influence of the green drug, it is not uncommon to let down friends and family, set Jimmy up to be tossed off the roof, or simply watch your dreams drift away. The waterfront gang is the party directing most of the cash flow in the neighborhood, directing most of it to themselves. They are responsible for using their influence over the money to cheat others, pay low wages, commit murder and other illegal and unethical practices. Corruption is the key to the events that happen on the waterfront. Corruption can be addressed from any view point.

            Johnny Friendly seemed like a “capitalist gangster” which is a gangster who justifies his life of crime through capitalist business sentiment such as “Every man for himself.” Johnny tells Tommy about his early life as an impoverished youth to emphasize that he had earned his wealth, that he deserves it. Johnny wanted wealth bad enough to go out and get it, and the men at the waterfront do not deserve such wealth because there can be only one crime boss. There are also “marxist gangsters” and “Liberal gangsters.” Both types are less common due to the conflict between the nature of crime for one's own benefit and ideas that attempt to achieve greater equality for the labor force. Of course, there have been instances of people using elements of Marxism to rob far greater numbers of people to a far greater degree.

            On the Waterfront is similar to Salt of the Earth in respect to monopsony. The dock gang controls to entire dock, and decides who works and at what wage. The workers in both films suffer from the inability to find outside work. The Mexican American miners would have had to move far away to find work from a different employer. The dock workers needed to walk about a block and look for work any place other than the dock. Due to their inability to perform any other type of labor than dock labor, the longshoremen were trapped in a monopsony.


Laura T

On the Waterfront is a powerful and intricately crafted film about
romance, revenge, and struggle for fairness in a world of corrupt
urban unionism ruled by fear and violence: a world where any attempt
to bring justice is met with violence and murder. It is a film that
calls attention to the issue of worker’s rights and social justice,
depicting the darkest side of a life of hard labor and the struggles
that face those who have to endure this. The film is bleak and gritty
with an air of despair that is constantly present, representing a
study of both human evil and human decency. This bleak atmosphere of
the waterfront suits the film’s theme of oppression well. The feeling
of lost hope does justice to the actual workers who are faced with
such troubles since they are also often left without hope.
>From a neoclassical perspective, many of the characters in this film
were motivated by self interest. In order to keep their jobs and even
their own lives, many of the workers turn a cheek to the corruption
that is going on and remain D&D.
Elia Kazan’s choice to film on location in the visibly chilly winter,
where you could see the pier workers breaths in the cold morning, gave
an almost documentary feel to the proceedings. The use of black and
white film rather than color only served to enhance the dramatic
effects. I thought the film moved at a good pace, never too far ahead
of itself and always allowing the viewer to enjoy the story and
development of characters.
On The Waterfront is certainly not an understated or subtle film
though. I felt that the film’s score, while appropriate for the times,
was on occasion over the top. It made the rare moments of tenderness
sometimes seem much too intense and over done. Effects such as the
dissonance of urban sounds drowned out the spoken words of a key
confession by Terry to Edie.
There are a number of social parallels that can be drawn from this
film that used to exist back in the 1950’s and still exist today. The
same political/organized criminal associations are still alive and
kicking today. On The Waterfront is a film with such a resonating
truth about it. It’s not hard to see it and relate to it, in one form
or another.


Shannon Y

Director Elia Kazan brought to light hardships of longshoremen, operating under a mob-run union. Similar to the illegal immigrants shown in La Ciudad, the longshoremen gathered daily down on the waterfront, and fought to get picked for work. The men connected to the mob made some sort of signal and were picked. Those who were not chosen, were continuously not picked to work, yet returned every morning. The longshoremen adapted to the lifestyle of rejection because they had no other choice for work.
Mob boss, Johnny Friendly, is the epitome of "Money Bags." He calls the shots. Everyone fears and follows Johnny. The few people that do speak out are murdered. The general policy for staying alive is D and D, deaf and dumb. It is difficult for investigators from the Crime Commission to get any of the workers to implicate any of the mobsters. This mentality leads to an easy exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. If everyone is afraid and keeps in line, there is no limit to Johnny's power.
I learned Kazan was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee and named names. This film was his response. I wonder if Kazan used protagonist Terry Malloy as a way to justify his backstabbing and show he did it for the right reasons.
Terry is seemingly innocent and unaware. When he is asked to do a favor, he does not realize this involves murder. To me this seems very naive and unrealistic. When the mob detects a potential threat, the threat is destroyed. There are no second chances. Later, Terry is subpoenaed and testifies against Johnny. Somehow, he lives through it. The end of the film is uplifting and shows the strength of the workers as a whole. This seems artificial because just a few minutes before, no one was on board. It was each man for himself, a main feature of Neoclassical theory. I feel this film deserved to have a tragic end. In the original screenplay, Terry is murdered. That would have made more sense to me. The happy ending serves the interest of Kazan, who was demonstrating the good in his protagonist, overcoming the evils of the mob.
Overall, I feel this was an excellent portrayal of the difficulties as a longshoreman trying to get by in a world where all the odds are against him.


Mike H

The movie the waterfront definitely had a different mood setting than the other movies we’ve watched. This movie involves mob bosses, American workers, unionization, and love. It was interesting to see that labor movies are not only about immigrants that are taken advantage of.  In this movie, we see hardworking Americans desperately waiting for jobs, just as the South Americans did in, “the city”. The Americans waited everyday outside the waterfront waiting for jobs, the union boss took advantage of this knowing they were desperate and in need work by cutting their wages. The movie starts by introducing mob boss Johnny Friendly, who gathers his gang in a local bar to tell them that he did not make it this far by being nice to people.

                The plot throughout the movie was very interesting. All of the union workers knew they were being treated unfairly, but nobody wanted to speak up because they were afraid of the consequences. Everyone was “D & D “ which stood for dumb and deaf. Johnny Friendly did a great job of intimidating and sending a message to the union workers. When a character named Joey was planning to tell the story about the corrupted union leader, he was thrown off the roof. The next person that dared to speak about the corrupted union, a carton of wine bottles fell over his head. With this kind of intimidation, the workers were more than likely to keep to themselves and turn a blind eye to the corruption.  The reason for all of this corruption leads back to Marxist theory in some sense. The “Moneybag” union leader wants to maximize his profits, and to do this he was willing to exploit all the workers to make bigger profits.

                The main Marxist theory that was shown in the movie is when the union workers were finally fed up and began to revolt. It took one of their own mob followers to realize that the treatment of these workers were unfair. He testified against the boss, and physically got into a fight with the boss and other leaders. The fight between the boss and the union worker inspired the other workers to revolt. It was a touching moment in the film. The revolt finally ended successfully and it showed the classic work of the Marxism theory.  


Khash-Erdene Z

 “On the Waterfront” is a film that manifests the aberration of a union, from its ethical sentiment into something cynical and oppressive. The monopolization on violence by the leadership of the Longshoreman’s union against its workers had changed the whole concept of unionization.  No longer did the workers have the notion of exit, voice, and loyalty strategy. The concept of this tactic had become a potentially life threatening acts as workers were restricted to act dumb and deaf. The mobsters governed all aspects of the operations at the docks with a total monopoly on the access to jobs. Therefore, they were able to use this prestige to secure additional funds through those workers whom willing to bestow their fringe benefits to the Leadership. Façade of perfect representation of workers illuminated to those outside. However, the nature of this arrangement had silenced any workers whom abdicated for organization and unity amidst fear and intimidation. 

           The union leader Johnny Friendly embodied the mere image of the neoclassical axiom of rags to riches. Like many others dockworkers Friendly was born into the life on the waterfront. However, he worked extremely hard to climb out of what he calls it the “in the hole”.  Ironically, to become the union boss, Mr. Friendly wasn’t so friendly to anyone who stood in his way. Friendly capitalized heavily on the use of violence and intimidation as a tool to obtain conformity amid the dockworkers. He knew that large labor force is deleterious to the laborers.  Thus, Friendly bolstered his position by creating a circumstance whereby providing work to those whom conformed through D and D. By accepting Mr. Friendly’s offer, the workers had lost every right to express any distress and grievance thus a subject for exploitation, silence, and fear. There was no nobility in speaking out, because of exclusion set by the workers on their own dilemma.  Growth as an essence of capitalism is thus nourished by violence, fear, and additional surplus values obtained by Friendly and his goons. Although, Friendly began as a noble proletariat, power and indulgence of capitalism had made him into a Moneybag, feeding on the surplus values of others.

          The downfall of the tyrants because apparent when the workers realized that they all had assumed a role to accessory of many murders through their silence. The worker had imposed all this hardship on themselves and they understood unity and voice would remove them from silence and D&D. However, no revolt against Friendly would have occurred if Terry hadn’t showed remorse to Joey’s death and/or catechize his involvement within the mob. At the end, I wasn’t sure if Terry had been vindicated for Joey’s murder.


Alex R

 Marxist theory stood out prominently through the duration of  “On the Water Front.” You have the rampant corruption of Johnny Friendly causing his union men great immisseration. The difficulties of organizing to take action and revolt, which Marx recognized as a factor contributing to the on-going concern of the organization, are founded in the dependent and expendable nature seen in this segment of the labor force.

However, the implications the film makes about imperfect market conditions and the inability of the legal system to take action in protecting the voiceless workers are subtle but are the two factors that allow for the exploitation seen in the movie.

            Neo-classical theory suggests that markets will strive towards equilibrium under ideal market conditions. Moreover, ideal market conditions should be demanded by market participants, who in theory should, have incentive, through some indirect means, to achieve equilibrium; so to say that it is possible to look at neo-classical theory in a cyclical-self-sustaining way despite the fact that in practice it is very linearly oriented. In reality corruption, driven by the prospect of surplus value, lays siege to any possibility of market conditions veering back towards ideality. In the film the power construct was maintained through violence where kept all the workers in line. As they watched their friends get knocked off one by one the seed of revolt was planted and fostered through the disparity of their circumstance. The juxtaposition of the love story running through the film acted as a good reference point to actual human need. It is during a conversation with Edie that you learn Terry was orphaned as a boy and had no one else to turn to for help so he ended up doing mob work to earn a living. He is fully dependant and owes what little he has to the mob. The conflict runs deep within him until he finds his good friend/father figure hanging in an alley, and gives everyone up. At the end of the day when you look past all of the belief systems and constructs that we are made to believe are important, humanity prevails



Chris B

            After watching a few movies about workers struggles against their employers, On the Waterfront was a nice change of pace. It was interesting to see a film about what happens when unions go bad. Set on the docks of Hoboken, New Jersey, On the Waterfront is a story of corruption amongst a longshoreman’s union. The union leadership has been overrun by the local mob, and the union members appear powerless.

            This film exemplifies the Marxist perspective on capitalism and its’ ability to corrupt. The union members, a group of lower-class longshoremen, are trapped in a catch 22. If they try to stand up to Johnny Friendly and his henchman, they are faced with a brutal beating, or even death. If they do nothing, their dismal lives will continue. The ironic thing is that the rest of their union brothers will actually be angry with them for “snitching,” instead of being grateful. There is a strict code amongst the union, and that is to be D and D, or deaf and dumb, when it comes to talking to law enforcement. So, the workers choose the lesser of two evils, and keep their mouths shut, and their heads down. Their perspective is that it is better to be broke and miserable than to wear the cement slippers and end up sleeping with the fishes.

            While the longshoremen are stuck living the life of poverty, their union leaders are seen doing just the opposite. The workers can barely afford a beer when they go to the bar, and Johnny Friendly and his minions are shown wearing expensive suits and driving fancy cars. We don’t know whether or not the union leaders ever intended to actually help the longshoremen. What we do know is that their positions of power have actually influenced them to make the longshoremen’s lives even worse off than before. However, as Marxism predicts, the lower class workers will only be oppressed before they explode. As we saw in On the Waterfront, capitalist goals corrupt Johnny Friendly and the other union leaders, and eventually lead to their demise. In textbook Marxist form, the ill-treated workers rise against their oppressors, and take what is rightfully theirs.


John L

On The Waterfront presents the story of one man standing up against a corrupt union leader who maintains criminal rule with the backing of the Mob. The film points out a potential weakness of unions because everyone plays “deaf and dumb” for fear of being outcast as a rat. It is presumed among them that it is in the greater interest to go along with the crimes being committed than to stand up for oneself in clear conscience and testify against the union head’s crimes.

     It was interesting to see how unions were painted in a negative light in this film because the common workers’ interests were not upheld by their leaders. It appeared that the union leaders had their own criminal interests and that all the subordinates had to go along with it or else face the wrath of the Mob. In this sense, the liberal notion that unions translate the needs of workers is challenged. In the film, the individual worker is dehumanized and expendable because there are always plenty of men waiting outside to be chosen to work. The problem seems to be that there is no other employer in the area able to recruit as many workers. In this sense, the film could be a critique on monopolism and how the lack of choice for the worker can end in his imprisonment.

     This film ultimately disappointed me because I found it rather simplistic and intellectually bland. It was unclear to me why everyone suddenly decided to back Terry after he gets into a fistfight with Johnny Friendly. Just because the boss got a bloody nose doesn’t mean he lost all his muscle. The implied parallelism to a Christ-like figure, as Terry sacrifices himself to inspire others, was one that left me sourly unconvinced as it made it too easy to appease the Marxist viewer who wants to see an uprising unfold. In addition, it is unclear why Friendly didn’t have Terry murdered before the court hearing. Friendly took a reckless risk letting Terry survive to testify against him, especially after inciting further hatred by murdering his brother. I guess some plot holes must be forgiven so that Hollywood can have its cheesy, inspiring ending


Harry P

            “ On the Waterfront” is a film that publicizes the Neo-classical and Marxist perspectives on union organizations. The director uses a story of a corrupted union as a depiction of problems such as the inefficient in productivity for the company, and the over- exploitation of the working class.

            The film emphasizes on the Monopoly faces’ argument of limitations to productivity when the union took control of the jobs. This control of jobs gave the union a huge leverage against the workers, in such that they could decide on who would work and who would not. At the same time, they had the bargaining power over the company for wages and kick back bonuses, because they had the control of a scarce commodity (labor). It was these ultimate powers that struck fear into the hearts and minds of the dockworkers, forced them to be “D and D”. One prime example of these powers at work is when Terry was assigned to do the loft job, which he could just sit back and got paid because of the favor he did for Mr. Friendly. A similar example was shown at the end of the film, where everyone gets to work but Terry due to his testimony against the union.

            From the Marxist perspective, the union is rather in bed with the corporation or the union itself is just another entity of exploitation. The unions are organizations of protection for the workers and suppose to give the working class a unified voice. But with the longshoremen’s union, Mr. Friendly was enjoying monetary benefits he gained from the union dues and the kick back bonuses from the companies. Instead of reaching out and protect the workers, the union leaders are acting just like any other capitalists –exploiting the working class.

This film may incline towards a bias viewpoint in seeing the union as a corrupted entity that feeds off the sweat and tears of the working class. But this is a prime example of why unions are not as successful in America as in other places of the world. One possible explanation can be that America is a Capitalistic economy that overly emphasized self-interest and profit maximization. However, the essence of a union is for the sake of the well being of the working class. Thus, the ideology of union and capitalism seem to face an obvious collision.


Marc V

The film "On the Waterfront" sets up an interesting dynamic within a capitalist system between the workers, union bosses, and the "capitalist authority." What stood out to me as being both interesting and noteworthy, was the unique role that the longshoreman's union took. John Friendly and his corrupt use of the union to exploit the longshoremen for his own betterment mirrored the very thing that unions are designed to combat in the first place. I had never thought about unions having the potential to abuse their power to the point of turning into the workers' enemy. I liked this and feel I have a better understanding of the union/worker/authority relationship. It is interesting to note the various lenses through which this situation could be viewed. For example, a neo-classical view could dismiss the film's situation to be just another potential inefficiency caused by unions.

The film is filled with Marxist connections; the emergence of a class based environment on the waterfront highlights the negative influence a capitalist system has on the dock community and economy. The longshoremen, in desperate need of work, are trapped within Friendly's oppressive union and unable to speak up or revolt because of fear of death or exclusion from work. It is interesting that in a Marxist realm of class based society, the workers (longshoremen) are being exploited by the very union that is supposed to fight for their rights. This dynamic can be attributed to the raw "naked self interest" capitalist system that Marx speaks of; John Friendly, consumed by the power at his finger tips, uses death scare tactics and his labor monopoly to trap the waterfront labor force into playing by his rules to serve his own self-interests.  

Eventually, as Marxist theory suggests, the proletariat (longshoremen) outnumber and gain voice against the the ruling class (Friendly), and stage a revolution. This played out perfectly in the film when Terry Malloy speaks up in court against the corrupt union and then gains the support of the longshoremen workers during the final dock fight scene.


Amanda J

“On the Waterfront” portrays the ugly side of the longshore union driven by a corrupt, Marxist structured mob. The themes of Marxism, neoclassicalism, and union voice were all predominant paradigms in this film. In the film, there is clearly class separation between the shore men and the mob, as the shore men play dumb and deaf when asked to testify against Friendly, in fear of being blacklisted from working at any dock on the East coast. On a neoclassical stand point, both the mob and the workers were looking out for their own self interests; the mob was avoiding jail time, and collecting hefty paychecks through worker exploitation, while the shore men felt it was best to stay submissive to the mob for the fear of losing their jobs. For the workers, the risk of being killed or shunned from work unanimously outweighed the possible benefit of straightening out the union.

The turning point in this film happened when Terry Maloy realized he, “coulda been a contender,” that his life was taken by fear, and conformity. All along, the priest acted as if he was the union worker leader, pushing the workers to revolt against the mob, and slowly, but surely his preaches reached Terry Maloy. At the cost of his brother’s life, Maloy testified against the Friendly mob, and led a workers revolt, that ended up dethroning the mob power from the Waterfront. At the end of this film, Maloy gives the workers of the union a voice of social and political justice by liberating them from the mob.

 Today, a lot of unions appear more like political machines than unified associations committed to improving the circumstances of their workers. However, in the 1950’s, since the political climate was pro-union, unions were a vital force of nearly every aspect of the American industry.


Dana F

            Elia Kazan’s masterful work On the Waterfront examines the functioning of unions on New York’s docks. Rampant with corruption and fraud, the local union boasts a bankroll of bosses who clearly exploit and manipulate their fellow man. Terry Malloy, played by Marlon Brando, benefits from his familial connections in the union, as his brother is the ringleader’s right hand man. This placement allows for Malloy to comfortably rest as the rest of the lot suffer ‘in the pit’, working for miserably low wages, and without job security. Malloy only forces himself out of this situation after realizing the destructive reaches of the union have gone too far.

            Johnny Friendly, like other traditional bosses, boasts a comfortable head’s length over his workers in living standards. Using Machiavellian tactics, he has managed to inspire such a high degree of fear over his workers, that even the police cannot seek information. This upsets the liberal notion of unions as providers of voice-face. In fact, it could be argued that these workers would be far better off if they were non-unionized. Without having to associate with such a complicated scheme of dues and loyalty would better the work moral, and the longshoreman’s financial situations to boot. 

            The liberal notion of government intervention is clearly exemplified in this piece. The regulatory committee acts as the watchdog, paradoxically looking after the interests of union members. Government intervention is necessary to help quell the influence that the union has so powerfully garnered from the working man. This investigation is hampered by individual worker’s willingness to comply with the government, given a historical ‘Deaf & Dumb’ policy towards authorities. Given that the government is limited in its scope of influence, the burden rests upon the workers themselves to exercise voice. If they don’t want governmental oversight, they surely won’t receive it.

            Malloy testifies because of the series of events that have led him to the courtroom. Had he not questioned his own views on the union following the death of Joey Doyle, he probably would have never been lead down the road of resistance. Once again, it rested upon Malloy’s intent to make a difference, especially in light of the fact of his relationship with Edie Doyle. The disruption of such a powerful network of mobsters and profiteers stemmed from a personal revelation, and only through a concrete show of force could the silent revolution take place.