After engineering the murders in a relatively quick succession of the Castellamarese War’s rival leaders, Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, Lucky Luciano set out to end the old Sicilian mafia regime and establish rule by consensus for the new crime families. To that end, he abolished the position and title of capo di tutti capi, or Boss of All Bosses, and set up a committee known as the Commission to govern and regulate the affairs of the mafia in the US, settle disputes, and avoid ruinous gang wars between rival crime families.
As set up by Luciano, the Commission was comprised of the five NYC crime families, the Buffalo family, and the Chicago Outfit. Over the years, the makeup changed as varying crime families’ fortunes waxed and waned, but the basic concept of a committee comprised of America’s most powerful mafia families has stayed the same. Today, it is comprised of the five NYC families, the Philadelphia family, and the Chicago Outfit.
Formation of the Commission did not prevent all gang wars, but it did lessen their frequency and intensity by making crime families think twice before instigating a war: an aggressor family often found itself at war not only with its immediate rival but with the Commission and other families as well. That provided all families with a powerful incentive to negotiate their disputes. When wars did break against rival families or in internal power struggles, the Commission frequently resolved them by assassinating the offending boss or usurper and appointing a new one.
The last Commission meeting attended by all the bosses in person occurred in 1985. The 1980s, however, were when the federal government finally started to seriously go after the mafia, zealously investigating its activities and successfully prosecuting its leaders. With the government breathing down their necks, and the ever-present risk of FBI bugs, face-to-face meetings between bosses became too risky, and the Commission functioned thereafter via cutouts.