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(en) US, Update On Dockworkers' Struggle In Charleston

From DAMN <damn@tao.ca>
Date Thu, 2 Mar 2000 09:32:29 -0500

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

For the first time since the January 20 police riot against protesting
Charleston dockworkers, ILA Local 1422 members picketed a scab Nordana
ship, the M/V Stjernborg. This time, on February 24, they were joined on
the picket line by representatives of International Longshore and Warehouse
Union Local 10, its President Lawrence Thibeaux and Executive Board member
Jack Heyman, at the Columbus Street Terminal.  Confronted again by a massive
display of police force, the picketers limited to 19 by a court  injunction
marched and chanted defiantly, "ILA!, ILA! ILA!" and "Ain't no power like
the power of the union, 'cause the power of the union won't  stop!"

The South Carolina States Port Authority had delayed the ship's arrival for
fear that union longshoremen and checkers would try to stop the scab
loading operation by nonunion Winyah Stevedoring or it would interfere with
the dock operations of other larger ships in port.

Solidarity Can Defeat Union-busting

ILWU Local 10, along with the other ILWU locals in Northern California, the
Liverpool Dockers and the Coordinadora Dockworkers Union of Spain had
responded to ILA Local 1422 president Kenneth Riley's appeal for support.
At a Local 1422 press conference the previous day President Thibeaux
presented a check from  Local 10 for $5,000 to the Dockworkers Defense Fund
to assist in the legal battle of the Charleston longshoremen, clerks and
maintenance workers.  At the rally on the picket line Heyman was roundly
applauded when he said that West Coast longshoremen stand solidly  with the
embattled Charleston longshoremen.  These acts of solidarity  clearly
heartened the rank and file longshore workers.

The ILA had a signed collective bargaining agreement with Nordana, a  Danish
shipping line, until last year when the shipping line paid its unfunded
liability in pension and welfare contributions, broke the contract and
started using nonunion Winyah Stevedoring.  In 1989, when a scab stevedoring
outfit tried to start up in Wilmington, North Carolina just across the
border it was met by hundreds of protesting longshoremen from South Atlantic
ports.  Unfortunately, scab operations have hit the ILA hard in the
so-called "right-to-work" South.  Reportedly, the port of New Orleans has
50% nonunion longshore operations, while Houston is 80% nonunion!

The increased globalization of the economy can be seen in the international
amalgamation of shipowners (Maersk and Sealand, OOCL and APL) and the
establishment of global shipping alliances.  Waterfront unions located at
the critical point of international transportation have been targeted by
governments and employers as restraints against their policies of "free trade".

The successful anti-union attacks on dockworkers in Britain, Australia,
Mexico, Holland and Brazil have whetted their appetites for more.  Now the
waters are being tested in Charleston, South Carolina.  Apparently, the ILA
leadership has deemed this attack a "local" problem.

The Real Story Behind the Charleston Police Riot
Longshore action on January 2 forced a Nordana ship to leave the port of
Charleston with 25 boxes and heavy equipment still on the dock and unloaded
by the scab Winyah Stevedoring company.  When the M/V Skodsborg arrived on
January 20, the state provocatively mobilized a massive display of police
power-- several hundred riot police (SWAT and SLED) and local police, tanks,
armored cars, helicopters, concussion grenades, shotguns, dogs and tear
gas-- all in an effort to intimidate and repress longshore workers from
demonstrating. Police saber rattling had already begun before the midnight
picketing when the longshore union was informed that police were amassing
riot gear and clearing out the county and city jails. It didn't stop the
courageous longshoremen and clerks.

As hundreds of union picketers approached the phalanx of police in riot
gear, one cop lunged forward with his club.  A longshoreman pulled the cop's
club and both tumbled to the ground.  Immediately a swarm of cops jumped and
beat the beleaguered longshoreman.  A melee ensued.  Local union officials
intervened to try to quell their members.  When President Kenneth Riley, who
had been facing the longshoremen with his back to the cops, turned to the
police to ask their restraint, he was clubbed over the  head.  Seeing the
blood streaming down the face of their president, Local 1422 members
justifiably flew into a rage. One longshoreman confronted by a state trooper
pointing the barrell of a shotgun at him, bared his chest and cried out
"Pull the trigger, 'cause we ain't gonna stop fightin' for our jobs!"  The
trooper declined to fire rather than create a martyr for the struggle.
Another picketer was struck by a police car careening into the demonstrators
and landed on top of the vehicle. Ten were hospitalized.

Eight longshore workers were initially arrested for trespassing. The charges
were later increased to "rioting and conspiracy".  The judge dismissed the
charges once he realized that the  first several minutes of the police video
were suspiciously edited out.  Four ILA men have now been indicted by
anti-labor, anti-black and pro-cop South Carolina Attorney General Condon.
The African American newspaper of Charleston in its February 23 issue ran a
banner headline: "ILA, Cops Melee Planned By  Cops?", while the viciously
anti-union Post and Courier (whose front page photo helped frame a
longshoreman) pontificated in an editorial (January 21) "Labor violence on
Charleston's waterfront must not be rewarded." 

They're being railroaded by a racist, anti-union Attorney General with
ambitions to run for governor on a  "right-to-work" and "states rights"
platform.  Simultaneously, the longshore unions are under attack politically
in the state legislature.  Attempts are being made to tighten the
"right-to-work" law to make it more difficult for unions to collect dues or
fees and also ban union members from positions on the State Ports Authority

Labor Unity and the Fight Against Racism

A few days before the dock clash on January 20, forty members of ILA Local
1422 with their union banner travelled to  Columbia to participate in a mass
protest against the battle flag of the Confederacy, the symbol of slavery,
being flown over the state capitol building. The port of Charleston is also
a tourist mecca.  It showcases beautiful palm tree-lined streets and
magnificently restored colonial buildings, including its old slave market
where the ancestors of today's longshoremen were shamefully bought and sold
like cattle.  It took a civil war to end  slavery. Then, in 1867,  black
dockworkers in Charleston formed the first labor organization of freed
slaves, the Longshoremen's Protective Union Association, and won a strike
for higher wages.

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