Last year the shipping company Nordana Lines unilaterally
decided to use non-union labor to work its ships here after 23 years of
employing members of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA).
Union members responded with picket lines to protest this assault on their
The employer had other plans.
As many as 600 riot-equipped police in armored vehicles, on
horseback, in helicopters and patrol boats launched a military-style assault
on the picketlines.
Five workers now face charges of "inciting to riot"
and are under house arrest. Each of them could face up to five years in
Adding insult to injury, the scab stevedore company is suing
ILA Locals 1422 and 1771 and 29 of their members for $1.5 million in alleged
financial damages caused by the picketing.
The membership of ILA Local 1422 is 99 percent black and the
union local has been a significant vehicle for black working-class politics in
"The local played a major role in the 1998 election of
South Carolina’s first Democratic governor in many years, and earned the
enmity of the Republican right in this state which still flies the Confederate
flag," writes Frances M. Beal.
Some observers, like Beal, believe it is no coincidence that
the union is under attack. "It is becoming increasingly clear that in the
case of the Charleston dockworkers, there was a well-thought-out plan by
employers and their political allies."
The Charleston dockworkers are gaining allies on both coasts
and beyond. Ken Riley, president of ILA Local 1422, received a warm reception
from the International Dockers Council, a global confederation of docker
unions, in Barcelona, Spain. The unions pledged to take part in an
international day of action, shutting down ports around the world.
UE News - 05/01