The Guardian May 10, 2000


USA:
Dockers beat union-busting assault

by Herb Kaye and Tim Wheeler

US East coast dockers' union, the International Longshoremen's Association 
(ILA), has won their five-month battle with the Danish shipping company, 
Nordana, to restore union hiring at the company's Charleston docks in South 
Carolina.

While Nordana capitulated, the state of South Carolina is still attempting 
to railroad five workers on charges of "conspiring to riot" stemming from a 
police riot in January. The union is fighting to have all charges dropped.

Charleston ILA President Kenneth Riley credited solidarity from dockers in 
the US and internationally for helping force Nordana to back down.

The International Transport Federation helped get dockers from Australia 
and other countries to refuse to handle Nordana ships.

The ILA's West Coast counterpart, the International Longshore and Warehouse 
Union (ILWU) leaped into action  including a $105,000 contribution to the 
Dockers' Defence Fund  when it learned of the brutal attack on the 
Charleston dockers by an army of 600 city and state police with 
helicopters, harbour boats, armoured cars and SWAT teams.

The workers, a majority of them African-American, had gathered at the gates 
of the container terminal to protest against the use of non-union labour to 
load a Nordana ship in the harbour.

That confrontation in Charleston resulted in several police and 
longshoremen being sent to hospital and nine longshoremen being arrested.

Shortly after, the Attorney General of South Carolina brought felony 
charges of "conspiring to riot" against five of the longshoremen and then 
denied the union the right to use its funds to defend the workers.

"These dockworkers have been attacked not only on the picketline but also 
by the South Carolina court system and the state legislature. This is a 
state that still flies the Confederate flag over the state capitol", ILWU 
President Brian McWilliams told the People's Weekly World.

"This is not an isolated attack. We face the same employers with the same 
appetite for profits and union-busting. What they did to them in South 
Carolina they could do to us."

Addressing the ILWU caucus in March, Riley told how the ILA had offered a 
concessionary agreement, which reduced labour costs by 50 percent, to avoid 
a showdown. Nordana rejected the offer.

"It led us to believe there was much more to it than just economics", Riley 
said. "This was going to be a defining moment where the union would be 
attacked. We felt it was not only coming from Nordana but it was coming 
from the state itself."

Riley said the union received a warning telephone call from a source in law 
enforcement. "You are not going to believe what you are going to see 
January 20", the source warned.

Sure enough, that drizzly morning, police from across the state were 
deployed at the terminal gates and at the union local's headquarters.

"They were in front of our building, very intimidating, very provoking", 
Riley said.

"In less than 20 minutes we received a call that the first guy was laying 
on the pavement with his head busted open." Union leaders established a 
buffer zone separating the workers and police, he said.

"One of the officers ran out of formation, clubbed me on the head and ran 
back into formation. When that happened, everything just went wild." Video 
footage "clearly shows who was the aggressor", Riley said.

"But South Carolina is a right-to-work state. Prior to last year, it was 
the least unionised state in the nation." Thanks to `a very aggressive 
organising campaign' they have now surpassed North Carolina.

The labour movement in the state, he said, was key in electing Democrat Jim 
Hodges as governor, ending 12 years of Republican control. Hodges named 
Riley as a commissioner on the Charleston Port Authority.

The Chamber of Commerce unleashed a vitriolic union-bashing offensive 
against Hodges who caved in and withdrew the nomination.

Still not satisfied, the ultra-right introduced and pushed through the 
House legislation named the "Kenneth Riley Act" banning any person who 
belongs to a union from being appointed to a state board or commission.

Another Bill makes it virtually impossible for unions to collect any form 
of dues or assessments. Riley charged that both the January 20 police 
attack and the union-busting legislation is retaliation for labour's recent 
victories.

"Its an all-out attack", Riley said.

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People's Weekly World, paper of Communist Party, USA

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