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