Defend Charleston Dockers:
Key To Organizing The South
by Steve Zeltzer
Taking action to build workers solidarity, International Longshore and Warehouse Local 10 in
San Francisco has voted to support the shutdown of the entire west coast docks to protest the
trial of 5 Charleston dockers who are members of ILA 1422 and ILA Local 1771. Last January 20th
in a calculated act of union busting, over 600 police in riot gear with dogs, helicopters and
armored vehicles sought to break the picket line of ILA dockers who were protesting the
unloading by scabs of the Nordana ship Skodsborg.
With international solidarity actions by dockers around the world and in particular the
support of the ILWU on the west coast, Nordana was forced to sign a union contract but the
fight is not over. Five workers have been indicted for "inciting and planning a riot" a felony
which is punishable by up to five years in prison. The stevedoring company that hired the scabs
is also suing the two Charleston locals, their presidents and 27 members for $1.5 million
dollars in damages.
Behind the attack on the ILA Charleston Local is the need by South Carolina bosses and
the politicians they control to smash the locals and any potential mass organizing drive in the
South. Billions of dollars have been invested by multi-nationals in the US and from around the
world in non-union plants not only in South Carolina but throughout the south in hopes of
avoiding unionization. The power of the ILA locals is critical, since they control the flow of
the massive amounts of goods going to and from these unorganized plants.
ILA Local 1422 and Clerks Local 1771 have also become a galvanizing center for union
organizing drives throughout the region. The local has helped workers with meeting rooms and
contacts to make their organizing efforts successful. At the same time, the Locals have led the
way in the fight to remove the Confederate flay from the state capital. They helped build and
lead a 47,000 person march of mostly African American workers in January demanding that the
Confederate flag be taken down.
The locals have worked with the Charleston Labor Council and the state AFL-CIO to
mobilize labor against the flag and the racists who support it. They have also sought to get on
the port commission but the employers and the politicians put in a law that made it illegal for
a dock workers to be on the state port commission. The union is also fighting this measure as
The Charleston ILA 1422 Local has also led the fight for a more democratic trade union
within the ILA. A coast wide ILA caucus has been organized called the Workers Coalition and it
is seeking to build a more democratic and militant ILA.
At the same time the AFL-CIO has been pressured to launch a national campaign for the
dockers. The Campaign For Workers Rights in South Carolina is sponsored by the South Carolina
AFL-CIO and the national AFL-CIO to support establishment of forming local defense committees
for the Charleston 5. (Call 803-798-8300) Also plans are being made for an international day of
action when the trial starts. Efforts are being made to close down shipping on both coasts.
This would be the first national dock workers strike in history and would be a critical element
in bringing together the longshoremen from both coasts. It is also vital in stopping the
growing non-union dock labor on the east coast. Plans are also being made to have delegations
of workers and supporters from thoughout the country travel to Charleston when the trial
This mobilization is vital not only for the Charleston dockers but in Philadelphia
where port shippers are already pressing to go non-union.
A Dockers Defense Fund has also been set up for the Charleston dockers. Checks can be
made out to Dockers Defense Fund and sent to the Campaign For Workers Rights in South
Carolina, P.O.Box 21777, Charleston, SC 29413
In the bay area, many ILWU locals are joining the defense committee and well as ATU and
SEIU members. The Support Committee and the Black Radical Congress are also organizing a
support meetings in Berkeley and San Francisco and a benefit dance on January 24, 2001 at the
ILWU Local 10 hall on 400 North Point in San Francisco.
A 45 minute video is also available that includes interviews with the dockers and footage
of the assualt. It is available for $25.00. Send the check or money order to:
Labor Video Project
San Francisco,CA 94142