Six hundred cops attacked hundreds of ILA members who were protesting the use of nonunion labor on the docks January 20. Eight workers were arrested that day and charged with inciting to riot, including three of those indicted by the grand jury. A magistrate threw out the initial charges due to lack of evidence.
A ninth worker, Kenneth Jefferson, was arrested several days later after turning himself in to the cops, and released on $150,000 bail. He was also indicted by the grand jury. The new charges carry penalties of up to 5 to 10 years in prison. State attorney general Charles Condon has threatened action against other ILA members when another grand jury convenes in March.
"This is a hoax," declared Jessie Thrower, referring to the indictments, as he stopped by the union hall to pick up his paycheck February 9.
"I don't know how the attorney general can get someone reindicted," was the outraged response of another worker.
Since December, ILA members have been demonstrating against Nordana Lines, a Denmark-based shipping company that hired a nonunion stevedoring outfit to unload its ships in Charleston. Nordana had never signed with the Container Carrier Council, a bosses' association that has a contract with the ILA, but until November it had agreed to subscribe to the contract terms, said ILA Local 1422 president Kenneth Riley.
ILA members are paid $24 per hour for the highly mechanized work on containerized ships, and $16.50 per hour to handle "break bulk" cargo, which is more labor intensive, Riley said. The nonunion outfit hired by Nordana pays about $10 per hour with no benefits.
City and state officials have taken an aggressive stand against the union, mobilizing hundreds of cops, imposing an injunction limiting the number of ILA protesters at the docks, and now coming down with new indictments. They justify this antiunion campaign by saying they are simply enforcing South Carolina's antilabor "right-to-work" laws.
The local daily Charleston Post and Courier has joined the chorus. The February 9 issue, for instance, states that Jefferson "admitt[ed] to police that his picture appeared in The Post and Courier swinging a pipe at a police officer the night of the riot." In fact, Riley said, Jefferson was attempting to defuse the situation.
The cops "provoked what happened" in the wee hours of January 20, said one dockworker who asked that his name not be used. "They had more than 600 officers. They jabbed us with nightsticks. Some of our guys almost got run over. Some got hit in the back." He reported that the police used tear gas.
Pointing at several buildings surrounding the site of the cop riot, the longshoreman said, "They had marksmen up on the roofs. They had SWAT teams all around here. They were just waiting for something to happen. If we had done anything we would have been burying some brothers now."
This worker saw a connection between the fight for union rights and the demand to bring down the Confederate battle flag that flies above the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia. He was one of dozens of ILA members from here who marched in Columbia January 17 in a massive demonstration demanding the symbol of racism come down. The overwhelming majority of the longshoremen are Black.
As the Militant went to press, ILA officials were negotiating with Nordana Lines to reach an agreement to use union labor to load the company's ships.
In response to the government frame-up, the union has established a Dockworkers' Defense Fund and is preparing a mailing to other unions around the country to appeal for support, local president Riley reported. Contributions to the Dockworkers' Defense Fund can be sent to 910 Morrison Drive, Charleston, SC 29403, Atten: Robert Ford.
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