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Charleston Five Gains Support in Chicago

Charleston Five activist Leonard Riley gained important support from the Chicago area labor movement for the struggle of these victimized trade unionists during his visit from Oct. 4-6. Solidarity Forever; An Injury to One is an Injury to All.
Hal Sutton

Charleston Five/Chicago visit


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"We firmly anticipate that on the day the trial begins, every port on the East Coast, every port on the West Coast, and in the nations where dockworkers have pledged their solidarity, will be shut down," said Leonard Riley, a Charleston, S.C., longshoreman, as his audience of Chicago area trade unionists wildly applauded. Riley, a member of ILA Local 1422, was speaking at a fund raising reception for the Charleston Five that was held at the UE Hall on Ashland Ave., Chicago, on Oct. 5.

The reception was part of Riley's three-day visit to the Chicago area to build support for the victimized trade unionists. The previous day, Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere had organized a meeting with building trades officials in Chicago. Riley had also met with officers from UAW Local 588 in Chicago Heights, and UAW Local 551, Chicago, and attended a rally of Steelworkers from USWA District 7. In August, Leonard's brother Ken Riley, president of ILA Local 1422, had spoken on behalf of the Charleston Five to more than 250 trade unionists at the Teamsters Local 705 Hall on Ashland Ave., Chicago.

Concluding his visit on Oct. 6 by speaking before hundreds of UAW political activists at the UAW Region 4 Community Action Project (CAP) Fall 2001 Conference at Region 4's Pat Greathouse Education Center in Ottawa, Riley described the events that have led to the prosecution of the Charleston Five on Felony Rioting charges:

"Around October, 1999, the Nordana Line, a Danish shipping company with whom our union had conducted business for more than 23 years, and with whom we had a contract that expired on Oct. 1, 2001, notified our local that it would use non-union workers. Our local union immediately

responded with pickets. After several months of informational picketing, our union had become successful at delaying the progress of Nordana's ships in the port.

"On Jan, 20, 2000, 150 of us went out to picket in our usual manner, and were met by 600 police officers in riot gear, with helicopters overhead, snipers stationed on top of buildings, patrol boats

in the river, armored cars it looked like a scene from Viet Nam. After two minutes of picketing, our assembly was declared unlawful with no reason or explanation given. So, our elected union officials immediately created a buffer zone between our pickets and the police. We were given two minutes to disperse, then a struggle ensued, with the police pushing and our picketers pushing back. Our local union president was clubbed in the head as he tried to create the buffer

zone, and received thirteen stitches. Vehicles were driving through our ranks as if we were grass in a field. Some of our members were shot with rubber bullets and beanbags. Concussion grenades were thrown. We received some serious injuries that night.

"But, more importantly, eight of our members were arrested that night, and two subsequently. At first, they were arrested for trespassing, a misdemeanor. Then, after the dispute with Nordana had been settled, and the local authorities had dropped their charges against our members, South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon sought a grand jury indictment against the ten defendants. Five of them were indicted. From Jan. 20, 2000, to the present, those five defendants

have been under house arrest. They have been treated like hardened criminals. They can't leave home until 7:00 a.m., and must return home by 7:00 p.m., unless they are working.

"If Charles Condon and South Carolina can get away with criminalizing a federal right to picket and organize, when these five men go to jail, all of our rights will go with them. South Carolina promotes itself as the least unionized state in the country. This creates a Third World-type setting within our nation's borders. In the past seven years, we have seen a twenty per cent increase in the infra-structural industries within out state. There are also two foreign transplants within South Carolina: BMW and Honda. Neither have been organized, but we're going to organize them."

In elaborating on the Third World-type conditions that workers face in South Carolina, Riley told the UAW activists that South Carolina is dominated by politicians who "relish the Confederate flag more than the United States' flag; who have fought for and achieved a Confederate Memorial Day." Riley received a thunderous applause as he declared, "We should never celebrate the kind of atrocities that were allowed during that period of time." "Workers' rights are civil rights,"

Riley continued. "These are two movements with one goal." Riley also mentioned that public employees in South Carolina "are denied the opportunity to earn more than the federal minimum wage," and that in order to achieve his goal of becoming governor, Condon feels he must "prove that he is viciously anti-union."

In further describing the background for the struggle of the Charleston Five, Riley said that its 800 members probably make ILA Local 1422 the largest local union in the state, and that its social and political activism have made the union a primary target for South Carolina's anti-labor forces. "Our involvement in politics lead to the election of the first Democratic governor in South Carolina in twelve years," said Riley, who added that the newly-elected governor sought to reward organized labor by nominating the president of Local 1422 to the board of directors of the state port authority.

"It would have been the first time that a union official had ever been seated on such a board in the history of South Carolina," explained Riley, adding that the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce immediately issued 'grassroots alerts' to successfully oppose the nomination.

Furthermore, Riley said the South Carolina House of Representatives, in two consecutive sessions, has passed a bill that would forbid union members from serving on any state board or commission. Riley said the bill was narrowly defeated in the Senate the first time, but that the

Senate is once again considering the legislation. Riley commented, "They intend to send a clear message that unions are not welcome in South Carolina."

"This attitude, this aggression toward workers will not be isolated to South Carolina," warned Riley. "If we allow them to win, it will spread, just like the Right to Work campaign. These people are organized; they're methodical; and they're starting to move." Alluding to the recent passage of a Right to Work law by a referendum in Oklahoma, Riley also warned: "In the name of patriotism, Oklahoma just voted to become a right to work state. I was told that they used the

unfortunate incident in New York as the driving force to support the national interest by making Oklahoma a Right to Work state. This past week, Charlie Condon made a statement on television that attempted to equate our legal right to picket, and the events in Charleston on Jan. 20, 2000, with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. That's a desperate act. And, we believe that it will continue to backfire on him. The anti-union forces in South Carolina are just that determined. But, they have created a determined group of pro-union forces in South Carolina that is not going to give up and that is going to win."

Riley told his audience at the reception at the UE Hall that since President Ronald Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1982, the labor movement has fought a defensive battle, and compared the long struggle with a basketball game in which the labor movement is trailing in the fourth quarter. However, Riley implored his audience that the struggle to defend the Charleston Five "offers us an opportunity to galvanize together as workers and to draft a strategy to go forward and ensure that we remain a vital labor movement"

Riley then explained the sort of strategy that he feels will be necessary to rally the labor movement to defeat the union busting forces: "We have to adopt the IWW slogan: 'An injury to one is an

injury to all.' Spanish dockworkers told Nordana that if they continued to load their ships with non-union labor in Charleston, they would not be unloaded in Spain. That kind of solidarity drove this shipping company right back to the bargaining table. And, we were able to consummate a contract a short time after that. Working together, workers united will not be defeated."

Lee Sustar, from the Chicago Committee to Defend the Charleston Five, said that the trial, as tentatively scheduled, should begin on Nov. 13. As is mentioned above, Riley expects solidarity actions by dock workers on both U.S. coasts, as well as in many foreign ports, to effectively paralyze global shipping on that day, as part of an International Day of Action. Sustar added that it is likely that participation in the International Day of Action in Chicago will take the form of a rally at a union hall. All trade unionists and their supporters are urged to attend. An injury to one is an injury to all. -30-




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