Naked City

Docks and Dockets

International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 President Kenneth Riley visited the Texas AFL-CIO headquarters last week to raise awareness of (and money for) the Charleston Five -- dock workers and ILA members who face riot and conspiracy-to-riot charges in South Carolina. The workers have been under house arrest since January 20, 2000, after participating in a legal informational picket and protest against a Danish shipping company that was using nonunion labor in the Port of Charleston.

The protest ended in a clash between 150 workers and 600 police dressed in riot gear. After several workers were arrested and charged with misdemeanor trespassing, conservative state attorney general and current gubernatorial candidate Charlie Condon stepped in and raised the charges to felonies, which carry penalties of as many as five years in prison and fines. At a preliminary hearing, a judge dismissed the charges for lack of evidence, so Condon went to a grand jury -- after announcing "a comprehensive plan for dealing with union dock worker violence" that included "jail, jail, and more jail" -- and obtained five criminal indictments on the same charges that had just been dismissed.

The workers "can't leave from 7am to 7pm. They can't travel outside the city limits," Riley said. "They've been made examples of." During the picket, Riley received a whack on the head -- and a permanent scar -- from a club-carrying officer. He believes the case is racially motivated: Of ILA 1422's 800 rank-and-file members, only three are white, and four of the Charleston Five are black. (Condon once upbraided the NAACP for calling the Confederate Flag the "Confederate Swastika," saying that such names "foster hatred and foment hostility.")

A handful of S.C. lawmakers, the Charleston mayor and City Council, and even the police chief have called for the workers' release, said Riley. "We're running a campaign like you've never seen. You'd think the Charleston Five were running for office." Yet WSI, the company that hired the nonunion crew, still hasn't dropped charges against 27 members of Locals 1422 and 1771 for $1.5 million in alleged losses from the picket.

Upon announcement of the Charleston Five's official trial date, supporters plan to hold an international day of action. Austin AFL-CIO Council President David Brown says local union members will take part.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422, Ken Riley, AFL-CIO, Charleston Five, Charlie Condon, WSI, David Brown

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