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Drop the Charges Against the Charleston 5

by Fight Back! Editors |
July 1, 2001
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Sign says "Workers Rights and Racial Justice"
(IMC-Atlanta/S. Al Maneer)

Workers' rights are under attack in South Carolina. Later this summer, five members of the International Longshoreman's Association (ILA) will be going on trial. Elijah Forde Jr., Kenneth Jefferson, Peter Washington Jr., Rick Simmons, and John Edgerton face up to 5 years in prison. They are changed with felony riot. In truth, they have done nothing wrong. They stood up to a union-busting shipping firm and exercised their right to picket. For that, South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon says they deserve "jail, jail, and more jail."

What Happened

The conflict began when Nordana Lines quit using union labor in the port of Charleston. On January 20, 2000, the ILA called for a rally to coincide with the docking of the Nordana's ship 'Skodsborg'. Also on hand were more than 600 police that had been brought in from around the state. They were clad in riot gear, some were mounted on horses, and still others were in armored vehicles, helicopters, and patrol boats.

When workers approached the freight terminal, the cops moved in with tear gas and clubs. Many were injured in the cowardly attack. Subsequently the Charleston 5 were indicted, and placed under house arrest.

Organize the South

The fate of Charleston 5 is of real importance to both the labor movement and African American Liberation movement. The Charleston locals of the ILA are overwhelmingly Black. Four of the five defendants are African Americans. The vicious actions taken by police and state prosecutors need to be viewed in this context.

South Carolina, like so much of the South, is a so-called "right to work" state. This makes it hard for workers to build and defend unions. The example of the Black-majority ILA locals standing up to union busters and state government, is powerful and stands to resonate among working people across the South - and across the country.

Today, most African Americans live in the South, where the shadow of the plantation still looms. Discrimination on the job and in the community is a part of everyday life. The climate of racism and union busting has been a call to Fortune 500 companies to "head south".

The lot of working people of all nationalities, in every corner of the U.S., is closely tied to that of southern, African American workers. The sum total strength of the labor movement will rest to a considerable degree on the strength of its southern contingent. The call to organize the south is battle cry that signals a challenge to discrimination and exploitation.

The fight to have the charges dropped against the Charleston 5 is part and parcel of the fight to build the organization of working people in the South. It deserves the support of all working people.