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Build support for the Charleston Five

by PETRINO DiLEO | August 31, 2001 | Page 15

NEW YORK--About 250 trade unionists and other activists crowded into a union hall here August 23 to show their support for the Charleston Five.

International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 President Ken Riley was greeted with a standing ovation, and his speech was followed by the audience singing "Solidarity Forever."

Describing the solidarity he's encountered on his speaking tour across the country, Riley told the crowd: "South Carolina doesn't know what's hitting them. We have so much against the state of South Carolina, we're going to kick their butt."

Riley outlined the latest developments in the struggle to defend the five ILA members who face felony charges stemming from a police riot against their union's picket line in January 2000.

The five are under house arrest from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and about two dozen members of the local are targets of a multimillion-dollar civil suit filed by the stevedoring company that was running a scab operation on the Charleston docks.

Riley said the drawn-out legal battle has taken a toll. But members are excited by the solidarity they've won across the country and around the world--including promises from dockworkers other in countries to strike on the opening day of the trial for the Charleston Five.

While the fight has advanced the labor movement in the South, Local 1422 still faces divisions every day. For example, a recent representation vote on the docks nearly deadlocked, along strictly racial lines. "Racism plagues our state," Riley said. "But as I see it, if you've got a poor white man and a poor Black man, what's the difference? Both are poor!"

The union has also begun construction on a new union hall in the middle of a working-class neighborhood. The hall will be open all hours and available to any group that wants to hold a meeting there.

Other speakers at the forum included Roger Toussaint, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, which hosted the event; Nation reporter JoAnn Wypijewski; and other local union officials.

"The event was overwhelming," Riley told Socialist Worker. "Lots of folks up here have relatives in the South. It's important that they know about the struggle here, too. This can also inspire confidence in militant workers in New York."

"This fight links the issue of African American rights with trying to organize labor in the South," said Flo, a member of the American Postal Workers Union. "It's important to have solidarity with this fight and not just complacency in our unions. This is an attack on all of us."



CHICAGO--More than 250 union activists gathered August 17 in Teamsters Local 705 auditorium to show their solidarity with the Charleston Five.

Activists from more than a dozen unions and civil rights organizations, socialists, global justice activists and others heard ILA Local 1422 President Ken Riley tell the story of his union's fight.

Among the other speakers were Gerald Zero, secretary-treasurer of International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 705; Tim Leahy of the Chicago Federation of Labor; Dolores Withers, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 1708; and Lee Sustar, for the Chicago Committee to Defend the Charleston Five.

The meeting raised more than $5,000 for the Five's defense.

To get involved with the Chicago Committee to Defend the Charleston Five, call 773-794-5199, or e-mail [email protected]

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