Volume 21, Number 2
N.O. Dollar Day
Readers & writers
Journal of 21st Yr
2008: What's New?
Waiting for War
Iraq War Vet
Dylan & Wainwright
Charlie Wilson's War
César cuauhtémoc garcía Hernández
NYT on Kosovo
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Review: On the Global Waterfront
Suzan Erem, E. Paul Durrenberger; Monthly Review Press, 2008, 224 pp.
Seven years ago, just as the “Charleston 5” case was becoming a well-known labor cause celebre, I invited a longshore worker from South Carolina to Boston to speak about the attempted prosecution of his co-workers. The sponsoring committee wanted to broaden the turnout so we also contacted the Boston-area affiliate of the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) to see if they wanted to meet our guest as well.
The ILA’s local headquarters is in “Southie”—the Irish American neigh- borhood where public school desegregation and busing was violently contested in the mid-1970s. Both locally and nationally, the scandal-scarred ILA had little past connection to progressive trade unionism. Its rather insular Massachusetts membership was rarely seen on the picket lines of other unions. But, when the South Boston ILA official who answered the phone was informed that a union brother named Ken Riley was coming to town, arrangements for a meeting were quickly made. To the surprise of some who attended, the main speaker turned out not be a fellow son of “the auld sod,” but rather a brother from another planet indeed—a black longshore worker from a local union in the deep South whose picket-line militancy had triggered a worldwide solidarity campaign.
Suzan Erem and E. Paul Durrenberger’s On The Global Waterfront is a detailed study of the fight to save five ILA members from politically-motivated felony charges. The prosecution of the Charleston 5—four blacks and one white accused of rioting—could easily have remained an obscure local problem. Instead, as the authors note, their far-flung supporters “created a blueprint for a future where commerce—having torn down national boundaries in its neo-liberal, greed-driven gallop across the globe —is forced to stop and negotiate not with statespeople and diplomats, but with the lowest members in the hierarchy: the workers who move its goods and the local communities in which they live.”
The main character in this unusual story was Ken Riley, president of ILA Local 1422, the public face of the Charleston 5 campaign. With crucial backing from then-AFL-CIO headquarters staffer Bill Fletcher and North Carolina labor federation president Donna DeWitt, Riley built a defense campaign with considerable inter-racial and cross-border appeal. Among those it brought together were labor and civil rights groups in South Carolina (and elsewhere), longshore workers on the east and west coasts (who belong to two different unions) and dockworkers around the world.
Such solidarity took a lot of hard work, organizational arm-twisting, and bottom-up pressure generated by member-to-member contacts that often ignored the official protocol and procedures of labor bureaucracies, here and abroad. As Fletcher told the authors, even some of his fellow activists in the Black Radical Congress “didn’t quite see the relevance” of the case initially because “people looked at it as a ‘labor struggle’” lacking sufficient “crossover with the black community.” Meanwhile, DeWitt, a retired telephone operator presiding over one of the smallest AFL-CIO state bodies in the country, faced similar resistance. “Before we even tried to do defense committees, we were trying to make South Carolina members understand. A lot saw it as a racial issue, not something labor should be involved in…. I had to do a lot of convincing that this is about keeping union jobs in the port and that we’re all about civil rights. It became real contentious—conservatives were saying this is a bunch of renegade members that had got out of hand and we shouldn’t support them.”
The “renegade” label applied in several ways and was used by Local 1422’s political foes in their attempt to isolate and discredit “a small union in a rabidly anti-union state” with an organized workforce of less than 5 percent. Although almost entirely African American, Charleston longshore workers did not fit the usual profile of southern workers under siege—more often than not, low-wage blacks or immigrants picking vegetables, plucking chickens, slaughtering hogs, or tending to farm-raised catfish, under conditions of extreme exploitation. Riley’s members who worked full-time earned $1,350 a week, “performing what many perceived to be unskilled if dangerous work in a state with an average wage of $8 per hour.” In the immediate aftermath of the waterfront encounter that led to charges of a felonious “conspiracy to riot,” the Charleston dockers were widely denounced by the state’s political establishment. According to the authors, even the city’s community-oriented police chief (a Jewish African American named Reuben Greenberg) regarded them as “rough, drunken, and violent”—an image unfairly rein- forced by media coverage of the picket-line battle.
The political and economic context of that January 19, 2000 showdown made it no ordinary dust-up. In Columbia, South Carolina more than 45,000 people had just spent Martin Luther King Day marching on the state capitol to protest the Confederate flag that had flown over it for three decades. The event highlighted a controversial NAACP-backed boycott of tourism in the state—aimed at removing the rebel banner. Among the marchers were members of Local 1422 and their newly-elected president, Ken Riley. Several days later, all the law enforcement agencies mobilized to keep order in Columbia shifted their forces to the Charleston docks. There, Local 1422 was vigorously challenging Nordana Lines, a Danish shipping company, which had—after 27 years of bargaining with the ILA—decided to cut costs by using a non-union stevedoring firm to handle its cargo. In the four-month run-up to January 19, Nordana ships faced growing interference with their unloading in Charleston. This disruption at South Carolina’s main port, like the NAACP boycott, posed a “distinct economic threat with the added insult of being orchestrated by blacks.” The local power structure responded by marshalling “six hundred police in riot gear who shot at longshoremen with beanbag bullets and concussion grenades.” They clubbed or arrested more than a dozen ILA members, sending Riley (who was singled out for assault) to the hospital to get 12 stitches in his head. In addition to the heavy cost of defending against the resulting criminal charges, Local 1422 and various individual members soon faced a $2.5 million damage suit filed by the scab stevedoring outfit. If the plaintiff won and some “longshoreman lost their homes and savings accounts for picketing and protesting…other shipping companies would be free to go non-union without risk.”
What turned the tide against these multiple threats—and beat Nordana in the process—was a creative, wide- ranging effort to invest 1422’s fight with national and international significance. Early on (and for too much of the campaign), Riley’s own national union “was useless.” Internationally, Local 1422 “couldn’t budge” the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) without a much-delayed official request for assistance from ILA President John Bowers, who abhorred Riley’s ties to the Longshore Workers Coalition, an ILA reform caucus. Even the AFL-CIO, under the new leadership of John Sweeney, “was asleep”—until Fletcher and others prodded the federation to put resources into the campaign. (True to form, some labor officials continued to redbait Charleston 5 backers; to his credit, “Riley refused to distance himself from the leftists who had helped out in his union’s time of need.”)
Among the activists best positioned to help get the criminal charges dropped were those in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), based in California, and the International Dock- workers Council (IDC), whose solidarity-minded affiliates threatened disruption of Nordana cargo handling across Europe. The cause of the Charleston 5 was quickly adopted by radicals in the ILWU, which made large financial contributions to Local 1422 and resolved to hold “stop-work meetings” in west coast ports on the first day of any trial. By the fall of 2001, ILA supporters within the state, throughout the U.S., and around the globe had combined to make such a big ruckus about the case that everyone—except South Carolina’s right-wing attorney general, Charlie Condon—wanted it to go away. Over Condon’s objections, the defendants were allowed to pay $100 fines and plead “no contest” to misdemeanors, thereby averting a worldwide day of “industrial action” planned by the IDC (and even the ITF) if the prosecution proceeded. (Once an up-and-coming GOP candidate, Condon lost bids to become governor and Senator—in part, because his crusade against “mob violence” ended up backfiring.)
For labor, the main lesson of the Charleston 5 campaign is as follows: American unions need all the help they can get from wherever they can get it. The example of ILA Local 1422—which gave to and received from the black community, and then made new friends and allies throughout the U.S. and the world—needs to be emulated by many other labor organizations. In today’s increasingly hostile political and economic climate, no union is an island—and any one that tries to be won’t survive for long.
Steve Early is a longtime labor activist and freelance journalist in Boston.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.