Charleston 5

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The "Charleston 5" were South Carolina labor activists.


Kenneth Riley was the spearhead of a two-year campaign in defense of five dockers in Charleston, S.C., known as the Charleston 5. The struggle began Jan. 20, 2000 when 600 police in full riot gear attacked members of the ILA who were conducting a lawful picketline to protest the use of a nonunion crew to unload a Danish freighter. Police in armored vehicles, on horseback, in helicopters and in patrol boats injured many longshoremen, including Riley.

Police arrested five dockers, four African Americans from Local 1422 and one white from Local 1771. Republican State Attorney General Charles Condon charged the five with conspiracy to riot, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

In May 2000, Riley appealed to the ILWU convention for support. The ILWU made the campaign a priority and contributed over $300,000 to the defense fund. Nearly two years later that support, along with solidarity from the AFL-CIO, world labor, civil rights and community groups freed the Charleston 5, who received only minor fines.[1]

Gathered in the union hall and parking lot on East Bay Street, the dockworkers of International Longshoremens Association (ILA) Local 1422, mostly African American men, celebrated their hard-fought victory in the case of the Charleston Five. Elijah Ford, Peter Washington, Jr. and Ricky Simmons were freed Nov. 13, 2001, and Kenneth Jefferson and Jason Edgerton were freed the previous Thursday.

All five union dockworkers, four African-American and one white, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and paid $309 in fines and court fees. Their attorneys told the World that the workers were making no admission of guilt.

They spent nearly 20 months under house arrest following the riot by 650 heavily armed state troopers who brutally attacked the 150 workers walking on an ILA picket line the night of Jan. 19, 2000. The dockers had been protesting Nordana Shipping Companys use of non-union labor, a brazen attempt to break the union and force down the wages and benefits earned by the ILA dockers.

No worker is going to sit idle while they take our jobs away, said Frank Jenkins, a second-generation dockworker. This is the strongest union in the state of South Carolina. Weve built a good life for ourselves and our families. We can afford to send our children to college. South Carolina Progressive Network (SCPN), a multiracial and multi-issue organization was holding its monthly meeting in the Local 1422 recreational room. Kenneth Riley, president of Local 1422 and himself a SCPN member, thankedd the group for their staunch support. You were there from the beginning, he said. We couldnt have won this victory without the backing of groups like the Progressive Network.

The Progressive Network is building a strong coalition movement in South Carolina, said Torreah Cookie Washington, chair of the Charleston branch of the Progressive Network.[2]

ILA Local 1422 President Kenneth Riley and other local union leaders toured the U.S., Europe and even South Africa to build support, as part of a labor solidarity effort in which Lee Sustar participated. In November 2001, Condon withdrew from the case, and the house arrest was lifted shortly afterward in a rare big victory for organized labor.[3]


Bill Fletcher, Jr., was national coordinator for the AFL-CIO of the Charleston 5 defense campaign.[4]


  1. From the Charleston 5 victory to the 2004 elections by: EVELINA ALARCON
  2., Labor Wins Big in Union-Busting South Carolina December 1 2001]
  3. CommunistLeft, Charleston and the crucible of race and class Discussion in 'News Stories' started by Lee Sustar, Jun 22, 2015.
  4. [, Charleston - The Front Line for Labor Rights Interview with Ken Riley, president of ILA Local 1422 in Charleston, South Carolina, and Bill Fletcher, fellow at the George Meany Center and national organizer of the Black Radical Congress (7/15/01) by David Bacon]