The Dec. 20 protest at the Port of Charleston. (Photo by Kerry Taylor)
The Dec. 20 protest at the Port of Charleston. (Photo by Kerry Taylor)

Longshoremen shut down S.C. shipping terminal in protest over deadly fire at Bangladesh Walmart supplier

By Kerry Taylor

Longshoremen shut down the Wando Welch Shipping Terminal at the Port of Charleston in South Carolina for nearly two hours today to protest the arrival of the Carolina Maersk, a containership bearing Walmart clothing made by the 112 Bangladeshi workers who perished in a Nov. 24 factory fire. Members of International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) Locals 1771 and 1422 honored a picket line of about 50 protesters as dozens of truck drivers and other workers also turned around upon being informed of the work stoppage.

After union attorneys advised the longshoremen to return to work, Local 1422 member Leonard Riley told the protestors that the ILA was "standing up for what's morally right and what's legally right." He described their brief strike as "a responsibility that organized labor has to these kinds of struggles" and suggested that it was "a dry run" for a possible coast-wide strike on Dec. 30. "We will look for you to be there when we hit the line if we have to," Riley said.

Protest spokesperson George Hopkins of Charleston told reporters that the protesters hoped to make "consumers fully aware of the high price of cheap clothes." He called the fire at the Tazreen factory "an avoidable tragedy" and he urged Walmart shoppers to demand that the company accept responsibility for the fire, respect the garment workers' basic human rights, and recognize the rights of all Walmart workers to organize.

In a solidarity statement read at the protest, Bangladeshi labor leaders applauded the South Carolina strike. "To disrupt the movement of goods today proves workers’ inherent power within the supply chain," wrote Babul Akhter of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation and Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. "In acting in solidarity you are showing the potential of this power to work across the world and confirming that we are all in this fight together."

In 2000-2001, the Charleston longshoremen were at the center of a successful international campaign to defend several of its members, who faced long prison sentences for their alleged participation in a picket line riot.

(Kerry Taylor is a board member of the nonprofit Institute for Southern Studies, which publishes Facing South, and an assistant professor of history at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.)

The Dec. 20 protest at the Port of Charleston. (Photo by Kerry Taylor)
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ILA Locals 1771 and 1422

Thank G-d there are still people in this world who have a conscience. Cheap stuff isn't really cheap if it costs someone's life or standard of living.

Bangladesh garment workers

Just two hours strike is a beginning though looks rather ridiculous with regard to the victims of fire - but at least it caught some attention.
I miss a word of the unnumerable children getting exploited in garment work, not to talk of the miserable wages and unhuman work conditions in many Asian countries.

more than that.

My great fellow workers, it is an excellent idea to show solidarity to others workers around the world. The same oppressors of the working class at home are the same oppressors abroad. The tragedy suffered by Wall Mart employees, is not isolated case but a pattern of the deplorable working conditions in the work place in our capitalist society where capitalist the most important value is profit. However, two hours strike were really lacking of a serious deep support for our fellows workers of Bangladesh. I recognize you are doing the best, but do no allow some individuals who are not workers and care less for working class but seeking recognition and increase membership for their not labor organitization. Workers movement is much more than that. Be aware of the "false prophet" and keep the good work.

Video of #blocktheboat Charleston

Some raw video from this action is now online. Better edited version coming soon.

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