Southern conference in solidarity with nurses, dock workers
December 20, 2012
Charleston, S.C. — People from the West Coast and across the
country traveled to Charleston, S.C., to attend the ninth biannual Southern
Human Rights Organizers Conference (SHROC) on Dec. 7-9. The conference was held
in a hall belonging to Local 1422 of the International Longshoremen’s
Association, which represents thousands of dock workers on the East Coast.
It is also home to most of the Charleston Five longshore workers —
members of ILA Local 1422, four African-American and one white — who were
arrested in January 2000 on trumped-up charges stemming from a protest over
union busting. Due to tremendous mass solidarity with these workers in the U.S.
and worldwide, the charges were finally dropped in November 2001.
Longshore leader Ken Riley, Jaribu Hill
at Southern Human Rights conference.
photo: Monica Moorehead
SHROC, first inaugurated in 1996, has been held in various Southern cities
such as Oxford and Jackson, Miss.; Miami; Atlanta; Memphis; Houston; Durham,
N.C.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Charleston. An estimated 300 conference
participants traveled from these cities as well as from Chicago; Greenville,
Miss.; New Orleans; San Antonio, Texas; Boston; New York; Jersey City, N.J.;
Oakland, Calif.; and Columbia and Greenville, S.C.
While a great number of the participants were of African descent, there were
also whites, Latinos/as, Indigenous and Palestinian activists. Two of the
activists represented the inspiring Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.
With the theme “Forging the Path to Victory — Solidarity Across
the Global South,” the main goals of the conference included bringing
together activists to discuss social issues and develop strategies for building
a movement for human rights in the Deep South; strengthening labor, youth,
civil rights and anti-war organizations; and deepening global outreach and
unity with the exploited and downtrodden.
Whether it’s catfish workers in Mississippi, immigrant domestic
workers in Miami, environmental justice activists fighting pollution in North
Carolina, low-wage workers fighting for dignity, or youth fighting police
terror, SHROC helped to give voice to these important struggles and many more
locally, statewide and around the world.
The conference was dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin, the Black
youth murdered Feb. 26 by a racist vigilante in Florida; Samuel Hammond Jr.,
Henry Ezekial Smith and Delane Herman Middleton, Black students killed by
racist police in 1968 during a desegregation struggle at South Carolina State
University in Orangeburg, S.C.; and the late Septima Clark, a long-time civil
rights activist born in Charleston.
‘Changing what’s possible at MUSC’
A major issue dominating the three-day conference was the struggle of
predominantly African-American medical assistants at the Medical University of
South Carolina. Some 54 of these medical workers have been illegally dismissed
for filing justified grievances against this private medical college’s
intolerable working conditions, low pay and racist attitudes on the part of
A number of these assistants, demanding nurse’s training, attended the
conference to share their stories. SHROC organizers called a direct action in
front of MUSC on Dec. 8. A picket line of about 200 activists chanted for a
couple of hours, while some of the impacted medical workers stood across the
street cheering them on.
The main theme of the protest was “Changing what’s possible at
MUSC.” Along with “No justice, no peace” and
“Ain’t no power like the power of the people cause the power of the
people don’t stop” was “Ain’t no stoppin’ us now,
workers are on the move.”
This struggle was likened to the historic 1969 hospital workers’
strike against MUSC led by the 1199 union in Charleston. The strike, which
lasted 113 days, was initiated by hospital aides, who won an increase in pay
and better grievance procedures. The gains were short-lived, however, due to
South Carolina being, then and now, a state that adheres to
right-to-work-for-less laws that undermine union organizing, including the
right to collective bargaining, which also affects the MUSC 54.
Leaders of ILA 1422 are participating in current mediation talks with the
MUSC administration on behalf of the 54.
The opening of the conference included round-table strategic discussions on
the criminalization of youth of color by the police and society in general;
winning rights for excluded workers; and the continued building of the Southern
Workers Assembly, which held its first meeting in early September in Charlotte,
N.C., following the March on Wall Street South.
Plenary sessions, which were all connected to building a strong, united
Southern human rights movement, focused on views about the 2012 presidential
elections; present struggles being waged in South Carolina and other parts of
the region; U.S. slavery built on theft of Native lands in the U.S. and the
relationship to the worldwide capitalist market today; the global supply chain
as key to human rights empowerment; and the lessons and victories for local and
regional mass campaigns.
Topics during concurrent breakout sessions centered on combatting
discrimination; seizing the airways and building community FM radio stations;
waging war on prisons for profits; exposing U.S. policies on immigration and
building solidarity; women’s rights are human rights; tactics for
achieving racial justice; moving forward with a Southern Regional
People’s Assembly; and organizing a U.S. Labor Party.
Solidarity messages were presented throughout the conference by Clarence
Thomas, International Longshore Workers Union Local 10; William Camacaro,
Venezuelan Circle in New York; General Consul Jorge Veloz, Venezuela; Sarah
White, Mississippi Workers Center for Human Rights; and Monica Moorehead,
Workers World Party.
SHROC solidarity with longshore workers
Another major highlight of the conference was the keynote address given by
Kenneth Riley, president of ILA Local 1422. Riley, also the first
African-American president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, was introduced by his
brother, Leonard Riley, also a leader of this struggle-oriented local, which is
well-known and respected in the Charleston community.
Ken Riley spoke of the need for unity and solidarity among all workers,
organized and unorganized, throughout the South and the world. The ILA is
currently in contract negotiations with shipping bosses over the epidemic of
outsourcing dock worker jobs. If a decent contract is not reached by the
extended deadline of Dec. 30, there is a real possibility of an East Coast
longshore strike that will impact shipping from Maine to Texas.
A resolution in solidarity with longshore workers was adopted at SHROC that
reads in part: “The negotiations between the International
Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) representing longshore workers on East
and Gulf Coasts and U.S. Maritime Alliance representing the employers of the
shipping industry which is due to expire on Dec. 30, 2012, have reached a
“As the economic crisis has left millions of U.S. workers unemployed,
employers are proposing technological changes at a pace that will increase the
unemployment and deepen economic and social crisis for working
“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Southern Human Rights Organizers
Conference stands in solidarity with the ILA in its negotiations for a fair
contract for its more than 14,000 members representing thousands more families
and communities who will be affected by the contract.
“That SHROC will build solidarity committees and actions especially in
the East and Gulf Coast cities where the 14 main ports are located;
“That SHROC calls on unions, worker and community and faith-based
organizations to pass resolutions in support of the ILA in its efforts to gain
a fair contract;
“That SHROC calls on all unions, worker and community and faith-based
organizations and supporters to send emails to U.S. Maritime Alliance Chairman
and CEO James A. Capo, email@example.com, calling on them to negotiate in good
faith and to protect jobs for working people. Send copies of emails to James A.
Capo to SHROC at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
SHROC founder Jaribu Hill told Workers World, when asked about the
significance of this conference: “In 2008, during the SHROC IX, we
celebrated the election of the first African-American president. At SHROC X, we
came together to strategize to make uncompromising demands on behalf of the
99%. We will tell President Obama that we will not remain silent to allow his
or any other administration to ignore our just cries for real equality and
inclusion. We can and we must stand in solidarity with dock workers, hospital
workers, catfish workers, formerly incarcerated workers and Walmart workers
from here to Bangladesh. The struggle will and must continue.”