The Charleston Five


It’s hard to believe that this happened in the US in the year 2000, but this is the sort of thing that goes on in the rightwing capitalist “democracies” of the 3rd World that so many of you commenters love so much. Unions are attacked by police. The police are used as agents of the state to attack workers and their organizations and any and all other progressive organizations. In other words, the cops are used as an army of the ruling class and the capitalists to attack anyone who opposes their interests.

What’s interesting is that this is what happens just about everywhere you have capitalism, although in the more evolved varieties as in Europe and much of the Anglosphere, it doesn’t happen that much anymore. As such, it seems to be a feature, not a bug, of the capitalist system. If capitalism is so great, then why is using cops (and in many cases, the national army itself) against popular organizations seemingly an essential part of this system? Commenters please respond.

A friend of mine spent a couple years in Alabama 20 years ago. The US South has a nearly caste-like class structure, and the one thing they hate more than anything else down there are union organizers. The whole system is based on cheap labor and always has been. My friend said that the White capitalist class are “assholes,” who behave similar to a Latin American ruling class, exploit all workers savagely and do not socialize with the White working class.

They have used racism as a tool for dividing White and Black workers (as capitalists often do), and it’s worked great. My friend said that the White and Black workers at his plant hated each other and had nothing to do with each other. They worked in separate parts of the plant.

There was a Black side of  town and a White side of town, and each group pretty much kept to their own side of town. The only Blacks on the White side of town were very well-dressed and on very good behavior. If any more scruffly Blacks showed up on the White side of town, Whites would quickly confront them and they would be gone back to their own side.

Similarly though, the Whites would not go to the Black side of town either. It was regarded as dangerous to go there if you were White. My friend went there to eat at a soul food joint, but they were the only Whites in the area.

The line pitched to the poor and downtrodden racist Whites of the South has always been, “At least you’re not a nigger.” These Whites, who as victims deserve sympathy more than anything else, have always found solace in the fact that as low as they were, “At least I ain’t a nigger.” That is, they could always look down on and feel superior to the Blacks who were even lower on the pole than they were.

And via racism, the White workers have always voted for the parties of White racism (formerly Democrats, now Republicans) instead of supporting parties that worked for their class interests. So White workers voted for the parties that were viciously exploiting them in the workplace.

This sort of crap used to happen a lot in the US a while back, with the last major outbreak in the 1930’s when cops were called out to violently break up strikes, opening fire on and killing some workers.

The etiology of the riot is hard to put together, but it looks a police army was set up outside the union hall to prevent the workers from picketing the scabs being used to break a dockworkers strike at the port of Charleston. The dockworkers union is targeted in South Carolina because it is one of the only powerful unions in the state. This particular union represented Black dockworkers.

The city jail had been emptied the night before to prepare for the riot that the cops knew was going to happen, since the cops were going to create that very riot. Workers walked up to the police line and told police that they wanted to go picket the scabs at the dock. Each time they were driven back with batons. So you see the police army was preventing the workers from having their peaceful labor picket.

After this went on for a while, workers started fighting back, grabbing police batons. There was yelling and screaming and racist cries from the cops, “We’re going to beat the Hell out of these niggers!”

Workers picked up rocks and started throwing them at cops. Union leaders went to the line to separate the two groups and got savagely clubbed. Workers went nuts, overturned light poles and hit photographers. Cops charged the group with a police armored car and a Highway Patrol car drove straight at the crowd. The crowd rushed up and smashed out the windows on the cop car.

In other words, a police riot.

The prosecutor later charged 5 workers to make an example out of them, break the union, and as a blow against union activity in the state. . The governor himself said that it was the state’s “right to work” (terribly anti-union law) law that was at stake.

Charges were eventually dropped

We think we are so progressive here in the US, then something like this happens and it seems like we are back in 1934.

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2 thoughts on “The Charleston Five”

  1. Why are state officials such as cops and prosecutors collaborating with the capitalist classes? They get their money from taxation, not from the capitalist classes.

    Are they acting on an irrational instinct that compells them to be submissive to the rich? Are they feeble minded?

  2. Bob Murphy thinks that the police are on the side of unions, since they permit more violence by union-members than strike-breakers. Kevin Carson would presumably say that’s not nuanced enough and that the state actually favors “sellout” Wagner-Act unions & employers over the authentic labor movement (i.e the Wobblies).

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