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THURSDAY, MAY 29, 1969
NIGHT EDITOR: NADINE COHODAS
Blacks strike S. Carolina autocracy
By JUDY SARASOHN, CHRIS STEELE
and RON LANDSMAN
CHARLESTON, S.C., Rep. Mendel Riv-
er's (D) city and one of the world's
most heavily armed metropolises with
its-Polaris base and Navy shipyard, is
under seige by a strike of the black
This city is fondly remembered as
the social mecca of the south but ex-
cept for about five blocks of the beau-
tiful old southern mansions, Charles-
ton is a grungey town polluted with a
heavy industrial smog and a strong
will "to keep the blacks in their place."
However, Charleston's blacks have
left their "place," and the black non-
professional workers-hospital order-
lies, cooks, attendants, nurse's aides,
and laundry workers-who perform
needed menial tasks have walked out
of the two largest hospitals in the city.
it's no wonder that blacks are "leav-
ing their place" as they are usually
paid only $1.30 an hour, a raise from
the 90c an hour they were earning up
to February of this year. They receive
no fringe benefits.
Although the majority of strikers are
sole supporters of three- to five-child-
ren families, no one is going hungry
yet. Besides community support and
the strike fund, many strikers have ap-
plied for and received food stamps. In
fact most strikers were eligible for
food stamps even before they went on
THE CHARLESTON strike is one of a
new breed that has hit the South
in the last two years. The strikers are
the blacks who do the menial jobs for
local and state governments. They are
being helped by the two allies of the
liberal tradition-the unions and the
civil rights organization.
Rev. Martin Luther Kings' death was
the price paid to settle a similar com-
munity strike in Memphis. In Charles-
ton, the black hospital workers are a
long way off from getting any of their
demands-higher wages, better work-
ing conditions, fringe benefits, and at
least informal bargaining rights.
But, they are not striking alone-
virtually the entire black community
of Charleston is on strike with them.
The 500-plus striking hospital workers
enjoy physical and financial as well as
moral support from the black com-
The hospital workers in Charleston
have been organizing for more than a
year now. They began by holding
"gripe" sessions among the mostly
No one took them seriously at first.
Dr. William McCord, head of the S. C.
Medical College Hospital - the first
hospital to be struck -only replied
with a few jokes and an anti-union
memo to the hospital staff.
It was then that local blacks re-
quested help from New York City
Local 1199 of the Retail,-Wholesale,
and Department Store Workers Union
(RWDSU), the Hospital and Nursing
Home Union; the Charleston "union"
then gained at least unrecognized le-
gitimacy, and organizing became more'
MORE THAN 200 blacks walked out
of the college hospital when 12
members, including the president of
the new union Local 1199B were fired
late in March. Another 300 employes
at the Charleston County Hospital
walked out eight days later.
The Charleston blacks will begin the
tenth week of their strike: Since the
walkout, the strikers have not limited
themselves to the 10-pickets-20-feet-
apart-injunction. Knowing that the
blacks would not obey a full injunction,
the court issued this compromise in-
junction right after the walkout.
The strikers plan daily activities to
harass and presure the white es-
tablishment that has automatically
knew they would have to make sac-
Shop-ins are the strikers' best form
of harassment. A crowd of would-be
shoppers descends on several' stores
and spends the entire afternoon trying
on clothes and keeping clerks busy.
High school students are also an
integral part of the strike. Besides
boycotting classes for two weeks and
joining their parents, teenagers stage
their own sing-in-carolling the state
police who line the streets outside the
THERE ARE SIGNS that the strikers'
effect is being felt. A number of
white businessmen are reportedly sup-
porting the strike, at least covertly, in
an attempt to ease the financial strain.
"If strikers march by his store,"
claims Mary, "the store owner will im-
mediately call, 'I donated money, why
are you people ignoring my store?'"
To keep the community spirits from
flagging, the union holds nightly ral-
lies at different churches in Charles-
ton to keep identity and a feeling of
purpose. When Coretta King, widow of
the Rev. King and honorary chairman
of Local 1199, came to Charleston in
late April she spoke to, a crowd of
nearly 4,000 people. The rallies usually
draw at least 400.
T IS CRUCIAL that the strike is a
fight between communities;'for if
the blacks were anything less than
unified, they would be marked for im-
The implications of community or-
ganizing as practices here make this
strike doubly significant and one of
the foremost in community move-
The Charleston strike is not black
power as that idea has developed in the
North. This is indicated by the allies
the hospital workers choose or are
willing to accept, and by their rhetoric.
Among their allies are the big unions-
the United Auto Workers' Alliance for
Labor Action and the AFL-CIO-and
their allied Local 1199.
But the Charleston strikers are
Southern blacks, and thus they are
forced to be racially aware of them-
selves. Everything they are or do has
always been sharply defined as black.
They have allthe substance of black
power, but they don't speak the same
militant language. They have not de-
veloped the indigenous black power
spokesmen who have defined the
movement in the North.
The hospital workers' fight is not
strictly an economic one either, al-
though this is often hard to differen-
tiate since most blacks in Charleston
are poor and most poor people are
black. However, blacks who are not
poor support the strike and whites who
are poor don't.
THE WHITE and black communities
are polarized here and the over-
whelming presence of the 1,000 Na-
tional Guardsmen and legions of the
police force into every visitor's uncon-
sciousness an awareness of the struggle
between the white and black commun-
These men, ordered into the city by
Gov. Robert McNair to preserve law
and order when more than ten picket-
ers appeared in front of the county
hospital, are the Ku Klux Klanners
from upstate areas. These are the men
the blacks really fear; these are the
men whose presence ,constantly re-
minds the strikers they are venturing
from their "place."
AT THE COST of some $12,000 per
day-very upsetting to food-stamp
blacks-the state police and guards-
men are kept in the city's most elegant
hotel, the Francis Marion; these are
the men who enforce the city's 11 p.m.
to 5 a.m. curfew.
The curfew has remained in effect
News and Courier belabors its hatred
of. "outside agitators." In a two-part
series, the pape ran a detailed run
down of some obscure "communist"
connections of the president and vice
president of Local 1199, 40 years ago,
and a detailed examination of how the
dying national' labor unions were
making last gasp efforts to save them-
selves by joining the civil rights move-
The Courrier's blatant Red-baiting,
anti-union front page pieces com-
pletely ignored the real issues facing
blacks and whites in Charleston.
As far as the blacks are concerned,
they "don't give a damn about Com-
munists," says ,Henry Nichols, assis-
tant director of the National Or-
ganizing Committee of the hospital
employes union, "They just want their
The other local paper, the Evening
Post, appeared to be fairer and more
rational. The Post published an article
focusing on the development and is-
sues of the strike, even recognizing
that there were valid points of com-
plaint by the strikers. However, the
strikers claim the Post's fair treatment
wasn't quite the rule.
The newspapers, however, only re-
flect the opposition that is exerted by
the government officials in Charleston
and the rest of the state.
'HE BASIS of South Carolina's oppo-
sition to the strike is a state attor-
ney general's ruling that it is illegal
for the state to bargain with a union
of state employes because no specific
legislation has ever been passed to
allow such negotiations. It is this de-
cision especially which angers the hos-
"It's South Carolina 'custom' that
unions aren't recognized," Isaiah Ben-
nett, state director of the hospital
workers' organizing committee, bitterly
explains. "They know they could recog-
nize this union just' as soon as they
wanted to. It's just the attorney gen-
eral's opinion that they hide behind,
and that's all, that keeps them from
The black leaders in Charleston also
tend to blame the stalemate on S.C.
College Hospital president McCord.
"We can talk to every politician in the
state," says Bennett, "and they're as
cordial and gentlemanly as possible.
But it's McCord who won't talk to us,
and he's the one that counts."
HOWEVER, other sources indicate
that it isn't McCord who is de-
laying the beginning of talks with the
union, but South Carolina Gov. Robert
It was McNair who blasted a com-
mittee set up by Mayor J. Palmer Gail-
lard, saying, "No committee appointed
. .. has any right, nor can any com-
mittee appointed compromise the pol-
icy of South Carolina in reference to
collective bargaining or union recog-
McNair's comments came after a bi-
racial committee set up by the mayor
reported making some progress toward
settling the strike.,
It isn't just the unionization of gov-
ernment employes that makes McNair
adamant, though. James Wooten,
writing in the New York Times May 10,
said informed sources indicated the
governor is. "acting out of loyalty to
the state's anti-union industrial in-
terests and a resolve not to allow civil
rights leaders to gain a foothold or
One of South Carolina's big attrac-
tions to northern industrialists think-
ing about moving south is its supply
of cheap and quiet labor. South Caro-
lina is one of 18 states with "right-to-
work" laws-laws that forbid closed-
But McNair's position is made more
untenable by statements made by Local
1199 Vice President Elliot Godoff pub-
lished in the Evening Post. Godoff
workers would lead to a rash of other
union demands. The state would be
hard-pressed to deny any once it rec-
ognized one union.
4cNAIR IS implacable, nonetheless,
and so far the considerable moral
support for the strikers coming from
outside Charleston has merely infuri-
ated him and made hime more visibly
opposed to the strike.
A month after the strike began a
group of 14 civil rights leaders wrote
to McNair asking him to recognize the
union. The letter had a sterling collec-
tion of black spokesmen, including Mrs.
King, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Roy
Innis of CORE, Rep. Shirley Chisoln
(D-NY), Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich),
Rep. Julian Bond (D-Ga), and Mayors
Richard Hatcher of Gary, Ind., and
Carl Stokes of Cleveland.
The strike, they wrote, "tells much
about what is wrong inAmerica today,"
and they called it a "fight for human
rights and human dignity."
They were followed a few weeks later
by a group of 17 U.S. senators, includ-
ing Jacob Javits of New York and Ed-
ward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who
also penned a letter to McNair. Their
senatorial colleagues from South Caro-
lina, Strom Thurmond and Ernest
Hollings, along with McNair, were out-
raged at the gall of the 17 liberal sen-
ators for interfering in the internal af-
fairs of their state and quickly issued
press releases to that effect.
THE STAUNCH opposition of the
higher level state government of-
ficials is in marked contrast to some
local officials, such as the mayor and
Charleston Police Chief John Conroy.
Conroy has quite a few supporters
among the black community for his
cool handling of the picketing and
other protest activities of the strikers.
The negotiated court injunction lim-
its the strikers to 10 picketers, spaced
20 yards apart, at each of the two hos-
pitals. Conroy enforces the injunction,
but he's the antithesis of the Bull Con-
nors' that have given southern sheriffs
their brutal reputation.
When a local SCLC organizer led
picketers in defiance of the injunction
Conray spared verbally with him, ex-
plaining his obligation to enforce the
law, countering the minister's moral
arguments as best he could. And Con-
roy has earned kind statements from
other strike leaders for' his care about
the handling of picketers before and
after they've been arrested.
Conroy walks along with the march-
ers to insure that none of his police-
men or any civilians can harrass then.
THE CHARLESTON movement is sup-
ported and organized by the out-
side but it is in no way defined by these
outside supporters. Rev. James Orange
of the SCLC, who was working out of
an NAACP office near downtown
Charleston, didn't want to talk to re-
porters. He wanted them to talk to the
community people who were leading
the fight. To a certain extent it is a
test of the SCLC's value for the 1970's
and of the Rev. Ralph Abernathy's
leadership. But the SCLC has been
careful not to pre-empt the Charleston
One outsider who has been crucial
is Nicholas. Nicholas explains the strike
was no accident, and that the com-
munity support which has helped to
sustain the strike was no accident
either, but a well-planhed scheme for
"We won the support early of the
community leaders, the potential Uncle
Toms who might have sold us out,"
Nicholas says. With verbal support won
early in the game, community and or-
ganizing committee leaders moved
slowly to what in Charleston was an
extreme position-the strike.
"We made it impossible for anyone
to back out once the strike came,"
Three against the good state of S. Carolina: hospital workers'
state organizer Isiah Bennett (top); Mary, a striking hospital
worker; and the SCLC's Rev. James Orange.
peting for the allegiance of the hos-
pital workers-the AFL-CIO donated
$25,000 to the local a few days after
UAW President Walter Reuther kicked
in $10,000 on behalf of the ALA. And
the National Organizing Committee of
the hospital workers union has helped
with both organizing and money, using
its strike fund of more than $350,000.
It is supplying the Charleston union
with $20,000 a week, according to Nich-
olas, which has been used for-among
other things-rent payments for the
It is this type of outside help and the
strong will of the strikers that really
angers the local power structure.
THIS WEEKEND is another big. one
for the Charleston hospital strike.
With two of the best out-of-town lead-
ers in the city-Mrs. King and SCLC's
Rev. Abernathy-the strikers are plan-
ning the biggest confrontation to date.
They expect some 7,000-8,000 adults
and students to get arrested for viola-
ting the court injunction and the cur-
They will be, above all, non-violent,
as they have always religiously been.
One source of difficulty in comparing
what is happening in Charleston today
with what happened in Northern cities
IT IS DIFFICULT to know what the
the Charleston blacks will do when
they have used these tools to their
end. Like the legal tools of the civil
rights- movement of the late '50s and
early '60s, the social tools they are
using cannot themselves produce an
egalitarian and just society.
Unionizing black orderlies does not
lead to staffing country hospitals with
black doctors. When Charleston blacks
begin to hit their heads against the
social walls the black-is-beautiful rhe-
toric might be needed to bolster their
The question for both the black and
white communities in Charleston is
where will they go from there? Hope-
fully the white community will drop
its racial antagonism and begin to con-
front the real issues. If not the blacks
may be forced to go the route of com-
plete racial separatism and racial
hatred. Hopefully again, they may riot
have to, but only time will tell.
A WHITE BOY employed by a Charle-
ston supermarket helps b 1 a c k
women home with their groceries from
the downtown area. He is paid to be
helpful to customers, but it strikes an
observer immediately that his actions
are different-one does not expect to