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S.C. Union Leader Calls for Possible Nationwide General Workers Strike

03/03/2011 12:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A high-profile South Carolina union leader said Wednesday that he doesn't see any other way for the labor movement to win the battle against an anti-union bill in Wisconsin than to call for a general workers strike if such legislation passes.

Kenny Riley, who heads up the Charleston local 1422 of the International Longshoremen's Association - the largest and most powerful union in the Palmetto State - is a bright star among the national union leadership.

He's heading to Cleveland today for the Emergency Labor Meeting.

Riley will speak in Cleveland on a panel titled "How Can We Help Mobilize the Labor Movement to Fight the Attacks Against Working People?"

Panelists who were also scheduled include Russell Bannan, board member for Colorado Jobs With Justice; Gladys McKenzie, Field Representative, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5 (Minnesota) and David Newby, President Emeritus, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.

Riley's main worry is what will happen after all the rallies and protests that brought the debate over workers rights and collective bargaining onto the front pages of newspapers and prime-time TV broadcasts.

In Wisconsin, for instance, if Republican Gov. Scott Walker ends up passing a bill that strips collective bargaining rights, what good was all that noise?

"I don't see any other way than [proposing] a general workers strike," Riley says. "I would actually want to have a call for a general strike before the bill is passed."

Riley plans to say as much during the Cleveland meeting tonight.

Riley says he's tired of having feel-good meetings and isn't looking forward to listening to labor experts or historians talk in the abstract.

For his part, Riley is ready to move forward with warnings about the prospect of a nationwide general workers strike in response to the anti-collective bargaining legislation in Wisconsin, even if workers never actually have to pick up a picket sign.

"You don't always have to pull the trigger, but you have to pull a gun," he says.

If that sounds strongly worded, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley might have been expecting it.

The newly elected anti-union Republican governor recently took to her Twitter page recently to declare: "The more heavy-handed the unions are with us, the more we are going to talk smack back."

Last year, South Carolina had the third-lowest organized workforce in the country at 4.5 percent, according to the national Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Palmetto State has a bloody history when it comes to unions, including a brutal massacre in the town of Honea Path in 1934 when security forces working for a textile company opened fire on workers attempting to organize.