The Newport News, Va., police chief promised an investigation yesterday into brutality allegations following a bloody clash between police and strikers Monday morning at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co.
But the striking steelworkers union sent a telegram to U.S. Attorney General Griffin B. Bell requesting a federal investigation of the incident. In the telegram, Bruce Thrasher, Atlanta district director of the United Steel-workers of America, accused city and state police of "clubbing, kicking and permitting attack dogs to bite peaceful American citizens" in what he called a "maneuver appropriate for military operation against the foreign enemy."
A spokesman for Bell said the attorney general had not yet seen the telegram.
In announcing the local probe of the incident, Newport News Police Chief George Austin stiffy defended the conduct of his officers.
The clash Monday between several hundred pickets and police resulted in 67 arrests and at least 37 injuries after police cleared pickets from a 20 block area in front of the shipyard where they have been on strike since Jan. 31.
The Steelworkers' local leadership decided last week to suspend the strike. At a membership meeting Friday, however, more than 5,000 strikers demanded that the walkout continue until the company drops its position that the workers have lost the right to their previous job assignments when they go back in.
The emotionalism of Friday's union meeting appeared to carry over to the picket lines Monday. Police accused the Steelworkers of taunting and harassing them as the officers enforced the state's right to work law by arresting pickets who shouted threats at nonstriking workers.
In the melee that followed, city police burst into the union's strike headquarters in a downtown bank building, but were turned back by a crowd of strikers. One striker suffered a broken ankle.
On Tuesday, several representatives of the Virginia AFL-CIO asked President Carter to guarantee the Steel-workers' right to strike and urged the federal government to cut off business with the yard, which does extensive work for the Navy.