On The 20th Anniversary of The Liverpool Dockers Struggle-Resolution of Solidarity with the Greek Dockers' struggle against privatisation

On The 20th Anniversary of The Liverpool Dockers Struggle-Resolution of Solidarity with the Greek Dockers' struggle against privatisation

September 29 of this year marked the 20th anniversary of the start of the Liverpool Dock Strike. To mark the occasion the sacked Liverpool Dockworkers held a weekend event commemorating the many good and progressive legacies that were born out of the 28 month dispute. The dispute originally involved 500 dockworkers who were sacked from the Port of Liverpool for honouring the number one principle of the trade union movement in refusing to cross a picket line. When the dispute ended in January 1998 more than 80,000 national and international trade unionists and supporters had either pledged or taken part in solidarity action on behalf of the Liverpool dockworkers and their families. Jack Heyman, a retired longshoreman from San Francisco, was very prominent in the international movement of support for the Liverpool dockers. He attended the weekend of commemorations, where he proposed the following motion:

“Whereas representatives, members and supporters of maritime and port workers’ unions are meeting in Liver- pool, England on this 20th anniversary of the historic struggle by Liverpool dockers against mass sackings and union-busting; and

Whereas, while their struggle was ultimately lost, a key part of the Liver- pool dockers’ struggle was solidarity actions by maritime and port workers around the world, giving rise to the International Dockworkers’ Council (IDC) and its successful campaign for the Charleston 5 longshore struggle; and

Whereas, 20 years ago Liverpool dockers were in the forefront of the struggle against privatisation and cas- ualization of the workforce, today Greek port workers are facing the brunt of the worldwide capitalist attack on transport workers and all workers; and

Whereas, the Troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund have singled out Greece for attack. and have insisted as part of the “bailout” (in reality of leading international banks) that the dockers of Piraeus, Thessalo- niki and other ports be fully privatized; and

Whereas in recent years Greek port worker unions have already fought the partial privatisation of the Piraeus docks, under which union representa- tion has been eliminated in the container port operated by the Chinese Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) leading to 16-hour shifts, unpaid wages and a sharp deterioration of safety conditions; and

Whereas, under the EU2020 strategy, the European Commission is pushing a “liberalization” program of Thatcherite measures aiming to cargo, passenger and other maritime operations, as well as to eliminate protections against sackings and under- cut the right to strike, thus threatening the very existence of dockers’ unions throughout Europe; and

Whereas the troika’s intervention in the Greek port sector aims to eliminate the Public Port Authority through the outright privatisation of the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki; and

Whereas we know from previous experience in the ports sector that the imposition of anti-union measures at the ports in one country will be exported to ports in other countries; and

Whereas this would embolden employers and the capitalist govern- ments in attacking maritime and port workers throughout the world; and

Whereas, the IDC European Zone in March 2015 issued a statement expressing its support for Greek working people in opposing the vicious

austerity program dictated by Euro- pean and international financial institutions; and

Whereas; both the IDC and ITF dockworkers have proudly coordinated mass protests against port service lib- eralization measures at the European Parliament in Strasbourg:

Therefore be it resolved, since the global conflict now is centered in Greece, and Greek port unions will undertake actions to prevent the privatisation of the ports ordered by the Troika and now imposed on the Greek government, this meeting commemorating the anniversary of the heroic dockers’ struggle calls upon maritime and port unions to take all possible measures of solidarity with our Greek comrades in struggle.


Workers International Journal November 2015 Page 13

20th Anniversary of the Liverpool Dockers’ dispute, 26 September 2015

‘Source of that movement lies in the entire history of workers standing up to represent themselves’

Dot Gibson’s speech at the commemoration event

Thanks! I am proud to have the chance to speak at this event

What is the significance of the Support Groups for the Labour Party and the trade unions today?

The movement which arose in support of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election surprised many – not least the Parliamentary Labour Party, the media and the Tory establish- ment.

But is it so surprising? I suggest that the source of that movement lies in the entire history of workers standing up to represent themselves – setting up trade unions, the First International in 1864, the founding of the Labour Party in 1900, and perhaps particularly in the mass movement in 1945, which elected a Labour government to launch the NHS, nationalisation of basic industries and the welfare state.

And then in the Support Groups built by thousands of Labour Party and trade union members and socialist groups 40 years later from 1985 onwards to defend the gains of that post-war government.

Thirty years ago the Labour Party and the official TUC did not support the historic year-long miners’ strike, yet the ruling class had been preparing for it for a long time.

They had a financial war chest for this battle, and they had the anti-trade union laws

In the vacuum of Labour movement leadership thousands of rank-and-file Labour Party and trade union members, and socialists built a network of support groups.

They transported food, clothes, babies’ nappies, toys and other necessi- ties to the mining communities around the country.

They organised fund-raising con- certs and raffles. They joined picket lines, marched and demonstrated. They built lasting connections.

And then each time workers came into struggle the support groups went into action – for the print-workers, the seafarers, the dockers, the Hillingdon hospital workers.

And of course there was the massive rank-and-file movement against the Iraq war. But Labour went ahead with the war and the privatisation and refused to repeal the anti-union laws.

Then we got the Coalition government and now the Tories.

Despite the betrayals, rank-and-file members of trade unions and Labour did not stop. Over the years a myriad of campaigns have been set up in defence of hospitals, schools, post offices, nurs- eries and day-centres, libraries and leisure centres.

And justice campaigns like the black-listing of trade unionists, deaths in custody and in support of asylum seekers. And the green campaigns, the anti-war movement, homeless students and young people and of course, in defence of pensioners!

There isn’t a city or town in the country without a campaign!

And over the past three or four years the People’s Assembly Against Austerity has been established, led by the trade unions to unite these campaigns, and thousands of young people are coming forward to build on these experiences.

Add to this the development of community branches in Unite the Union, and now the “People’s Post Campaign” launched by the Communication Workers Union.

The important change is that the gap between trade union industrial action and the struggle for political representation is being overcome and this is more and more a conscious development.

There will be a massive turnout in Manchester on 4 October.

It is against this background that the Labour leadership election took place. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are part of this movement.

So let’s look at the significance of the Liverpool Dockers’ lock-out in all of this.

I am proud to have been a member of the London Dockers Support Group (and I greet our Turkish comrades who joined the Support Group, representing workers in the East London clothing sweatshops). Our biggest event was to organise the huge March for Social Justice in April 1997, during the general election campaign.

This built on the determination of the dockers to stand up for the history of the movement and the rights of all workers. A message was delivered to 10 Downing Street addressed to whoever became the next Prime Minis- ter.

The delegation which delivered that message were dressed in the period clothes of the Chartists. Let’s remember that the Chartist movement was described by Lenin as the first mass working-class party.

It was Tony Blair and a Labour government that won the 1997 election, but that government did not support the dockers.

I am also proud that I was the editor of the dockers’ newspaper. The shop stewards committee was the editorial board.

In the 28-month lock-out, there were 25 issues of the Dockers Charter and these are now the basis for a book.

These papers are an on-the-spot record with statements from the leaders and letters, reports and the views of the pickets.

From the beginning there were mass meetings every Friday and the dockers set out to build a community and an international campaign.

Issue no. 1 advertised a Community March and Rally and announced the setting up of the Women of the Waterfront

Issue no. 2 had a headline “Dockers Win Worldwide Backing” and announced the receipt of £20,000 from Canadian and Australian dockers

Issue no. 3 was headed: “The world is our picket line” and reported support from Spain, Sweden, Italy, France, Germany and Japan

Issue no. 4 announced the International Conference of port workers; the Liverpool dockers had refused an offer from the company to re-employ 100 men and pay off the rest with £25,000 each (a lot of money in those days).

There are reports of the dockers’ support for hospital workers, firefighters, local government workers, Liverpool schools and asylum seekers.

In just the first eight months there were 14 trade union and community marches and rallies: “with the intention of rebuilding working-class confidence and solidarity”

Dockers had spoken at 4,000 meetings throughout the country and initiated Support Groups in the major towns

Reclaim our Streets a London group of young anarchists and socialists positively supported the dockers and with some difficulties over discipline – worked with the shop stewards committee

! The paper carries letters and discussion pieces from the pickets with many pictures. . .

! Whilst the shop stewards com- mittee remained at the heart, rank-and- file dockers and a Women of the Waterfront toured the world and their reports are in the paper

! Local dockers got students of English to translate the Liverpool dockers’ speeches – but the students couldn’t understand Liverpool English! However – the host dockers said it didn’t really matter because they all spoke the same language of struggle!

! In March 1996, in the sixth month of the dispute, at last the union’s general secretary, Bill Morris (now Lord Morris) spoke at a mass meeting. We published the full speech in Dockers Charter. He said:

! “When my grandchildren say to me in 15, 20, 25 years from now “Where were you when the Liverpool dockers were fighting for their jobs, their community, their dignity and their pride” I want to be able to say: “I was marching on their side”.

! Well we should send a reminder to him from this meeting!

This is just a taste of the priceless reports in the Dockers Charter.

This was a dispute over trade union rights and casualization. The dockers delivered a grim warning of the situation now experienced by millions today on low pay, zero-hour contracts, frail elderly and disabled people receiving care in 15-minute slots, and the continuing brutal anti-trade-union laws..

After 28 months the dockers were forced to abandon their fight.

Jimmy Nolan and Jimmy Davies pub- lished a statement in the paper, and it shows how the Liverpool dockers pointed the way for the movement that arose this summer in support of Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader. They said:

“It need not have ended this way:

! The Labour government could have repealed the anti-trade-union laws, which the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company used to sack us;

! They could have used the government’s ‘golden shares’ in the company to insist on our reinstatement;
! Our union leadership could have mobilised the whole union in our support and called upon the international Transport Workers’ Federation for worldwide support against the shipping companies.

! But Labour governs on behalf of capital and the Trade Union Congress, instead of representing the interests of millions of trade unionists, follows with blind faith a policy of tripartite accord between government, employers and trade unions – upholding the laws of bad employers.

! Meanwhile the global system of capital reaps profit and wreaks havoc. ! If the outcome of the Liverpool dockers’ fight for reinstatement has
shown one thing, it is that we must continue to organise, build confidence and step up the fight against further attacks.”

Now we have the chance for a wide- spread and democratic discussion throughout the Labour and trade union movement, and to learn the lessons of history. The Labour government of 1945 made many changes, but the mixed economy of public and private ownership remained. The private, capitalist sector mobilised their political representatives, and the state forces to destroy our gains. This time we must mobilise and join forces internationally to end capitalism. We must start working for socialism.

Workers International Journal November 2015 Page 14