Protesters blockade the entrance to King George Dock | Photo: John Westmoreland Protesters blockade the entrance to King George Dock | Photo: John Westmoreland

Protesters marching in solidarity with P&O workers turn words into action in Hull as they blockade the entrance to King George Dock, reports John Westmoreland

Demonstrators at King George Dock in Hull were determined to make P&O take notice.

About one hundred people turned out for the third demo in support of sacked P&O workers today. The demo began with a rally on the dockside with a number of trade unions represented.

Labour MP Karl Turner spoke first. His father was a leading figure in the National Union of Seamen and he spoke with passion about the difficulties of life at sea, and the crowd fell silent as he related the story of the 1987 Zeebrugge ferry disaster that killed 193 people.

The disaster happened because a bow door was left open as the ferry set sail. The officer in charge of loading had worked for 48 hours without rest. The disaster was a consequence of company inspired exhaustion.

He also called out claims that foreign workers are taking our jobs. “If we are all in the union nobody can take our jobs”, he said to applause.

But when he called Labour’s intervention in the dispute “a victory”, because “we have shamed the Tories into taking action in defence of workers’ rights” he found few in agreement.

Joe Gibbins from Hull Trades Council argued a more convincing case.

“The Tories cannot be trusted to safeguard workers’ rights. They have been in government for more than a decade and have insisted on keeping the most regressive anti-union laws in Europe.”

And added, “The Labour government before them was no different.”

Pointing to the P&O dock area he said, “Those dock workers in there are the key to winning this dispute. When they refuse to load a scab ship it can’t sail. We have to get our strength back, recruit workers into the union and return the movement to its roots.”

Words into action

Despite the small numbers the RMT, led by Gaz Jackson and Craig Johnson, took the demo to the streets.

Marching behind a group of motorcycle outriders the demo marched down Hedon Road stopping traffic and chanting. Once back at the dock entrance, a human blockade stopped access onto King George Dock to delay loading the ferry, Pride of Rotterdam.

The goal was to make the ferry miss the tide, and the action stands in contrast to the lack of leadership shown by the movement as a whole.

In conversation during the blockade there was overwhelming contempt for the surrender of the TUC. The idea that the TUC should see this as a crisis and initiate urgent action was readily received.

As one RMT steward put it,

“It is a scandal that the Tories are acting as the representative of the sacked workers. Putting demands on the government is meaningless without the action to back it up. Now Tory MPs Grant Shapps and Huw Merriman are talking about workers’ rights as if they were our shop stewards. The TUC should be leading a fight to the finish over this, not handing the wheel to the enemy.”

Joe Gibbons summed up the crisis very well when he said, “This is going to be a turning point where either the Labour movement will start a meaningful fightback that sees workers using their power to get their rights, or, it will see us broken and paralysed for another decade.”

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John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.