2,000 Felixstowe dockers who are members of Unite have ground the UK's biggest container port to a halt after being offered a real-terms pay cut, reports Richard Allday
The Port of Felixstowe (“Britain’s Premier Port”) was closed on Sunday and will remain so for the rest of the week, as 2,000 dockers strike for a pay rise. The solid response of the workforce obviously took the company by surprise, and left them red-faced after their proud boasts to the media in the previous week that the port would continue to offer a service, albeit a reduced one. In fact they were unable to load a single road-wagon across the two shifts.
The resolute spirit of the strikers was shown by the noisy presence, throughout the day, of hundreds of strikers in support of the action – they were greeted with the constant sounding of horns by passing traffic – including lorry drivers.
The strike is the workers’ response to the company’s proposed increase of 7%, and as Phil Pemberton, the convenor of the port shop stewards, explained to Counterfire, all they are asking for is that a company that made £250m+ profit during the pandemic maintains the purchasing power of its employees’ pay packets.
The strike will inevitably have a knock-on effect across the economy, as the port handles nearly half of all the container imports and exports for the UK. It is reported that Toyota has already voiced its concerns that production could be seriously affected, as the car manufacturer operates a ‘Just in Time’ logistics strategy, all of its imported parts come through Felixstowe, and its Derby manufacturing plant will be seriously disrupted within days.
With the port of Liverpool having returned a whopping 98% vote for strike action over their pay claim, there will be immense pressure on the government to step in and resolve the disputes – but their ability to act on behalf of the employers is hampered by the fact that dock work – despite advances in technology – is still largely a skilled profession, and the Truss/Shapps dream of recruiting a ready-made army of strikebreakers is just that – a dream. The idea of untrained scabs being let loose on the wharfside cranes, or the RTGs (Rubber-Tyred Gantries) servicing road wagons is a disaster waiting to happen.
A win for dockers at Felixstowe will be a massive fillip for the growing national mood of resistance. Sharon Graham, the General Secretary of Unite, obviously realises this, and is due to address the strikers on Wednesday. The local workers movement should aim to make Wednesday a focal point for solidarity with the strikers, both to boost the morale of the strikers with a show of solidarity, but also to use the opportunity to generalise the mood of resistance, and push the argument that if we fight, we can win. All of us. For us all.
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Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage. A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.
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