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Liverpool strikes

Liverpool strikes. Photo: Tayo Aluko

Striking dockers in Liverpool and Felixstowe are demonstrating to every working person who really makes the wealth in this country, writes Richard Allday

The strikes called by dockers at two of the country’s biggest ports – Felixstowe and Liverpool – throw into sharp relief the different views of how society should be run.

One is the world as seen by the port employers and their allies in the Tory party; this sees profits of £78 million on a turnover of £342 million (so a staggering 20% profit margin on turnover!) as perfectly acceptable – as long as it stays in the pockets of the wealthy. For the workforce who generated that profit – the Felixstowe dockers – there is a wage cut of 5% (inflation at 12%, wage rise of 7%, do the math). The same story played out at Liverpool.

It’s a world-view that ‘explains’ the 90%-plus votes for industrial action as the result of intimidation (both ports have set up hotlines for dockers to ‘report cases of bullying’ – which only happens, apparently, during industrial action).

Where the dockers have built their action through mass meetings, the employers see ‘mob rule’. When the dockers ballot their members, the employers see ‘manipulation’. When the dockers leaflet their members, the bosses see ‘misinformation’.

When 250 dockers turned out to support the picket line at Felixstowe, they were openly filmed by port management, but that wasn’t intimidation, oh no. The letters sent out to every docker warning that language such as ‘scab’ was intimidation, and therefore a sacking offence, wasn’t intimidation, oh no.

On the dockers’ side, the mood is upbeat and resolute.  The Liverpool dockers, who voted 98% for strike, have showed their support for their Felixstowe brothers and sisters, sending a coachload down to the Suffolk picket line last month, and the Felixstowe dockers have booked a coach to Liverpool for 23 September. What the employers regard as ‘collusion’ is seen by dockers as ‘solidarity’.

A Felixstowe reps explained:

“We have a different history to Liverpool. We don’t have the tradition they have. We are still building a mood of combativity that they take for granted. But the eight-days strike changed the mindset of hundreds of members.”

He went on: “The mood on the dock has changed forever, and sending a delegation to Liverpool to return the solidarity they showed us is part of that change.”

As the first day of the Liverpool strike fell on the day of the state funeral, the dockers stated that, as the docks would be closed, they would not be picketing until the Tuesday. Evidently there is a limit to the grief felt by the employer, as Peel Ports promptly announced the dock would commence work after the funeral, at 7pm. So the pickets were reinstated.

As one scouser put it: “They think its still the nineteenth century, touch your forelock and show respect. Well, we’ve loaded our muskets, and we’re ready.”

When Felixstowe strikes alongside Liverpool, it will be a demonstration to every Tory minister, and every working person, who it is that really makes the wealth in this country - and the only effective way of getting a share of it. And their banners on the protest outside the Tory party conference could epitomise every Tory’s nightmare.

Whatever the result, those words from that Felixstowe docker echo: “The mood on the dock has changed forever”. In many ways, it sums up the mood in the country.

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Richard Allday

Richard Allday

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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