By Dave Stockton
Dockers in Southampton have refused to unload containers diverted from Liverpool, in defiance of shipping companies and government ministers attempts to undermine the Liverpool strike. This act of solidarity shows both the possibility and necessity of defying the anti-union laws, which outlaw secondary action and allow bosses to divert work to non-striking workers or even bring in scab labour.
Five hundred Liverpool dockers at England’s fourth-largest port, employed by MDHC Container Services, have been on strike since 19 September.
On Tuesday around 200 strikers marched on the Labour Party conference in the city to demand that the party and its MPs back the strike.
Coordinate and Escalate
Unite members at Britain’s largest container port at Felixstowe began their second eight-day strike on 27 September, so Liverpool and Felixstowe are now out together. Strikers include crane drivers, machine operators and stevedores that handle some four million containers a year and 2,000 ships. Since 48% of British container trade goes through this port the knock-on effect for supply lines was far-reaching at a time when the country is already teetering on recession.
Many of the ships destined for Felixstowe cannot even be diverted to other UK ports because they are too big, and the action by workers at Southampton dock will have the bosses thinking twice about whether diversions are worth the expense.
The employer, Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company, runs the facility. But its profits are funnelled through CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd (profits up 28% to £79 million last year). The employers first offered the union 5% plus £500. After going to Acas they raised their offer to 7%, still way below inflation.
General Secretary Sharon Graham told pickets, ‘we will escalate this dispute unless they come back with a revised offer. We have no option.’ Dockers should hold her to her word and demand that Felixstowe and Liverpool continue to strike and escalate together, as well as balloting any other docks that want to strike.
Unity and Solidarity
No wonder dockers are saying no to real wage cuts of 5%. Rank and file militants should be agitating to get Felixstowe and Liverpool out together, and all ports out in a national docks strike such as we have not seen since Thatcher abolished the national dock labour scheme in 1989 and paved the way for containerisation.
Of course if the strikes go on, shippers will try to divert container vessels to Antwerp, Rotterdam, Wilhelmshaven, but there is already considerable congestion at continental ports, not to mention the complications of Brexit to traverse.
Unite should call on European dockers and its sister unions to refuse to handle such cargoes, and offer the same solidarity in return.
Indeed dockers are, by the very nature of their jobs, one of the most internationally minded groups of workers, with an active record of solidarity. US West Coast longshoremen and Australian dock workers have splendid records when it comes to international solidarity. The worldwide surge in inflation should be a signal for just such unity in action.