Jeremy Paxman - Ken Loach - Protest Placards - James Joyce - John Pilger - Timeshift: Sailors, Ships & Stevedores TV - On the Waterfront 1953 - The Mob 1951 - The River Thames: Then & Now TV - Martin Bell TV - Liverpool Narcos TV - Josepeh Conrad - Jimmy McGovern: Dockers TV - Arise Ye Workers: The Dockers' Fight TV - The Blitz: Britain on Fire TV - World in Action TV -
The London Docks may have been the gateway to the wealth of empire but the men who worked here were some of the poorest in Britain ... They were paid little and only by the hour. On average a docker worked three hours a day. Resentment ran high. But all this was about to change. On August 12th 1889 the London dockers fought back ... Within a week 30,000 men were on strike ... For the strikers the suffering was intense; but not only for the dockers, for their families too ... In London the dock strike took to the streets. Thousands of dockers and their families marched carrying huge banners, their children holding signs saying please feed us. Jeremy Paxman, The Victorians: Having It All, BBC 2009
In September 1995 nearly 5,000 Liverpool dockers were sacked. Their fight for reinstatement has become one of the most important industrial disputes in Britain. Yet it is scarcely reported, is largely ignored by politicians and is not officially recognised by the unions. Ken Loach, The Flickering Flame, 1997
The story of the dockers is the story of a struggle for regular work, regular hours and regular pay. Everyone has a fear of going back to the bad old days. ibid.
They [employers] found a willing ally in Margaret Thatcher. And in 1989 the National Dock Labour Scheme was abolished. ibid.
The T&G had called off the strike everywhere else. ibid.
The evils of casual labour began to reappear. ibid.
329 dock workers were sacked for showing their solidarity with the Torside men. ibid.
The dockers and their families are now up against it – real hardship. ibid.
Women have got organised – Women of the Waterfront. ibid.
There has been solidarity action from dockers in twenty-two countries. ibid.
It was not until 1967 that dockers gained permanent employment. Ken Loach: The Spirit of 45, 2013
The last registered dock workers did not get their jobs back. Casual labour has returned to the docks. ibid.
Victory to the Dockers: Whose Side Are You On, Tony Blair? Protest placard
We came then near the river. We spent a long time walking about the noisy streets flanked by high stone walls, watching the working of cranes and engines and often being shouted at for our immobility by the drivers of groaning carts. It was noon when we reached the quays and, as all labourers seemed to be eating their lunches, we brought two big currant buns and sat down to eat them on some metal piping beside the river. We pleased ourselves with the spectacle of Dublin commerce – the barges signalled from far away by their curls of wholly smoke, the brown fishing fleet beyond Ringsend, the big white sailing vessel which was being discharged on the opposite quay. James Joyce, Dubliners: An Encounter
The vastness and strangeness of the life suggested to him by the bales of mechandise stocked along the walls or swung aloft out of the holds of steamers wakened again to him the unrest which had sent him wandering in the evening from garden to garden in search of Mercedes. And amid this new bustling life he might have fancied himself in another Marseille but that he missed the bright sky and the sun-warmed tellises of the wineshops. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Members of the flexible workforce might find a lesson in the dockers’ fight against casualisation.
Near the end of Dockers, shown last Sunday on Channel 4, there is a scene in which Big John, a docker, is found dead in his garden. It is deeply moving. I remembered the freezing day last year when Bill Rooney had a heart attack and died. A week later, Jimmy McUmiskey, who seemed a fit man in his 50s, followed. He was the fourth to die since the Liverpool dockers and their families made their stand: one of the longest and most tenacious in British labour history.
Dockers, the film, was written by Jimmy McGovern and the dockers themselves and their wives. It is fine work that guards the memory and tells the truth from the ground up. Among the characters, I recognised Doreen McNally. Feisty, funny, eloquent wife of Charlie, a Liverpool docker for 29 years, Doreen helped found Women of the Waterfront. I first saw her one Saturday in the autumn of 1996 at the Pier Head, a year after the sacking en masse of 500 men described by Lloyds list as the most productive workforce in Europe. The heroic Liver building reared up behind her to a watery sun; a flock of seagulls rose and fell until a hooter sent them flapping back to the Mersey. ‘Where is the union,’ she asked a rally, ‘where is Bill Morris, where is the TUC?’
It is a question millions of Britons might ask as Tony Blair’s ideas about flexible working guarantee a poverty that gives the children of British working people the worst health in western Europe, now on a par with Slovenia and Albania.
This was everything the Liverpool dockers fought against. Since the abolition of the National Dock Labour Scheme in 1989, casualisation had spread through the docks; they believed they were next. In September 1995, they refused to cross a picket line which included their sons and nephews sacked by Torside, a sub-contractor to the main company at the port, Mersey Docks. Within 24 hours, their jobs were advertised. When they tried to return to work, they found the gates locked. It was a trap.
In July 1996, Bernard Bradley, managing director of Torside, revealed to the Commons employment committee that he had wanted to give his men back their jobs almost immediately. Having passed the offer to a regional official of the TGWU, Jack Dempsey, he heard nothing. The Torside dockers were never told about the offer. Had they been told, Mersey Docks would never have had a pretext to get rid of the main workforce.
Almost none of this was reported. Misrepresented as relics from a bygone era, the dockers looked abroad. ‘It was 6 a.m. on a December morning in the fiercest blizzard for 70 years,’ said Bobby Morton, one of four dockers who set up a picket at the port of Newark in New Jersey just as a container ship had docked from Liverpool. ‘We didn’t know what to expect. When we told the longshoremen coming to work what it was all about, they turned their cars around. We were dancing on the picket line, and we hadn’t had a drink.’
From a room with one phone, a fax line and a tea urn, they ignited a show of international labour solidarity believed to be without precedent this century. ‘Pacific Rim trade sputtered to a halt’, reported the Los Angeles Times, as dozens of mammoth cargo ships sat idle in their ports as union dockworkers from LA to Seattle backed the dockers of Liverpool. In Japan, 40,000 dockworkers stopped. Ships were turned away from Sydney harbour. In South Africa, dockers closed all ports ‘in solidarity with the Liverpool dockers who stood by us during the years of apartheid’.
Five months after the dockers were sacked, Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, their leader, came to Liverpool. ‘I am proud to be with you,’ he told them. ‘Your struggle is so important that our grandchidren will ask, ‘Where were you at the great moment?’ and you will either stand up with pride, or you’ll hang your head in shame. There can be no backsliding until victory is won … God is on our side.’
The union gave the dockers money, though not enough to live on. Morris refused to make the dispute official, claiming the government would invoke Thatcher’s law on secondary picketing – a technicality in this case – and sequestrate his funds. Had he launched a legal campaign challenging the injustice of the dockers’ dismissal and anti-trade-union laws that are shameful in a democracy, the battle could have been won there and then.
Betrayal is the political theme of Blair’s Britain, whose pillars include those paid generously to protect the vulnerable, with or without God. In such surreal times, the dockers’ great achievement was to show what was possible. For me, watching their principled fight as they lost almost everything, until the loss of Bill and Jimmy proved too much to bear, was watching Britain at its best. John Pilger, article July 2006 ‘What Did You Do During the Dock Strike?’
An army of workers, their boots clattering on the quayside cobbles. These men were the engine driving the post-war recovery. Exotic goods, people from far-flung places, and new exciting influences from across the globe. Timeshift: Sailors, Ships & Stevedores, BBC 2017
But within twenty years these docksides took on a new life. ibid.
One of Britain’s biggest docks was Liverpool; it exported more than any other UK port. ibid.
It was hard, physical labour. ibid.
The vibrancy of the Tiger Bay community captured by J Lee Thompson’s film reinforced the public’s perception of the life of a sailor town. ibid.
These old-fashioned methods meant accidents were commonplace. ibid.
The container was a disarmingly simple concept. ibid.
In 1972 the threat posed by new technology and unregistered workers sparked a national docks strike. ibid
Someone fell off the roof. On the Waterfront 1953 starring Marlon Brando & Eva Marie Saint Lee J Cobb & Karl Malden & Rod Steiger & Pat Hennnig & James Westerfield et al, director Elia Kazan, geezer
Dockers fight for the right to work. Arise Ye Workers: The Dockers’ Fight, caption, 1973
We believe that the way it’s been handled in our industry is an example of employers’ greed. ibid. docker
These unregistered docks are a sore problem in relation to our industry. ibid.
Mass workers’ action: we march on Pentonville. ibid. caption
The five of us was put in [prison] by a political court and it was the trade union movement that got us out. ibid. docker