Ted Grant

The dockers fight

Source: Militant, no. 115 (July 28, 1972)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Niklas 2010

The dockers are out. They have magnificently carried out the trade union injunction “An injury to one is an injury to all”. The arrest of five dockers under the Industrial Relations Act has been the last straw. All are out in London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bristol, Felixstowe, Leith, Chatham, Great Yarmouth, Middlesbrough, Ipswich, Barry and even King’s Lynn. In Manchester, dockers’ foremen, clerical staff, delivery clerks, tally clerks, grain workers, crane drivers have joined in—every section of the dock workers is absolutely solid. This applies to all the ports.

Not only the dockers, but their fellow trade unionists, are replying to the provocation of the government, employers and their courts and acting in solidarity with the dockers.

Lorry drivers in London announced immediate solidarity with the dockers and many have already come out on strike. According to reports on the radio, Midlands Cold Storage workers at the depot picketed by the dockers have announced their intention to come out on strike in sympathy with the jailed dockers.

Local authority workers up and down the country are discussing strike action—Bexley will be out on the 25th. Brighton council workers are sending a delegation to support the dockers’ march.

The Thames lightermen and bargemen are on strike anyway, so no refuse will be moved down the river.

Threats of all-out action have been made by leaders of London Transport workers and the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

All London buses and tubes and all road haulage could be at a stand-still in 24 hours. 50,000 Heathrow airport workers will be holding a 24 hour strike from 4 o’clock on Wednesday.

The Fleet Street printers are out. Reports are coming in that the provincial printers are following the lead of their brothers in London. The Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo are already on strike.

8,000 miners in Wales, Yorkshire and Scotland have spontaneously struck while their area bodies are discussing the situation. It will not be long before they will be followed by all the miners in these areas and throughout the country. British Leyland and Fords workers have already promised their support and would be out if they were not on holiday.

But the tool-room at Longbridge, which was working is now closed by strike action. 2,000 workers at Shell Chemicals at Carrington, Lancashire have downed tools. The Fisher-Bendix workers have rallied behind their docker brothers.

The Fish porters at Hull and Grimsby have joined the dockers. The porters at Smithfield and Covent Garden are out.

Already trade union principles have shown that they are not bounded by national barriers or the sea. The French dockers are blacking all goods to or from Britain.

The Industrial Relations Act was intended as a reserve weapon in the hands of the ruling class—as Heath and Co. said, “as a court of last resort”.

The purpose of the Act has been stymied by small employers using it without concern for the interests of big business or the state. Consequently, the Act has boomeranged and exploded in the face of its authors.

As The Times, the voice of big business, sarcastically observes, in working out who is to replace the disaster, Heath, as the next Conservative prime minister: “Mr. Carr is confined by his authorship of the IR Act. As the process of his law, like a disordered slot machine, produces a succession of unforeseen results, mostly raspberry flavoured, Mr. Carr remains tied to it.”

Century of struggle

This shows the complete falsity of the argument that the government cannot intervene in the process of the law—a law for which they are responsible—and release the dockers.

If they were to carry out the law, they would have to arrest every worker on strike, for contempt of court.

Carr and Macmillan have declaimed about “the law of the jungle” and “force” being used by the dockers. As if the capitalist system and its laws are not based on the law of the jungle and force, against the working people and their capitalist rivals abroad! As if the only defence of the workers against the jungle law of the employers and their government were not the strength of their organisation!

The rights of the working class were not given by benign Tory governments. They were only gained in a century of struggle against unjust laws. The right to strike, the right to vote, the right to organise, the right of free speech, were only won by the struggle of the working people. To maintain these rights depends on the vigilance of the working class and the strength of their organisations.

Anatole France, the French writer and socialist, gave a crushing reply to the Tories of his day on this question of “the law”. Ironically he declaimed, “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to steal bread, to sleep under bridges and to beg for food.”

Ninety percent of the laws are in defence of property, and most of the balance are in the interests of the ruling class. Even today, if all the laws were applied, nothing would remain of the rights of the trade unions and working people, quite apart from the Industrial Relations Act. Sir John Donaldson said sadly that the arrest of the dockers would not improve industrial relations, for which the Industrial Relations Court was set up.

It is perhaps appropriate that these events take place around the anniversary of the Tolpuddle case. The 5 dockers are the new Tolpuddle Martyrs. The Tories sought to avoid creating martyrs because they feared the reaction of the working class. The IR Act was used against the T&GWU and the railwaymen. It was intended for the purpose of building and protecting scab and company unions in order to split the unity of the working class.

The dockers have given the lead. Free the five and away with the Industrial Relations Act!

The TUC leaders met Heath on Monday night. Instead of playing clap-handies, they should issue an ultimatum—“We are calling a one day general strike as a warning. If you do not release the five, further action will be taken”. Vic Feather, when asked about a general strike on the radio, parried by declaring, “It takes time to organise a general strike.”

Trades councils in Bristol, Merseyside and elsewhere are calling emergency meetings. The same must be done all over the country. If the TUC gave a lead, the trades councils could call conferences of shop-stewards and special delegates from the trade union branches in every area in a matter of hours. So there’s no difficulty about time in relation to the problem of calling the strike. The TUC’s South West advisory committee is calling for the TUC to call a one-day general stoppage.

Vic Feather predicted to the government that when the first worker was arrested under the IR Act “all Hell would break loose”. We want Vic Feather and the other members of the TUC to raise a bit of Hell!

Heath and his pirate crew must be brought to their knees. This is the worst government in the whole of this century. It is a government of CBI puppets and employers’ stooges. A one-day general strike would shake this government to its rotting foundations. It is shameful that the TUC should be collaborating with this government of bankers and capitalists and with their pay masters—the Confederation of British Industry.

The government tested their strength in combating the miners and the railwaymen. It was only when the working class demonstrated their power and determination that the government decided to try and use the TUC to do their dirty work through a “voluntary” incomes policy. This is not good enough for the labour movement.

Using the upheaval provoked by the jailing of the dockers; the TUC, the Labour Party and the co-op movement—all the forces of the labour movement must begin a campaign for the resignation of the Tory government and a general election and a new government pledged to socialist policies.

In this connection, some of the Labour leaders have played a shameful role. Reg Prentice, the shadow minister for employment, said,

“I have no sympathy at all for the jailed dockers. They were wrong to organise picketing and blacking against the policy of their union. They were even more wrong to defy the court. The Industrial Relations Act is a bad law, but it is the law and nobody can claim to be above it. Trade unionists should not rally round these men as though they were latter day Tolpuddle Martyrs. They are just not worth it.”

Dockers and the rest of the working class would retort that Reg Prentice is “not worth it”. What sort of a minister of employment he would make in a Labour government is indicated by his attitude. On the other hand, Tom Driberg, a left Labour MP, openly declared in Parliament that “bad laws should be defied.”

Men were not made for laws; laws were made for men. In a class society “The Law” is a class law and reflects the interests of the ruling class.

The trade union movement must break any law which restricts the right of working people. Marxists have always explained that only that is right and moral which raises the level of consciousness of the working class and acts in the interests of the working class.

The rank and file docker in London, who when confronted by a reporter with a statement that the IR Act was the “law”, replied briefly—“F*** the law”. The Manchester engineer, who on the radio replied in similar terms—“To hell with the law”.

Laws can be changed. Capitalist law acts in the interests of the capitalist class. Law introduced by the working class when in power will be in the interests of the working class. Between the capitalists and the workers, “jungle law” always exists and the issues are always decided by force and power.

The power of the capitalists and their state are built on force and fraud. The power of the working class is built on organisation and solidarity.

In the last two years, provoked by the attacks of the employers and their government, there has been a demonstration of the power of the working class. The ruling class produce nothing. Everything is produced and all the necessary work is done by [the] working class—docks, mines, electricity, engineering, power, transport, food. We create the wealth. The capitalist parasites and their government waste and squander it.

The miners, railwaymen and dockers have shown the immense power that the working class possesses, once they become conscious of it.

Instead of the TUC fooling about with a “voluntary incomes policy” they should be explaining to the working class that the cause of the inflation and the crisis is the policy of the government and the actions of the employers. A “voluntary incomes policy” means in reality a limitation of the wages of the workers in the interests of the capitalists.

Profit is the unpaid labour of the working class, as was explained by Karl Marx over a century ago. “Co-operation” with the CBI—representatives of the monopolies—and the government—puppet of the CBI—is the co-operation of the horse and two riders. Nothing good can come of such co-operation. In reality, it means a submission to the government and the ruling class. When the CBI and the government were pushing through the Industrial Relations Act, they weren’t at all concerned with consulting or co-operating with the organisations of the working class.

Now they have tried it on, and found the working class too strong. The bitter mood of the working class in repulsing the attacks on their organisations and standards have convinced the employers and their government that they must use guile and not force. Hence their plea for “co-operation in the national interest” i.e. the interests of big business. This is the road of betrayal, and demoralisation of the working class.

Lenin and Trotsky pointed out many times the colossal strength of the organised labour movement in Britain. Without the toleration and support of the trade union leaders, capitalism and its government could not last more than a few weeks. The events of the last few months have demonstrated the absolute truth of these statements.

There is no power in Britain as strong as that of the organised labour movement once it is conscious of itself.

Take over the commanding heights of the economy

Instead of collaboration with the employers and their government, the TUC, the Labour Party and the co-op should be taking advantage of the mood of militancy and of bitterness pervading the working class. The resolutions for the Labour Party conference show the mood of the working class, and it is a fighting mood. The commanding heights of the economy—banks, insurance companies and the 350 monopolies which control 85 percent of the economy—must be nationalised, with minimum compensation on the basis of need. But nationalisation of the old type is not sufficient as the case of the railwaymen and the miners has shown. State capitalist nationalisation serves mainly the interests of the capitalists. What is needed is workers’ control and management of industry and the state.

All industries that are nationalised must have a board of management appointed at the annual conference of the TUC and subject to recall by it. One-third of the board must be appointed by the unions in the Industry, one-third by the TUC as a whole and one-third by the government.

No manager must receive more than a skilled workers’ wage. Then we would have representatives on these boards who truly represented the interests of the workers and not of the government and private industry.

Britain has enormous wealth. The real problem today is how to organise that wealth for use and not for private profit.

This whole issue has blown up because of the cutting down of the number of dockers from something like over 60,000 to little more than 40,000. The dockers are justly demanding “No redundancies”. The benefit of less dockers doing more work through containerisation goes to the profits of the employers. Containerisation yes! Sackings no! Lower the hours without reduction in pay so that all dockers maintain employment!

The TUC must organise a one day general strike!

Force the Tories to resign!

For a Labour government committed to socialist policies!