(en) LIVERPOOL DOCKERS AND THE ITF

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Sat, 07 Dec 1996 19:08:03 +0000


Extract from FREEDOM (anarchist fortnightly) 30th Nov 1996

LIVERPOOL DOCKERS AND THE ITF
----------------------------

The sacked Liverpool dockers are now entering the fifteenth month
of their dispute with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company
(MDHC). The level of solidarity and secondary action at ports
around the world only goes to highlight the lack of support from the
TUC and the dockers' union, the TGWU.

At the third International Dockworkers Conference, held in Paris on
26th and 27th October, Liverpool dockers were joined by delegates
from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Canada
and the USA. The formation of an International Dockworkers
Committee had already been agreed. In an open letter to Bill
Morris, TGWU General Secretary, the committee states that its
objective "is to create a movement of solidarity in the dockers'
profession, which is now internationally threatened". And that its
first action would be "to see the reinstatement of the Liverpool
dockers in their jobs with dignity".

On the 7th November a new round of negotiations between
TGWU officials and the MDHC was adjourned following six hours of
argument. There was no offer of reinstatement. In a letter to
international supporters Jimmy Nolan, president of the Port Shop
Stewards Committee, called for solidarity actions against shipping
companies operating through Liverpool to be stepped up and
continued until dockers are offered their jobs back. He added that
"there is a feeling that the MDHC are not honourable in their
commitment to reach a settlement and are more intent on using the
negotiations as a cosmetic exercise to appease the international
employers' associations and the big shipping consortiums."

In the last issue of Subversion, Dave Graham of the Dockers
Support Group in Liverpool wrote that "the only 'negotiations' going
on are those sponsored by Bill Morris and the T&G national and
local officials, ably abetted by the ITF [International Transport
Workers Federation], who have made it quite plain that a
'compromise' must be found over the heads of the dockers. And
obviously not in the interests of the dockers but because Morris and
Co. have been visibly shaken by the dockers' international
campaign and the open discussion on five continents of the idea of
forming a new international dockers union." This gets to the root of
the matter. Many union officials would dearly like to see an end to
the dispute and to any threat of their organisations and authority
being undermined. This goes for the ITF as well as the TGWU and
TUC. For the most part international solidarity has gone ahead
despite the ITF's efforts rather than because of them. The role of
the ITF was questioned at the international conference and it
remains to be seen where this will lead.

The inner workings of international union organisations can be
obscure. Fortunately a debate on the Internet is throwing some light
on the activities of the ITF. E-mails to the Liverpool dockers site
criticising the ITF provoked a response from Richard Flint, the ITF'
s Communications Director. Amongst much else, he described the
rank-and-file delegations to foreign ports as "disorganised and
foolish intervention from representa- tives of the UK dockers",
calling them "trade union tourists in every sense of the word". He
argued for leaving it up to the experts, saying that "uncoordinated,
independent action can all too easily undermine real trade union
work .... Solidarity and support are not automatic and ... national,
ethnic and linguistic divisions still exist and need to be addressed
by people who know what they are doing."

Kevin Brandstatter of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
observed that this sounded smug and patronising and asked "Do
officers of the ITF have to have degrees in ethnology prior to
election, or is there some other way they develop this supposed
expertise?"

In another contribution Greg Dropkin quoted a statement made in
January by Kees Marges, the ITF Dockers Section Secretary: "ITF
affiliates must await the signal of the ITF before organising any
solidarity action. Do not intervene against a boat which has loaded
or unloaded cargo in the Port of Liverpool without having previously
contacted the ITF Secretariat. " Before the first International
Dockworkers Conference in February, Marges wrote that the "T&G,
our affiliate ... has not requested the ITF to initiate or organise
supportive actions by affiliated dock workers and seafarers unions.
This has been confirmed again very strongly at the end of last week
in a discussion between our General Secretary and a
representative of the T&G. It was agreed that the ITF will not send a
request to its affiliates asking them to organise or initiate supportive
actions. Participating by an ITF inspector in the meeting in Liverpool
would be a violation of this agreement ..."

In August faxes sent out by ITF General Secretary David
Cockcroft led to some European ports pulling out of the second
international conference at the last minute. A further fax, leaked to
Liverpool shop stewards from within the ITF, questioned whether a
parallel organisation was being set up, saying that it was
"remarkable that this is going to be operated from the TGWU office
in Liverpool". A meeting between David Cockcroft and Bill Morris
was discussed, together with a plan for a "last offer" by the TGWU
to the shop stewards: "If this doesn't lead to a result/solution, there
is going to be an end to the relation with the TGWU".

Further revelations came with a mailing on 23rd October from
Jack Heyman, giving his reasons for doing the decent thing and
resigning from his position as an ITF inspector. He comments that
some statements by Richard Flint were "blatantly untrue". Flint had
denied a claim that Kees Marges had ordered an unnamed ITF
inspector not to attend the first international conference in February.
Heyman points out that he was the ITF inspector in question and
gives details: "The day before I was to fly to Liverpool, Kees
Marges, who' d not been able to reach me by fax, insisted in a
telephone conversation that I not attend the International Dockers
Conference in Liverpool. He stated that
1) the strike was illegal and unofficial, not having been endorsed by
the TGWU;
2) the TGWU, an ITF affiliate, was not requesting support and the
ITF was adhering to the request;
3) the dockers couldn't win.
After I refused his orders, he stated the ITF couldn't stop me but
that I shouldn't mention ITF at the conference or to the media."

In the end Heyman attended the conference as a representative of
the ILWU - the US West Coast Longshore Workers Union. He goes
on to say:

"What disturbs me is the ITF paradox, arguing on the one hand
that they support the strike and on the other why they can't ... A
victory for the Liverpool dockers would destroy Cockcroft, Marges
and Co. ' s self-fulfilling prophecy that the dockers can't win. It
would offer an alternative to the defeatist strategy of the
ITF/TUC/TGWU that contains struggles against employer attacks
within 'legal'. 'responsible' and 'official' bounds, a strategy that has
so far lost every port [in Britain] save Liverpool, much to the dismay
of maritime workers around the globe. Anything more, they cry,
would threaten sequestration of 'their' union treasuries. This
aristocracy of labour, while bemoaning draconian Thatcherite anti-
labour laws (which their darling Labourite Tony Blair has vowed to
uphold if elected!) actually use them as an excuse for inaction.
Besides Blair's election requires labour peace, i.e. subservience to
the employing class ... What really underlies ITF fear of a
successful strike in Merseyside is the creation of a parallel
organisation of dockers. The Liverpool dockers have inspired
maritime workers around the world to come together to discuss how
they can concretely support them in the heat of battle. Beyond that
there is the obvious need to organise a co-ordinated, militant
international effort to defend workers against privatisation and
attendant casualisation attacks from global ship-owner alliances
that we all face. As the ILWU slogan warns: 'An injury to one is an
injury to all'. Should a militant co-ordinating network of maritime
workers arise, so be it."

What form would such a network take? A mailing from Peter
Waterman argues that "unions have to re-invent themselves as
social movements ... that are fit for the era of globalisation. They
can learn here from the international women' s movement. They
have no general secretary, no headquarters, no international
organisation of free women's associations. But they have an
internationally networked movement that mobilises, empowers,
adapts, that communicates to national and international civil
society, that lobbies and negotiates (from a clearlyarticulated
position of 'autonomy') and that is evidently capable of imposing
many of its demands on national and inter-state organisations." He
emphasises that he wants to see existing organisations reformed
rather than being replaced or abolished.

Kevin Brandstatter argues from a different viewpoint that "the
international structures of the trade union movement are part of the
problem not part of the solution. While workers are divided along
national lines and encouraged to see their problems in purely
national terms, only turning their attentions to international activity
as a last resort, we will always be the losers ... I would have thought
it inevitable that we as union activists of whatever persuasion
recognise that transnational capital can only be dealt with by
transnational unionism. To my mind this is part of the problem the
dockers have faced. Were they part of an international marine
transport union, uniting all seafarers and waterfront workers,
international solidarity could have been sought instantly ... Instead
their own union, the TGWU, with 900,000 members, less than
1,000 of whom work on the waterfront, are expected to use a
cumbersome bureaucratic organisation such as the ITF to suddenly
realise that a class war was being fought on the waterfront of
Liverpool. I am not at all surprised by the outcome so far."

The debate goes on. An article in Freedom can only cover a small
selection of the views expressed. If you have access to the Internet
a closer investigation is recommended. For everyone else the
November issue of Dockers Charter has invited readers to continue
the arguments on its letters page. Write to: Dockers Charter,
Liverpool Docks Shop Stewards Committee, c/o 19 Scorton Street,
Liverpool L6 4AS. The Internet address is:

http://www.gn.apc.org/labournet/docks

JH

FREEDOM PRESS
http://www.lglobal.com/TAO/Freedom