Tue, 14 Jan 1997 17:35:27 GMT


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Potential industrial action on Merseyside and the North West to complement the growing international boycott of Mersey Docks and Harbour Company was discussed by a meeting of around 60 shop stewards from 16 companies held on 11 January.

Delegates included contingents from Fords, Vauxhalls, Road Transport drivers, AC Delco, Post Office, Local Authority, and Further Education.

Since the first few weeks of the Liverpool Lockout, dockers have made various impassioned appeals for local industrial action. But except for tugboatmen who have repeatedly delayed ships, the response has been limited to a partial strike on May 1, mainly by UNISON local government staff, and isolated action by AEU members in an engineering factory. The dockers acknowledge the pervasive climate of economic fear which has inhibited action in Britain.

Judging by Saturday's meeting, however, the local mood is now moving in favour of isolating Mersey Docks, whether by shifting contracts to other ports, refusing to handle individual cargo, or withholding services, as well as supporting the mass picket on 20th January.

Workplace collections picked up when the recent Ken Loach documentary "The Flickering Flame" was screened on BBC2 just before Christmas. The closing sequence, where a retired docker decries the stream of trade unionists driving through the picket lines as if their own jobs were secure, had clearly hit home.

The dockers' international coordinator Terry Teague outlined the worldwide surge now expected in the week of 20 Jan and pointed out that much of the cargo being boycotted abroad, such as motor vehicle components and feedstuffs, actually originates in the North West.

As well as an extended discussion of practical options for all industries, TGWU stewards were particularly keen to examine the handling of the dispute by their own union. They heard an unvarnished account of recent machinations as the leadership threatened to impose a postal ballot on the current offer despite its overwhelming rejection by sacked dockers, but then drew back. TGWU stewards commented on the extraordinary and divisive prospect of their Executive forcing an official ballot in an unofficial dispute, and were urged to put their views in writing to the union's General Secretary, Bill Morris. While Morris apparently "doesn't understand how damaging the economic fabric of Mersey Docks and Harbour Company will help resolve the dockers' problem", other TGWU members do. Dock stewards are to meet the General Secretary on 15 Jan and will inform the wider movement at the national Dockers Support Groups meeting next Saturday.

The stewards' meeting also heard of an impending dispute involving drivers set to lose their jobs as VW-Audi switches its car delivery contract to the one such firm crossing the picket line in Liverpool.

Finally, the meeting voted unanimously to "confirm their determination to impose a physical boycott upon any raw materials or products shipped through the Port of Liverpool to their workplaces, and on services supplied to the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.

"Such actions will be co-ordinated and last until the dockers are reinstated. "Union representatives present call upon the community of Merseyside to maintain their opposition to casual labour, privatisation and de-regulation in favour of a dignified life in industry.

"As such we remain opposed to all laws that oppress ordinary people and destroy their basic human rights."

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