(en) Morris imposes postal ballot on Liverpool Dockers

Platformist Anarchism (platform@geocities.com)
Tue, 21 Oct 1997 10:40:04 +0000

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Date: Sun, 19 Oct 1997 23:13:08 +0100 (BST) From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@gn.apc.org>

Bill Morris imposes postal ballot on Liverpool dockers

TGWU General Secretary Bill Morris has imposed a secret ballot on the 329 sacked dockers formerly employed directly by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. Postal forms were delivered on Saturday morning, and the ballot closes this Wednesday (22 October).

The move came in response to a letter from Mersey Docks Chief Executive Trevor Furlong dated 13 October, which declared that the current offer would be withdrawn if not accepted in a postal ballot.

The terms of the package now include the formation of a Labour Supply Unit to employ 28 men, but otherwise the deal is unchanged from December 1996: =A328,000 severance and a 3 month temporary reinstatement with the offer of an interview for up to 41 ancillary jobs plus a register for future vacancies. The former Torside dockers whose sacking precipitated the Lockout are not mentioned and will not be balloted.

Morris' move was open to legal challenge on the grounds that he failed to gain, or even seek, the approval of the union's General Executive Council in September. In fact, when the Docks and Waterways National Committee met last week, National Officer Graham Stevenson was apparently unaware of the move.

However, in the event the Merseyside Port Shop Stewards have decided not to challenge the ballot procedurally, but to put the issues to a closed mass meeting on Monday and campaign for rejection of the offer.

The timing of Furlong's letter and the ensuing secrecy is highly suggestive. The 2nd Anniversary demo on 27 September touched off a wave of industrial action. TGWU members refused to cross the dockers picket line at the Medway Port of Sheerness, 100% owned by Mersey Docks. Longshore workers on the US West Coast refused to cross a picket line to handle cargo carried on the "Neptune Jade", a Hapag-Lloyd service from Thamesport whose Port Authority is Medway Ports. Last week, Japanese dockers in Yokohama and Kobe joined the fray over the "Neptune Jade" while Swedish dockers announced moves to boycott trade with Sheerness. The International Transportworkers Federation Asia-Pacific conference endorsed continuous action against ships and shipping lines dealing with Mersey Docks and Liverpool stewards are due to meet the ITF this week.

Equally telling, a delegation of 4 local Labour MP's met with the dock company for over 3 hours on 10 October. Although their talks have not been made public, they are said to have insisted that an improved offer including Torside and all other sacked men would be required to end the dispute.

Bill Morris' own position came under attack in a powerful press article by Liverpool writer Jimmy McGovern, and the General Secretary was stung into defending the union's handling of the dispute in a letter to the Observer published on 12 October. The next morning, Furlong wrote to Morris.

The move is a dangerous gamble. The union's Biennial Delegate Conference showed that the TGWU leadership is vulnerable, and now Morris appears more isolated than in July.

Should the dockers vote to reject the offer, it will be hard to see how the TGWU or the Government could hold back the tide of solidarity action. LabourNet Report by Greg Dropkin


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