(en) Liverpool dockers meeting says 'vote no' to deal

Platformist Anarchism (platform@geocities.com)
Wed, 22 Oct 1997 12:37:00 +0000

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From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@gn.apc.org> Subject: Liverpool mass meeting says "Vote No!"

International Update 20 October 1997 TGWU Imposes Ballot

TGWU General Secretary Bill Morris has imposed a secret ballot solely on the 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).

In a vibrant mass meeting today (Monday) in closed session, dockers debated the current "final offer" and the manner and speed in which a ballot has been imposed. Men rose to tell each other that "a yes vote is a vote to dishonour the past, but a no vote is a vote to reclaim the future". One docker held up his dead father's union cards and told the meeting "I believe in an afterlife, and when I meet my Dad I'll tell him 'I never let you down'." Other men stressed that they must consider their children's future and the international supporters who have put their jobs on the line for Liverpool when deciding how to vote. A 61 year old docker said "this is the strongest we've ever been throughout the two years of our dispute, and although I would like to retire from the industry and enjoy some of my life, I'll be voting 'no' because you've got to consider the future of the young Torside workers".

After a full debate, the dockers raised their hands in a near unanimous vote to oppose the offer.

The ballot 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from Mersey Docks Chief Executive Trevor Furlong dated 13 October, which declared that the current offer would be withdrawn on 24 October if not accepted in a postal ballot.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: 28,000 severance and a 3 month temporary reinstatement with the offer of an interview for around 40 unspecified 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 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 and today's meeting have decided to proceed with the ballot while challenging the General Secretary's actions through the union structures.

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, and called for fresh talks including the Port Shop Stewards. 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, we fully expect that the tide of solidarity unleashed since the 2nd Anniversary of our dispute will rise to a flood, and we will be demanding that the ITF throw its weight behind the growing international actions.

Yours in solidarity,

Jim Nolan

       International Anarchist Web Page

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