(en) Japanese dockers visit Liverpool

Andrew Flood (andy@tao.ca)
Wed, 10 Dec 1997 06:19:02 -0500 (EST)

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Unexpected Guests at Mersey Docks

The Port of Liverpool had unexpected guests last week. The venerable Nakazato Chujin, aged 71, a representative of the Central Joint Committee in Support of Railway Workers Struggle, had made his way into Mersey Docks headquarters to discuss a matter of mutual concern.

By coincidence, 7 vans full of Operational Support Division police officers arrived at the Seaforth picket line alongside 27 Japanese trade unionists including leading officials of the All Japan Dock Workers' Union (Zenkowan) and the National Railway Workers' Union (Kokuro). Whatever plans the OSD may have had were immediately revised.

Over coffee Eric Leatherbarrow explained that the picket line was illegal, the TGWU had approved the settlement terms, the recent ballot rejection was caused by "intimidation" and any remaining problems were not the responsibility of the Mersey Docks & Harbour Company.

Nakazato listened politely before informing the Communications Manager that he represented 1,500,000 Japanese workers and led the current delegation in Liverpool. "There is great support in Japan for the sacked Liverpool dockers, and we'll expand it when we go home.

"No one should cross picket lines either here or in Japan. I regret the company's prejudice against the decision making process followed by the union. What matters is not whether the General Secretary approves the settlement, but whether the members accept it or not. Mersey Docks & Harbour Company must settle as soon as possible because they have done wrong."

Having paid his respects for an hour, Nakazato returned to the dockers and told them "Mersey Docks let us in because your struggle is affecting them through international support. Have confidence and keep fighting."

The delegation also met with the Mayor of Liverpool, telling her that economic growth depended on resolving the dispute and asking the City Council to use its influence with the company. Amid an exchange of gifts including the traditional "One Thousand Cranes" origami prepared by the wife of Nakazato Chujin, the delegation cheered as Liverpool dockers vowed to fight on despite the timidity of their own union's General Executive Council.

The National Railway Workers Union (Kokuro) have been fighting for the reinstatement of 1,047 members dismissed during railway privatisation 11 years ago. Their delegation accompanied representatives of the Central Joint Committee in Support of the Railway Workers Struggle, the All Japan Dock Workers' Union (Zenkowan), the National Union of General Workers (Zenkokukyo), the Workers Union of the Waste Management Bureau of Tokyo Metropolitan Government (fighting subcontracting), Tokyo Water Workers' Union (fighting deregulation and privatisation), the Akishima City Union of All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers Union, Kokuro Metropolitan Area Support Group, the Co-operative Centre (Rodo Joho), and Video Press. Intense discussion with the dockers and Women of the Waterfront lasted two full days.

Zenkowan Vice President Mizukami Kenji recounted the impact of "The Flickering Flame", translated under the title "Men who did not cross the picket line" and screened in Japan. Just after the 2nd anniversary Liverpool stewards Terry Southers and Bob Ritchie joined Japanese dockers on their demonstrations and the ITF Conference in Tokyo, attended by the ILWU, voted to support Liverpool with industrial action by affiliates.

Zenkoku Kowan (The National Federation of Dockworkers Unions) instructed members to refuse to handle all cargo from Liverpool, Sheerness, or Thamesport. When the "Neptune Jade" sailed for Japan after ILWU members declined to cross picket lines in Oakland and Vancouver, 7 containers originally destined for Oakland were left on board in Yokohama and Kobe.

Mizukami also acknowledged the solidarity message received from Liverpool during the recent 24 dockworkers strike against deregulation, after the US intervened to force Japan to weaken the system of "prior consultation" in ports and set up a fast track procedure for foreign shipowners to establish their own terminals, with lower prices. Working conditions and labour relations will be excluded from consultation, while Zenkoku Kowan members will be replaced.

Mizukami told the mass meeting, "Globalisation and deregulation mean that dockworkers must unite all over the world and act with fighting solidarity!"

LabourNet report by Greg Dropkin

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