Michael Kidron

Strike in Dockland

(May 1955)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 4 No. 9, May 1955, pp. 3–4.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Once again Merseyside has struck. For the second time in six months the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers Union has led the Merseyside dockers to victory. This time the fight was short and the victory solid.

Last October, O’Hare of Deakin’s Transport and General Workers’ Union threatened that nobody would be able to work on the Merseyside unless he could show a white (T.&G.) union card. N.A.S.D. (blue card) members would be excluded from the docks. The Merseyside Port Employers’ Association did not bother to point out that such a threat was illegal, that there was nothing in the Dock Labour Scheme to force a man to join any particular union. They were quite happy about the disruptive tactics of the T.&G.

O’Hare’s bluff was to be called on March 28th, when the registration books – without which you cannot work in the docks – were to be changed and re-issued. On Sunday, 27th, the Merseyside Executive of the N.A.S.D.U. met and recommended that “If one man was refused his book, a strike would be called.” The same day, a mass meeting accepted this recommendation unanimously. The next day, at 8 a.m. the first report came in from Garston; a N.A.S.D. member had been refused his book. By noon 14,000 men were out. Merseyside was solid, with blue card holders and white card holders picketing the gates together.

Employers Give In

On the same afternoon, the Manchester Port Employers gave in. They weren’t prepared for the tremendous response that met the strike call from the membership of both unions; they weren’t prepared for the pressure from the London Port Employers who dreaded a solidarity strike in their own area. The next day the Merseyside Port Employers’ Association met and threw in the towel. By the following day most of the men were back at work, having won hands down, confident in the strength of their militant union – the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers. For the first time in years a strike had been led and organized by their official union; it was the Executive that brought them out, it was the Executive that took them back, them and their comrades in the T.&G.

Some people were disgruntled at the outcome. First – the Merseyside Employers. The N.A.S.D. used a clever tactic to isolate them from their London friends. N.A.S.D. demanded recognition pure and simple. They demanded from the Merseyside employers what they had already won from the London employers. Obviously, the London employers did not have much stomach to fight a battle they had lost already once before. So the small N.A.S.D., by making a simple, limited demand, managed to drive a wedge between the two groups of employers and appear on the map of dockland outside London.

The T.&G. is also none too pleased. It has always held a monopoly position as far as workers’ “representation” on the Dock Labour Scheme is concerned. Another union – and a militant one at that – would either force it to take action in defending its members’ interests or would attract its membership away. This isn’t only a threat as far as the T.&G. is concerned: between the first dock strike (October 1954) and this last one, 4,000 of the 17,000 Merseyside dockers had changed cards and joined the unrecognised N.A.S.D. Now with recognition firmly established we can look forward to a landslide of new members for the union which knows how to defend dockers’ interests.

Unhappy C.P.

The Communist Party is also unhappy. A left-wing non-Stalinist union has shown that it can fight and win, that it can gain the confidence of the industry’s workers, that it can offer an independent socialist leadership. That is why the Daily Worker (7/4/55) speaks of a four day dock strike (Instead of the two-day strike that actually took place) in its attempt to publicise Jack Lyden’s bid to capture the leadership of the strike by extending it, by tagging on outstanding wage claims and claims for better working conditions, and so endangering its success. The attempt was a failure. The reason for the failure – the constructive, militant policy of the N.A.S.D.

Organised labour in Britain can learn much from the N.A.S.D., small as it is. It shows that neither the heavy hand of right-wing bureaucracy nor the irresponsible tactics of the Communist Party can destroy a militant, left wing struggle. The N.A.S.D. is important, it realises in its day to day struggle the slogan: Neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism.

Last updated on 16 February 2017