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Labor Action, 5 May 1947


Roy Tearse

Glasgow Dock Strike Holds Fast
After Bitter Seven-week Struggle


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 18, 5 May 1947, pp, 3 & 6.
Originally published in the British Socialist Appeal.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


>BULLETIN: At press-time, a report from London dated April 27, announced that 7,000 dock workers quit work in support of the six-week-old Glasgow Dockers Strike reported in the following story we received from the British Socialist Appeal.Ed.

LONDON – On March 24th, 3,800 Glasgow Dockers struck work against the first attempts of the bosses’ plans to transform the industry once again into a casual sweatshop.

The outcome of this strike will be of nation-wide importance to the dockers in their fight against the miseries of casual labor.

The strike was caused by the decision of the Glasgow Port Authorities to sack 500 men.

This decision stems from the work of the Fact Finding Commission introduced by the Minister of Transport in 1946 to investigate the position of the various ports. And the main argument of the Regional Port Controller in justification of this action is that with the maintenance of the present personnel the port would be rendered uneconomical and, it is claimed, the port is unable to meet the guaranteed wage of £4 2s. 6d.

Bosses Speak Out!

Despite the statement of the Ministry of Labor on April 10th that “the Minister wishes it to be known that there is no foundation in the further statement that has been made that these discharges in Glasgow are designed as the forerunner of discharges at other ports,” the employers have very much different ideas in mind. In the Journal of Commerce and Shipping Telegraph (the paper of the Port and Shipping employers) of March 31st, there appears a special article pointing the way to their policy in the coming period.

Referring to the Dock Workers’ (Regulation of Employment) Order 1947 and the 40 days grace in which they can lodge their complaints, the article states: “In stating their case for reasonable (!) reductions in manpower in the cargo-handling industry, the employers will cite many instances of what has been termed ‘industrial blackmail’ (i.e., the dockers’ fight against speed-ups and sweated conditions. – R.T.) “... The ship-owners maintain that this heavy manpower complement was imposed on them in lean times.”

After giving innumerable examples of how dockers can be dispensed with, the writer bluntly lays bare the reason for this policy of the employers. Referring to the Clyde: “These 400 idle men are costing the ship-owners over £105,000 yearly, discounting the expenses of hundreds of others who must be removed from the future permanent register.” The article continues, “In Manchester there is an average daily surplus of 457 out of an inflated register of 2,600” (costing the owners another £lb5,000. – R.T.) ... “In Liverpool and Birkenhead, out of a total of 15,800, there are some 3,500 surplus to requirements, on the basis that one-fifth of each gang is unnecessary.” ... “Taken over the whole country and allowing one-fifth of the estimated number of dockers as being surplus to actual needs, but required by trade union procedure, one-fifth of 70,000, or 14,000 men, are drawing nearly £8,000,000 per annum from levies on cargoes.”

Attitude of Labor Party

When the officials of the union contacted Labor M.P.s in the House of Commons in an attempt to obtain an interview with the Minister of Transport, Barnes, he claimed that he was “too busy” with the Transport Bill to see them!

However, after further efforts, they were able to interview, among others, Mr. Strauss, Under Secretary to the Minister of Transport. No satisfaction was obtained. In answer to the demands of the Dockers’ representatives that the government, if they were going to sack anyone, should sack the employers by nationalizing the industry, and give it to the Dockers to operate, this “representative of Labor” stated that he was “not prepared to go into that question.” Despite all the arguments of the Dockers he refused to budge, his only “positive” statement being that strike action by the men would be taken as a “challenge to the government.” In this, Strauss clearly admitted on which side he stood – with the employers against the men.

Telegrams from the Dockers to the Prime Minister, Barnes, and Isaacs, have been conveniently ignored. And a deputation of the Dockers to the Glasgow Labor-dominated Council was similarly ineffective. True to form, Labor Lord Provost Hector McNeil, flatly refused to even meet a deputation from a body of 2,000 Dockers who had marched to the City Chambers.

Glasgow Workers Support Dockers

The general sympathy of the Clydeside workers for the struggle of the Dockers is demonstrated in the fact that on Tuesday, March 25t.h, the Executive of the Glasgow Trades Council publicly expressed its support and contacted the Minister of Transport by telegram, demanding the re-instatement of the 500 Dockers. On Wednesday, this attitude was endorsed by a full Delegate meeting of the Trades Council. The Quarterly meeting of the Glasgow District A.E.U. Shop Stewards, on March 30th, passed a resolution declaring its unqualified support of the Dockers and demanding that the government intervene by effecting the re-instatement of the 500 dismissed Dockers.

A splendid demonstration of international class, solidarity was shown when two American seamen, from a ship tied up in the port, approached the Dockers with £26, collected among their mates, for the Strike Fund.

Talk about the “national interest” by the gutter-press is not having its desired effect among the dockers. A cynical joke is going the rounds of the strikers in relation to the fact that .during the war, for “national effort,” in working 24 hours a day under all sorts of conditions, three B.E.M.s and one George Cross were presented to Dockers. One Docker commented: “When they need you they put you in the queue for medals, when they don’t need you they put you in the queue for the dole.”

Troops Again Used

The first attempt to break the strike was by the diversion of Glasgow-bound ships to other ports. The Liverpool dockers took the lead in answering such methods. On March 29th, the Glasgow Daily Record reported : “The Arnold Maersk, which was diverted from the Clyde two days ago to Liverpool because of the Glasgow dockers’ strike, is on her way back to the Clyde with her cargo undischarged.” ... “Dockers refused to handle her cargo” ... one docker stated “we will not handle cargo from Glasgow.”

On April 3rd, 300 soldiers were brought in to unload the Arnold Maersk, whose cargo of oranges they claimed, was threatened with going rotten. Public statements were made that they only intended to use troops on this one ship; it was apparent they were feeling their way toward a bolder use of troops. On April 10th, after a few days respite, they used troops on the S.S. Gracia. On this occasion they could not use the excuse of endangered cargo, as this ship is fitted with refrigerating gear.

The Labor government, elected by the dockers and other workers, is showing more and more its complete alignment with the bosses. Under guise of “No Intervention” it intervenes in the most vicious form, by compelling worker-soldiers to blackleg on others of their class.

The spirit of the Glasgow dockers today is born out of their fierce determination not to return to the conditions of casual labor which pertained between the two wars. Their fight is that of dockers as a whole. Raise the demand in the Trade Unions and Labor organizations that the government: withdraw the troops immediately; that it sacks the bosses, not the workers, by nationalizing the industry without compensation, with its operation under workers’ control. Demand an end to all casual labor, whether it comes under the category of part-time work or outright sackings. In the event of a disparity between the ports at any given moment, demand a sharing out of the work, by a reduction of hours, with no reduction in pay, on the basis of the full operation of the guaranteed weekly wage demanded by the unions.

This is the immediate answer to the policy of the employers. It must receive the widespread support of the entire working class movement.

Full support for the Glasgow Dockers!
For the immediate re-instatement of the 500 men!