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J. Deane

Dockers Struggle – Undermined by T.U. Officials

(September 1945)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 7 No. 13, September 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Despite their militancy and desire to struggle, the London dockers and stevedores have returned to piece-work on the pre-Second Front rates of pay. In accordance with their wartime agreement they have given 28 days’ notice to the employers terminating all piece-work agreements.

This return to work postpones the struggle of the London dockworkers for 25/– a day guaranteed pay. In the meantime, however, a national delegate conference of the T. & G.W.U. Docks Section, which was forced by the actions of the London dock workers, has instructed the Union leadership to go forward for 25/– a day and support the demands of the London dockers.

The feeling of the dockers and stevedores at the moment is one of frustration and bitterness. For weeks the union officials had tried to get the men back to work. Each time their strike-breaking policy was mouthed they were howled down. But after more than two months of struggle the very committee which was formed to replace the reactionary strike-breaking Union leadership, the Progressive Committee, supported the plausible back-to-work formula of Barratt, the Stalinist General Secretary of the Stevedores’ Union.

The real nature of this back-to-work agreement is already making itself clear. The employers have suspended more than 1,500 men for refusing to piece-work during the dispute. Though the suspensions have been lifted in the East India dock, the main body of the men will be forced to take their suspensions. The dock workers ask: If we had defeated the bosses is it possible that they would dare provoke us with these vicious acts? It is clear to them that the return to work on the bosses’ conditions was a victory for the bosses.

What Donovan, the General Secretary of the T.&G.W.U. Docks Section, could not do, Barratt, who claims to be a “Communist”! – and the hesitancy of the Progressive Committee succeeded in doing: they got the men back to work knowing that this would break the back of the dock workers’ struggle.

The case for the return to piece-work was presented by the Progressive Committee as a means of strengthening the dockers’ struggle by legalising their so-called “go slow” policy. The Progressive Committee stated that at the end of their 28 days’ notice they would be in a better position to lead the struggle. Only on this understanding did the men agree to return to work. What actually happened? Within ten days of making this pledge, the Progressive Committee decided to dissolve! It claimed that it had fulfilled its purpose. From this, one is entitled to ask: was it the purpose of the Progressive Committee to get the men back to work, that is, to break the struggle? This is clearly what it amounts to. Instead of using the 28 days to thoroughly organise and prepare the struggle, which is what a truly Militant Committee would have done, the Progressive Committee decides to disband!

The reaction of the dock workers to this act, which is either a product of naive faith in the Donovans or of underhanded Stalinist work, is one of disgust and amazement. A number of members of the Progressive Committee and outstanding dock leaders expressed their opposition to this policy and intention to organise rank-and-file committees. All serious militants will strive to organise militant rank-and-file committees.

Never have workers shown such militancy as the London dock workers. Everything was there – national support, solidarity with other ports. Only a militant leadership based upon a clear understanding was needed. The responsibility for the present situation must rest where it belongs: firstly on the shoulders of the Donovans and Barratts, secondly on the Progressive Committee, which, through its lack of organisation and hesitancy left the dock workers leaderless.

The Progressive Committee has done some good work, but all this has been destroyed by its most recent act. The main lesson of the London struggle is the need to organise rank-and-file committees, establish permanent national contact, and prepare for the inevitable struggles of the future.

  • DOCKERS: The struggle is only beginning.
  • Form your rank and file committees!
  • For a militant union leadership

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Last updated: 7 February 2017