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J. Deane

Dockers’ Struggles – Lessons of the First Defeat

(September 1945)

From Socialist Appeal, Mid-September 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The first round of the Stevedores’ and Dockers’ fight for 25/– a day national minimum has ended with a temporary victory for the Bosses. The Dockworkers’ struggle, which was opposed by the Union leaders, has been sabotaged by the Stalinists.

Barratt Withdraws 28 Days’ Notice

The London Stevedores have learned with disgust that their General Secretary, Barratt, has withdrawn the 28 days’ notice to the employers terminating all piece-work agreements. They have called him to a mass meeting to explain his actions which are contrary to union rules.

Barratt and the Progressive Committee had advised the dockworkers had advised the dockers to return to piece-work for 28 days in order to strengthen the hands of the Union Leaders and the Progressive Committee. On this understanding the men agreed to return. Within a few days, they received the astounding news that the Progressive Committee had decided to dissolve! Now they have learned that the 28 days notice has been withdrawn! Thus, the Union leaders have them back at work, confused and leaderless.

Until recently many sincere militants could not believe that Barratt – a “Communist”! – and the Progressive Committee – a “militant committee” – would be partners to such a disgusting sell-out. It is now clear, no matter what excuses are offered – and plenty will be invented – that Barratt and the Stalinists have deliberately smashed the dock workers’ struggles. His Majesty’s “Communist” Party held special meetings to bring their members into line – a Party line of strike-breaking.

Bosses And Stalinists Fear National Link-Up

The first militant rank-and-file committee was formed on the Liverpool docks.

The London dock workers welcomed this committee, and immediately subscribed £8 8s 6d. For the committee’s expenses, as a gesture of solidarity. Against the Union officials and the Stalinists, who tried to prevent a national link-up, this committee established contact with London and other important ports. Every militant dock worker throughout the country hailed this important step forward, every capitalist newspaper met it with abuse; every Trade Union official and Stalinist stooge tried to smash it.

Realising that the creation of militant rank and file committees in Liverpool and London by the dockers, was the only way was the only way in which the dock workers could fight the bosses attacks and prevent the sabotage of their struggles by the Union “leaders”, Donovan and the Stalinists began a national campaign against these committees and their attempts to form a national movement. This campaign was, and still is, principally directed against the Trotskyists and our revolutionary communist policy.

This reactionary campaign, has caused the Liverpool and London rank and file committees to disintegrate and dissolve, in spite of the attempts of the militants to maintain them. The supporters of the Stalinists have left the Dockers and Stevedores high and dry, while the sincere militant dockers continue the struggle for rank and file committees, based upon a genuine workers’ programme. The very fact that these militants are accused of “Trotskyism” shows that both for the bosses and the reactionary Union leadership, Trotskyism and a militant workers’ struggle are one and the same thing.

Stalinist Excuses

Already the Stalinists are busily engaged in fabricating excuses for the disgusting role of Barratt and the Progressive Committee. The most ridiculous, but typical excuse is that the Dockers and Stevedores did not prove militant enough that they did not back the Progressive Committee with action! Anyone connected with the dockers knows the situation; the rank and file were demanding strike action and were prepared to make any sacrifice to defeat the bosses; they had national support, and felt confident.

The truth of the matter is of course, that the Stalinists are trying to place the responsibility for temporary defeat, which rightly belongs to them, upon the shoulders of the dock workers as a whole. The Progressive Committee persuaded the men to return to work, not vice versa.

Another of the excuses made by the Stalinists is that all militant rank and file committees are “against the unions”. Every thinking worker knows how false this is. It is certainly true that all militant rank and file committees worth anything at all are opposed to the strike breaking and class collaborationist policy of the Union “leaders”. It is precisely because of the betrayal by the Union officials that such committees are formed. The very meaning and significance of the Trade Unions is that they are organisations of the working class against the capitalists. Militant rank and file committees along the lines of the Shop Stewards Committees, are not only necessary in day to day struggles, but also vitally necessary in the struggles to tear the Trade Unions away from the capitalist agents and convert them into militant class organisations. Who knows this better than the Stalinists?

The fact that the Trade Unions are controlled by bureaucrats like the Donovans and Condons, who are protected by the union constitutions, a labyrinth of rules and organisational procedure, in no way alters the need to fight within these unions against all anti-working-class policies. Any suggestion of forming new unions at this stage will play right into the hands of the Donovans and the capitalists.

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Last updated: 7 February 2017