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Peter Hadden

Belfast dock strike

(August 1980)

From Militant [UK], Issue 517, 29 August 1980.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Already in Liverpool and Southampton mass meetings of dockers have pledged resistance to attempts to expand the Temporary Unattached Register.

For dockers throughout the British Isles the experience of Belfast’s deep sea dock workers gives a clear warning of what lies in store.

Belfast dockers, though not those in other Northern Ireland ports, won decasualisation in 1972. On August 8th of this year the deep sea dockers, the majority of Belfast’s dockers, were made redundant.

They were told that with the exception of about 100 men, they could be re-employed – on a casual basis. This resulted in a strike by IT&GWU members, the closure of the deep sea docks and the picketing of other ports.

Bobbie Dickie, chairman of the Belfast branch of the IT&GWU, spoke to Militant about the issues involved:

“We are the first people in the British Isles to be forced out. Our plight today could be everybody’s plight tomorrow. For us the return to casual work is a return to the hungry ’thirties.

“We lose a guaranteed wage of £86 per week plus bonus and are offered instead £17 a day. With work as it is we would be lucky to work two days a week.

“Our rights as workers go with casual work. Then there is the stigma. What company would lend a young docker the money to buy a home when he puts down that he is casual?

“Ten years ago there were 1,170 deep sea dockers. Today there are 340. Now another 100 jobs are to go. An unemployed docker has no future.

“The Dock Employees Pay Organisation (DEPO), our employer, was formed in 1951, yet the severance money they are offering only covers from 1972. I have been a docker for 30 years and they are offering me severance pay based on service of 8 years. The government has flatly refused to fund any severance scheme.

“We say that whoever runs the docks the work must be decasualised. As an interim we have demanded that the daily rate being offered be increased to £25.

“We are picketing other ports and ask unions and dockers to black goods diverted from Belfast as well as goods coming in through other ports for Belfast.”

It is a scandal that the Northern Ireland Ports have been excluded from dock nationalisation Casual labour is a means of assuring higher profits for the private employers, at the dockers’ expense.

Nationalisation of all the NI ports and the introduction of a register of ports must be the demand taken up by the labour movement in Britain and Ireland. In the meantime full support, especially through blacking of goods, must go to these workers. A defeat in Belfast would be a defeat for dockers throughout the British Isles.

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