Message-ID: <>
Date: Sun, 7 Dec 1997 16:00:55 +0000;
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@GN.APC.ORG>
Subject: TGWU GEC rules out debate on Liverpool

General Executive Council Chair rules out debate on Liverpool motions

LabourNet report by Greg Dropkin, 7 December 1997

The elected TGWU leadership&s long awaited reckoning of the union&s conduct of the Liverpool docks dispute was snuffed out at the General Executive Council on 1 December when the Chair ruled that there would be no debate on the relevant motions, and a challenge was heavily defeated.

Instead, and in line with Conference policy agreed in July, the General Secretary will finally seek a formal meeting with Industry Minister Ian McCartney who has previously said the Government does not intend to intervene in the dispute despite its 13.87% shareholding in Mersey Docks.

A stream of motions had been put to the Executive from Liverpool dockers and other TGWU branches calling on the union to fight the dispute with the intention of winning it through a campaign including industrial action by union members.

Region 3 (Ireland) Regional Committee unanimously agreed to forward a motion calling upon ‘the General Executive Council to immediately invoke the unqualified support of the International Transport Federation in support of our sacked Liverpool dockers’, and the Irish Regional Secretary John Freeman had written to General Secretary Bill Morris on 27 October.

Region 6 (North-West) Regional Committee forwarded a motion passed unanimously on 21 Oct when Morris unilaterally imposed the ballot over Mersey Docks ‘final offer’. It condemned the General Secretary for having ‘clearly failed to obtain the authority of the General Executive Council’. The Executive decided in September that no actions concerning the dispute be taken by either the General Secretary or the Finance and General Purposes committee without Executive authority.

The 70% ballot rejection had led dockers to hope that the union leadership would heed their democratic decision to pursue the dispute. As the Executive convened, a majority of its members were apparently committed to supporting the key motion from Region 3.

Delegates arriving at the union&s London headquarters were greeted by a peaceful lobby of 70 dockers who had travelled overnight, along with GPMU (Graphical, Print and Media Union) members and supporters from Cardiff and London. Their placards read ‘Democracy is not Disloyalty’, ‘Strategy for Recruitment? Support the Membership!’, ‘Fabric of the Union is Secure, the Dockers are Not’, and ‘Instruct the ITF to Boycott Liverpool’. Bill Morris arrived by limousine and immediately retreated through a back entrance.

In the afternoon, the General Secretary declared that the Region 3, Region 6, and other motions on the docks would not be taken. Five pages of legal advice was presented, with the Executive being refused copies, to support the claim that debating the motions would place the union in breach of the Employment leglislation introduced by the Conservatives and kept intact by the Labour Government.

Sacked docker and General Executive Council member Mike Carden insisted on the democratic right of branches and regions to put motions to the elected leadership, and pointed out that the Biennial Delegate Conference had debated the dispute in July without any suggestion that such discussion was illegal. Other Executive members described the union&s failure to deliver solidarity action as a ‘disgrace’.

Carden reminded the Executive that during the British Airways dispute the ITF had responded to a TGWU request with industrial action by its affiliates. When BA threatened to use UK law against the organisation, the ITF simply indicated it could move its headquarters to Dublin and BA dropped the case. But with the union itself ‘unable’ to act in the docks dispute, ‘how can we ask the ITF to fight our battles for us?’ the General Secretary asked.

Bill Morris received strong support from Docks and Waterways National Officer Graham Stevenson, who is thought to be eyeing the Deputy General Secretary&s post which will become vacant when Jack Adams retires.

Stevenson declared that the union&s priority was to look after the ‘800 TGWU members’ working in the Port of Liverpool, a figure frequently cited by Morris. No one has specified who they might be. The National Officer further stated that Mersey Docks& financial position and share price had been unaffected and were strong in comparison with Associated British Ports.

In a remark which may raise a few eyebrows, Stevenson claimed that the Liverpool dockers international campaign consisted of unions taking action over their own issues, without affecting any trade with Mersey Docks. The company offered a similar verdict after the day of action on 8 September.

Despite Stevenson&s intervention, it is unlikely that Bill Morris would have been able to prevent debate without Chair Andy Smith&s timely ruling, which could only be overcome by a 2/3 majority. In fact only 7 Executive members voted to challenge the Chair. During the Biennial Delegate Conference Smith declared an Executive statement on the Liverpool dispute had been ‘carried’, only to be overtaken by pandemonium on the Conference floor.

Dockers greeted news of the Executive&s collapse with scorn at their weekly mass meeting. ‘So the Tolpuddle Martyrs should have quit their midnight get togethers, in case someone decided to sequestrate the tree.’

A 27 member top level official union delegation of Japanese dock and railway workers was in the hall and cheered the dockers as they vowed to fight on, with or without the support of the TGWU leadership.