Message-ID: <>
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 1998 01:19:51 +0000
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@GN.APC.ORG>
Subject: Mersey dockers—The T&GWU General Secretary's View, and Ours

The T&GWU General Secretary's View, and Ours

LabourNet interview with Terry Teague, international co-ordinator for the Merseyside Port Shop Stewards, 14 January 1998

In the January 1998 Bulletin to all branch secretaries, officers, and staff of the union, T&GWU General Secretary Bill Morris has issued a statement on the Liverpool Dockers, following the General Executive Council meeting in December which was widely reported in the Dockers Charter, the left press and on LabourNet. Bill Morris states:

"The Executive considered the position of the Liverpool docks dispute in the light of much misplaced criticism in recent weeks.

‘Our policy has always been to seek a negotiated settlement, to preserve the fabric of the union, and to relieve hardship among the families of the dismissed men.’

‘An offer was made by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company in December 1996. In October the company gave just over a week's notice that the offer would be withdrawn unless it was accepted by October 24, 1997. It was an integral part of the offer that it be put to a secret ballot of the dismissed employees. This offer, negotiated by the union, included a payment of £328,000 to each of the dismissed dockers, re-employment of 40 of them, pension entitlement, and the formation of a labour supply co-operative to provide additional jobs. (It must also be said that there are over 800 T&G members still employed by the company, who have no part in this dispute and are working normally. The union has as much of an obligation to them as to the 328 who have been dismissed).’

‘It would have been the gravest dereliction of duty to have allowed the offer to lapse without giving the dismissed dockers the opportunity to accept it. In the event they rejected the offer. The company then made the terms available to the men on an individual basis and claim 67 have accepted it. The company has publicly announced it now regards the dispute to be at an end.’

‘The search for a negotiated settlement—to which the general secretary, deputy general secretary and national docks secretaries have devoted hundreds of hours over the last two years—has now come to an end.’

‘Although this is regrettable it cannot lead to any change in the union's determination to preserve its fabric against threats of legal action. The biennial delegate conference in July overwhelmingly rejected any suggestion that the union should make the dispute official or act in defiance of the law.’

‘Motions on this issue contrary to BDC policy and to rule were submitted. Regrettably, the chair's decision to rule these out of order was challenged by members of the council. However, the chair's ruling was overwhelmingly upheld.’

Terry Teague, international co-ordinator for the Merseyside Port Shop Stewards, spoke to LabourNet on 14 January.

Terry: The statement is extremely damaging to our campaign, because the dispute is far from over. In my view, Bill Morris is now working very closely with the employer to try to dismantle the Liverpool dockworkers campaign. I think he was shocked at the size of the rejection of the employers' offer, but instead of doing what any trade union leader should do, by calling for fresh negotiations to try and achieve a just settlement to the long running dispute, Morris has decided to throw in the towel himself and go along with the statements of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company that the "dispute is now at an end".

At this present time, however, what we can tell all our supporters both nationally and internationally, is that the campaign is very much alive. There are still 400 dockworkers involved in the dispute, in spite of the fact that there has been a major move by the Establishment to close ranks with the employer. By the Establishment I mean the media, the police, the politicians, and also our own trade union leadership. Despite that tremendous pressure to try and end the dispute, there is still the belief from all those involved that we must continue until a just settlement is found that includes all the dock workers.

The entire statement is a distortion, aiming to mislead and cause confusion among fellow trade unionists and supporters throughout Britain. The bulletin states that an offer was made to ‘each of the dismissed dockers’, and this could not be further from the truth.

It must be said first that both the offer and the voting rights were limited to the ex Mersey Dock & Harbour Company employees and, in a separate ballot, Nelson Freight. There was no offer at all made to the Torside workers, nor to the XL workers, and for the Nelson Freight dockers it was a paltry £31,000 on a take it or leave it basis. Around 70 people were excluded from voting rights and from any offer: Torside and XL.

Morris speaks of ‘over 800 T&G members’ working for Mersey Docks. He says they've had no part in the dispute. He says ‘the union has as much of an obligation to them as to the 328 who have been dismissed’.

We totally disagree. We've been sacked, they have not. So we have a right to the active support of our union.

We also know that these people cross the picket line on a daily basis. We believe these people are either actually scabbing on our dispute (those who are doing dockwork) or have helped management train up scabs to take our jobs, or to integrate them into the system in the Port.

We also completely reject the figure of ‘over 800 T&G members’ cited by Morris. Our information—and we have a far better knowledge of the working of this company than our General Secretary—is that 417 T&G members are employed by MDHC. The majority of these men actually signed personal contracts against the wishes of the union.

We were never offered a £328,000 payment. It was £325,000 plus £33,000 to be paid over for ‘redeployment’, subject to tax and insurance on a fixed term 12 week contract, whereby the individuals would never be required to go back to work.

The 40 jobs cited were ancillary, not dock work. The labour supply cooperative was expected to provide 28 dock work jobs in the General Cargo area (i.e. not Seaforth Container Terminal), with no long term future.

Morris mentions ‘pension entitlement’. At the time of the ballot, the T&G information circulated with the voting papers stated that during last year, the union ‘was granted an extension (of the offer)... in order to clarify points of detail relating to pension protection’, and that ‘the position on pensions has been clarified’, and that ‘previous service will count as continuous for the purpose of calculating statutory entitlements and pension entitlements’. This has proved to be completely false, as confirmed by the Chair of the Pension Trustees during their meeting in December. If the union didn't know at the time of the ballot that the pensions entitlements have not been secured, they were derelict in their duty. After all, it's their job to know. If they did know the position, they lied about it in their document circulated with the ballot papers. This issue is crucial because without securing pension benefits, there cannot be a just settlement to the dispute and the issue is a major concern for the sacked dockers.

Perhaps the saddest part of the current statement concerns the ‘search for a negotiated settlement’. Morris makes the point that he as the General Secretary, along with the Deputy General Secretary and the National Docks Secretary have devoted hundreds of hours over the last two years to try and reach that setttlement. He says ‘that search has now come to an end’. Yet the leaflet which accompanied the ballot form made it clear to all the sacked dockworkers that the decision of the vote ‘would determine the union's collective response’ regarding future policy. Having voted to reject the offer, we are now told the search for a negotiated settlement is over.

The day the ballot result was declared, showing a 70% rejection of the offer, Morris made no attempt whatsoever to call on the employer to set up or re-open fresh negotiations. This again is a dereliction of the duty of a General Secretary of this country's 2nd biggest trade union.

Over the summer, we were under great pressure to agree to a secret ballot. Having imposed the secret ballot, we believe that the union must respond to its result.

In fact, last June our National Docks Secretary Graham Stevenson spoke on this very point at some length while addressing the International Transportworkers Federation dock section conference in Miami. He stated publicly that going through the process and winning a secret ballot would strengthen both our campaign and also bring a far greater involvement from the T&G union leadership which would also then lead to a greater involvement of the ITF.

Where is it? At the General Executive Council in December, after the ballot result, Graham Stevenson endorsed Bill Morris position while the Chair prevented a motion from the union's Region 3 Regional Committee, calling on the ITF to give its full support, from even being debated.

In the current statement, Morris refers to motions to the Executive and claims they were contrary to rule and to Biennial Delegate Conference policy. The motion which called on the union to instruct the ITF to give full support was not in breach of rule or BDC policy, and should have been debated just as many other motions were debated at conference. Months of discussion and debate in branches and Region 3 (Ireland) led to this call for the ITF to give far greater support to our dispute. It would be one thing for the ITF to decline this request, but quite another for the T&G to refuse to even debate it.

LabourNet: What do you mean by a ‘just settlement’?

Terry: It means jobs on good pay and conditions back in the dock industry, and for those dock workers in their middle to late 50s who wish to leave the industry, a good severance payment backed up by their full pension entitlement.

In order to achieve full pension entitlements, reinstatement is a key issue. On advice from the Pension Trustees and the legal experts who advise the Pension Fund, reinstatement instead of redeployment would be one way of achieving the two years of lost contributions and consequent loss of benefits.

LabourNet: The latest leaflet from the Port Shop Stewards says "we have no alternative but to step up our action. Locally we are calling on all trade unionists to boycott the Port of Liverpool. Do not allow goods manufactured in your workplaces to travel through the port. We call on you to look at ways of joining in our fight—by taking industrial action in every shape and form."

Given the move by the T&G to wash its hands of the dispute, how would you argue the case for such industrial action?

Terry: Clearly up to now the support from the T&G has done little to promote the solidarity actions that we have received from supporters both nationally and internationally. If the truth be told, the T&G leadership have never been in favour of our policy of trying to undermine the financial base of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company whether via mass picketting, or international boycotts. That support has had to be won by direct visits to workplaces, delegation meetings, and travelling the world to meet with trade unionists and fellow dockworkers.

We have the determination to maintain this campaign, and we also believe the support will continue. But it has to be stepped up if it is to succeed.

We ask workers to judge our dispute on its merits, and the bottom line is simple: unless there is a campaign amongst other industrial workers for industrial action, the likelihood is that our dispute will go the way of many others and end in defeat. Such a defeat is not inevitable.

Trade unionists need to look beyond the Liverpool dispute to understand this situation. At the height of the trade union movement during my working life—the late 1960's and early '70's—workers rights, pay and conditions were improved by workers directly involving themselves in solidarity actions. Since 1984 no major industrial battle has been won, all such struggles have gone down. Every time a large group of industrial workers has suffered defeat, there has been a knock-on effect for workers rights throughout the country.

One of the conditions created by the Thatcherite employment legislation is a climate of fear, at least within the UK. No matter what the situation, workers feel a tremendous fear of losing their job.

The anti-trade union legislation went hand in glove with the policies of privatisation, breaking down the nationalised industries. The motive was not simply reorganising management structures, it was also to attack the strength and solidarity of the workforce.

In opposition, Tony Blair once described the present industrial legislation as "the most oppressive in the Western world", and promised that a Labour Government would restore a level playing field for workers and employers alike. This is a joke.

Sooner or later, if the trade union movement is not to die out, a lead must be given to show that workers in this country can still achieve better pay and conditions, and can still have a say within their industry by directly challenging their employers.

Taking action in support of our dispute would also challenge the legislation and without such challenges I do not believe the laws will actually be repealed.

If we can make a breakthrough and win a victory, not only against the employer but against the system which is so heavily loaded against trade unionists, this will benefit everyone who wants to stand up for themselves.