Message-ID: <>
Date: Thu, 5 Mar 1998 13:06:52 +0000
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@GN.APC.ORG>
Subject: A Question for the T&GWU

A Question for the T&GWU

LabourNet reacts to a Dart article, 5 March 1998

A few weeks into the Liverpool Lockout, Mersey Docks and Harbour Company turned to Drake Port Distribution Services for an alternative workforce to run Seaforth Container Terminal. Crossing the picket line to work, the loyal Drakes employees kept the Port of Liverpool afloat in the midst of an international boycott.

Throughout the dispute, the T&GWU, through its full time official Jack Dempsey, continued to service union members working inside the port, including a small number of dockers and a larger body of ancillary workers. The relation of the T&GWU to the Drakes workforce remained a matter of speculation.

Now, however, a bulletin entitled The Dart, dated 01/02/98, and apparently written by Drakes employees, mentions contacts with Mr. Dempsey, seemingly occurring before the dispute had ended, concerning possible representation. Judging from the document, the Drakes men were impatient and mistrusted &a reluctance on the part of the union&. The question for the rest of us, however, is whether the T&G were considering the recruitment of men brought into the Port as strikebreakers.

LabourNet invites T&G General Secretary Bill Morris, who frequently writes to The Observer and The Guardian, to explain to dockers, longshoremen, wharfies and their supporters around the world the history of contacts between the Transport & General Workers Union and employees of Drake Port Distribution Services within the Port of Liverpool.

The Dart, issue no.3 (01/02/98)

It seems that the last issue of The Dart was well received and, before going any further we would like to express our thanks to the people who take the time to read this article.

Well, it's all over! The strike that is, although one would be forgiven for failing to notice this very important fact. Why do we say this? Because true to form, the M.D.H.C., together with Drakes, have failed to credit this occasion with the importance that it deserves. At the time of writing there has been no official statement from either of them. This is true to form, and fits in with their usual strategy of providing minimal information to their employees. The lack of any type of feedback from the management on the state of affairs at any given time must be partly responsible for this feeling of insecurity and anxiety that the employees have to carry with them. So, because information is not forthcoming we are left to ask ourselves some questions. In what way will our working conditions change now that the dispute is over and management has a free hand? Will we see more casual labour at Seaforth Container Terminal? This has, unfortunately, been the case in other areas of the dock complex, namely S10 and Canada dock. It must also be said the evidence shows that these casual workers are not provided with the correct safety apparel, unlike the 'showpiece' container terminal. Casual workers are a cheap, undisciplined form of labour and they take away the benefits that we might otherwise receive if they were not used.

If we cast our minds back to the first issue of The Dart we can see that one of our prophecies is, unfortunately, coming true. This is the fact that employees are leaving to go to other employment. Some good workers have been lost, and we don't have enough space here to list them all but amongst their numbers was the D.P.D.S. health and safety officer; he &resigned& after being continuously over-ruled on safety matters, and we must give him credit for his belief that, if there are safety procedures and rules then they must be adhered to in the workplace. It has been noticeable recently that some safety procedures have been put into practice. We can thank our former safety officer for these improvements that were brought about by the efforts that he made after leaving this employment, although we must not forget 'safety George' who constantly strives to maintain a decent level of safety. The point that is being made here is that Drake Port Distribution Services are not retaining their workers, and are spending large amounts on training, only to see this money 'walk' out of the gate. This was unknown in the past, in fact, workers were queuing up to get into the place! This is further proof that there is something inherently wrong with the system that is currently in operation. We can ask the question once again, is the current management happy with a transient workforce?

In the last issue we mentioned 'Ghosts on the Dock', or 'Ghosting' as it has come to be known. For the uninitiated this means: allocating employees to a number of different jobs on the same day. This is a physical impossibility, but Drakes management don't seem to know this. For example, it was alleged that one man was allocated work in one day, from 0800 until 1700 (shed), then 1500-2300 (Shiphand) and finally, 1900-0700 (timber). The thing that made this even more noticeable was the fact that this man had only just left Drakes employment! This alleged practice seems astonshing, and we are currently carrying out a monitoring exercise.

Mr. Jack Dempsey of the T.G.W.U. has recently paid us a visit. This was not to talk with employees of D.F.D.S. but to talk with the M.D.H.C. workers who have managed to hold on to their jobs throughout this dispute. Mr. Dempsey was asked by Drakes employees, when would he be able to represent the main body of the workforce? His reply was that he will get around to it in a couple of weeks. It seems that Drakes workers are taking second place once again, and we would like to take this opportunity to send a message to the management. This message is that everyone is entitled to be a member or not a member of a trade union. These words were spoken to us by the operations manager on joining D.P.D.S. and rightly so, as he is required to do so by law. We can be 99% certain that these words do not reflect the true wishes of the management. The majority of the workers are now free to join a trade union and will do so at the first opportunity. This is not a return to militancy, but this is brought about by the realisation that, in a situation such as ours the need for representation is very obvious. We say once again that it would be naive of us to expect the management to have all of our interests at heart.

The management face a dilemma at the moment, and that is, how to keep two sets of workers operating in the same place doing the same job, at the same time, under different pay and conditions. We must watch the situation very carefully over the coming months. There seems to be a reluctance on the part of the unions. Let us be under no illusions. The unions have their own best interests at heart.

Finally, we must acknowledge, with astonishment, that the work rate is still high. This is despite all of the problems cited in this issue, and the fact that we need at least 8 new straddle carriers. How long can it go on?