Message-ID: <v01530506afe7bb0b0683@[]>
Date: Tue, 8 Jul 1997 17:51:58 GMT
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@GN.APC.ORG>
Subject: Dockers defeat TGWU Executive!!

Dockers defeat TGWU Executive

A LaborNet Report, 8 July 1997

The 75th Anniversary conference of Britain's biggest industrial union, the T&GWU, erupted in chaos at the end of its opening day as an Executive Statement on the Liverpool docks dispute was clearly and decisively defeated by Conference on a show of hands.

The Executive immediately ended the day's session, and after several minutes of wild uncertainty the Chair announced that "due to the close vote" a card vote would be taken first thing Tuesday morning. 200 Liverpool dockers and Women of the Waterfront are due to return home tonight after an all night journey to attend the Brighton conference.

The Executive Statement, opposed by a stream of speakers who took the rostrum during a lengthy debate, would remove 9 properly submitted formal motions from the Conference agenda and replace them with an endorsement of the union leadership's strategy and handling of the dispute, and an attack on media coverage which has criticised the union.

The Executive's defeat came as a surprise to the dockers and a testimony to the impact their 23 month fightback has had within their own union. Speaker after speaker insisted that the dockers had been right to refuse to cross their sons' picket line despite the trade union legislation, and that the Executive must withdraw their Statement so that a strategy for winning the dispute could now be discussed and voted on.

Deputy General Secretary Jack Adams introduced the Statement which stresses the Executive's responsibility to "preserve the fabric of the Union and operate within the constraints of the law". He outlined and defended the intricate negotiating history of the dispute, but also spuriously claimed that the dockers had demanded the TUC call a General Strike, a strategy never endorsed by the dockers themselves as was made abundantly clear from the gallery and by subsequent speakers.

Against Adams, Jimmy Nolan and Bobby Morton outlined their demands for a Governement Inquiry into Mersey Docks and the need for the TGWU to work with the ITF to impose an effective boycott on trade with the Port of Liverpool.

These points had been put to delegates through leaflets and the latest edition of the Dockers Charter, distributed this morning while dockers held placards reading democracy and debate are not disloyalty, Dockers Built this Union, Scabs Out, Not Sell Out!, Will the TGWU recruit the scabs?, Jim Larkin's Fighting Spirit Lives On in Liverpool...

Before opposing the Executive Statement, Morton had earlier reminded delegates that the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Suffragettes, and Nelson Mandela had all been forced to break the law to achieve their just demands.

Bill Morris, in that earlier debate, had criticised any implied comparison of Mersey Docks with the apartheid regime. But now a black delegate from London Region rose to endorse the dockers defiance, stressing that the ANC had faced legal constraints and had chosen to break through them.

Belfast dockers, lorry drivers, the convenor of the Rover Cowley plant, the leader of the Civil Aviation Transport section at London Heathrow, and many other speakers rallied to the dockers cause and demanded that the Executive withdraw their divisive statement which sought to prevent a proper debate.

In the end, Bill Morris' measured appeal for unity and a course of action within the law was voted down by a large and visible majority. Yet no sooner had the cheering Gallery and their supporters on the floor of Conference realised their victory than it was snatched away by a unilateral suspension of business and the platform's decision to hold a card vote in the morning.

Away from the Conference floor, key facts about the union's current stance and its relationship with the ITF (International Transportworkers Federation) are emerging.

On Friday, the KPMG report was revealed to stewards without their being handed a copy. It foresees 28 jobs in General Cargo, and a further 50 possible jobs when a new River Berth is constructed in 18 months. Bill Morris told stewards the union would not contact the ITF on the docks issue unless the ITF approached them first on this subject.

Today ITF General Secretary David Cockroft, in Brighton at the invitation of the TGWU to discuss potential action against British Airways in the event of sackings at BA, told dockers he could not even issue a letter to affiliated dockers unions because the TGWU will not ask the ITF to do anything regarding the Liverpool dispute.

Tonight the fate of the Liverpool dockers status within the union remains poised.

LabourNet Report