Message-ID: <>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 1998 12:56:07 +0000
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: LabourNet <chrisbailey@GN.APC.ORG>
Subject: Guardian article on Liverpool dockers

Yellow Pages, yellow wages—in our union

By Mark Steel, The Guardian, 2 February 1998

I am just old enough to remember the days when union leaders appeared on television with their waistcoat buttons done up wrong and gravy down their tie. With regardness to the offer we can only reconfirm that we are appalled at the level-ness of unfairment contained within this offer, they would say.

The modern union leader is well dressed, an expert in camera technique, writes grammatically perfect letters to the broadsheets, and makes even less sense than before.

After the defeat of the Liverpool dockers' strike, a debate has been taking place in this paper's letters page between Bill Morris and John Pilger. Pilger blamed the defeat on the TGWU's craven silence and Morris replied with why does Mr Pilger always reserve his venom for workers' own organisations?. But Pilger's most famous campaign was to expose the atrocities of Pol Pot. Perhaps Morris has got Pol Pot mixed up with someone else, and thinks that instead of being leader of the Khmer Rouge he was North-east regional secretary of the GMBU.

Morris also writes that Pilger wanted an excuse to renew his vendetta against the Transport and General Worker's Union. In which case Pilger, who has spent over two years campaigning for sacked TGWU dockers, is pretty useless at vendettas. He would be no good in the Mafia, with Sonny Corleone forever taking him to one side and asking: John, why are you raising money for the Tatallia family's Christmas automatic handgun appeal? With Pilger replying; Purely business Sonny. It's part of my vendetta against them.

Morris then blames John Pilger and others like him for giving the dockers false hope by claiming they could win.

So to lead a successful campaign you must always tell people they haven't a prayer. if Bill Morris had been at Agincourt his stirring speech would have been, I wouldn't bother going unto that breach boys, have you seen the size of some of them French? Anyway its against the law to flare your nostrils.

It would be marvellous if Bill spread this message of despair to everyone else he met. Because on a £70,000 salary, recently installed on the board of the Bank of England, and nicely placed at the Queen and Prince Philip's golden wedding banquet between Lieutenant Commander J Beavis and Sir Paul Condon, in a matter of weeks he could have had Britain's rulers deciding there is no point in getting up in the morning, and handing over power to a vegetarian co-op in Hackney.

With almost any strike being against the law, backing the dockers, it is argued, would have been playing into the employers' hands. This is the Don't fight back, that's what they want you to do theory of history. For example, during the German occupation of France, when some went off to organise the French resistance, and others said: Don't ambush them, blow up their tanks and shoot the Kommandant. That's exactly what they want you to do.

Union leaders ponder how to stop the decline in union membership, and produce insurance schemes and credit cards to attract members. The trouble is you can get these things anyway with the help of Yellow Pages, but if your union cannot defend you against a ruthless employer there is no point in ringing Direct Line instead. As far as I know there is no part of their recorded message that goes; if you'd like to set up a picket line press six.

So the greatest example of union recruitment in recent times is the 11 million Poles who joined Solidarnosc in three months in 1981. Bill Morris probably thinks: Lech Walesa must have been offering a bloody good deal on holiday insurance.

Unions depend on the principle of standing up for one another in-stead of just for yourself. Five hundred ex-dockers, many of whom were nearing retirement and could have opted for an easy life, sacrificed a tremendous amount for that principle, and will be remembered with great affection by the many people they touched. Just as everyone knows about the slave who said, I am Spartacus; but no one ever remembered the one who said, It's him, this one here, fourth from the left. After all we can't break the law. But tell the Senate I'm willing to reach a negotiated settlement.

Early on in the dispute, Morris made a speech to the dockers which won him a standing ovation, in which he told of how he'd be proud to tell his grandchildren of his role in the dispute. Well that's going to lead to some pretty confused grandchildren. Mummy, they'll say this afternoon Grandad put us on his knee and said, ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Well let me tell you about my proudest battle. Two and a half years it went on, and in all that time not once did I spread an ounce of false hope’.