Workers History As Told by Those Who Made It.
Merseyside Dockers, and Women of the Waterfront. Interviews taken during the Merseyside dockers' dispute of 1995-98.
Women of the Waterfront
Dockers’ Wives - Sue Mitchell and Doreen McNally
Dockers in Dispute
Jimmy Davies Jnr
The Merseyside dockers’ struggle, which began over the sacking
of young dockers in 1995, and lasted two and one quarter years, became
the longest struggle in the history of the docks industry.
It was historic in many other ways, the most important being that it was
conditioned and determined by great changes which had taken place in the
dock transport industry. These changes took place, not only on the docks,
but in the whole of British industry and in the strength and power of
old industrial unions in Britain.
We cannot even begin to understand this dispute if we do not place it
within the context of the general economic and trade union developments
in Britain, and also within the framework of the international evolution
of capitalism and international class relations.
A dispute of historical importance
This struggle was the longest that had taken place in the history of the
docks. But more important than that, it expressed both the end of one
stage in the history of the British working class, and the beginning of
a new one. It had an importance way beyond the small number of dockers
and Women of the Waterfront involved in it.
There had certainly been great changes in industry and workers’
organisation in Britain and throughout the world. There can be no differences
over that among any of those who write labour history. There can be some
very sharp differences, however, on the nature of those changes, what
they represent and on the continuity which runs through those changes.
There is no lack of sociological commentators and impressionistic journalists
to talk about the struggle of the Merseyside dockers as representing an
age that had passed, an age of pickets and “never crossing a picket
line”. Among them are those who have told us about “post industrial
society”, and, since 1990 about the “end of history”
– a phrase meaning that economic liberalism and the rule of Capital
had conquered the world.
If its progress is to be seriously discussed, then all the basic questions
of trade unionism today must be involved. Among those serious questions
is the terrible weakness, incapacity and cowardice of trade union leaders
who presided over the decimation of the leading battalions of the British
working class and the loss of trade union power, and were put to rout
by the offensive of Thatcherism and the legal offensive against trade
union rights. There is also the consciousness of the working class expressing
a general sympathy with the struggle and feeling the ills that were being
fought, but not sure of what action they could take or having confidence
to take any.
There were certainly massive changes in the docks transport industry which
began in the 1960s but accelerated in the last three decades of the 20th
century. The orthodox sociologists and economists put the decisive changes
down to the advance of technology: for them, this advance and its effects
are inevitable and to be accepted as progressive. So that the struggles
of miners, dockers, shipyard workers, steel workers and others was the
last stand of troglodytes or Luddites who could not accept the reality
that was removing their old world.
Rundown of the industry
The dockers’ experiences from the end of the sixties up to the 1990s
were part of the general development of industrial and class relations.
Jobs on the docks began to disappear at the end of the 1960s and early
1970s. In 1947 more than 80,000 men had worked in the docks; by 1990 the
number was below 9,000 and rapidly falling. In 1992 in London, where as
recently as 1970 more than 20,000 dockers had been employed, there were
less than 500 dock workers.
Successive Labour and Conservative governments put up large sums of money
for the National Dock Labour Board to pay off tens of thousands of dockers:
from 57,505 in 1967 the registered workforce shrank to 34,606 in 1974.
The decline of the docks transport industry was one of the great changes
in British capitalism which were accelerated with the election of a Tory
government in 1979.
The book They Knew Why They Fought 2 put the experience of struggle on
the docks in the context of what was happening to the working class as
a whole. It showed the general retreat of trade union leadership in the
1980s. I believe it is necessary to underline here also the reality of
that retreat and its consequences.
In the 1970s, the post-war capitalist expansion ran down. Capitalism began
to have problems of fierce competition for markets and profit. Unemployment
began to increase steadily, and an offensive was begun by capitalist companies
and their state representatives to maintain profits by lowering labour
costs, by speed-up, and generally by a more intensive exploitation of
labour power. It was accompanied by a propaganda offensive in the universities,
in politics, and the state against "full employment" and against
the trade unions.
A trade union upsurge
During the 1970s, the trade unions steadily increased their membership
as the offensive of capitalism gathered pace. Workers were joining the
unions, expecting them to defend them.
Robert Taylor, labour correspondent of The Observer, wrote in his 1978
book The Fifth Estate - Britain's Unions in the Modern World:
“The late 1960s and early 1970s constitute one of the great periods
of expansion for the British trade union movement, similar in magnitude
to the growth between 1911 and 1913, in the early 1920s before the onset
of the interwar depression and the 1940s.”
In 1950 there was 44.1 per cent of the workforce in unions, by 1960 it
was 43.1 per cent. In 1969 there was 44.4, in 1970 47.7 and in 1972, the
year of struggle against the anti-union Industrial Relations Act, the
percentage was 49.4.
The total continued increasing. In 1974, the percentage of trade unionists
in the labour force was 50.4. By 1976 it was 52.1. It continued to rise
and in 1979, the year which all the political sages tell us was the year
when Labour lost the election because of the unpopularity of the trade
unions, the percentage of the workforce in union was 54.4 - the highest
it has ever been.
We can state quite definitely that the rise and fall of the trade unions
in the 1970s and 1980s was due to what they could win for their members
and how they defended them. The union membership declined steadily in
the 1980s as a result of the retreats before the attack on conditions
and legal rights - by 1990, it was 38 per cent of the workforce.
It is very clear that the retreats and betrayals of the leaderships, in
face of increasing unemployment and struggles such as the miners' strike,
bear the major responsibility for the decline.
It is also perfectly clear that, in the 1970s, wider layers of workers
felt the need of trade union organisation in the face of the attacks of
employers and government. There was again successful resistance in the
early seventies to the political and legislative attacks on the unions.
The history of British working class struggles in this period speaks for
The Tory government of Heath (1970-74) introduced the Industrial Relations
Act with its curbs on trade union organisation and the militancy of the
rank and file.
It was decisively knocked back by continuous protest actions and demonstrations
and struggle - again stemming from the rank and file of the workers' organisations.
Heath tried to win an election in 1974 with a campaign against the power
of the unions centring on the question: who should run the country, the
government or the unions? He lost.
The "Winter of Discontent", as the press called it, came at
the end of 1979. It is necessary to clear away the myths which were manufactured
by the press at the instigation of the "New Right" and their
"economic liberalist" doctrines.
The Labour government supported by trade union leaders had imposed the
conditions of wage restraint under the "social contract", to
meet the demands of the IMF. In 1979 workers resisting a decline in conditions
and wages were then attacked. Press and Tories conducted a vicious campaign
against striking workers, with slanderous attacks on gravediggers' and
sewage workers' strikes. The victory of the Tories in 1979 was largely
a matter of this malicious, manufactured campaign by press and politicians.
A myth, however, which entered into history was that the Tories won the
election in a swing away from Labour because of the widespread fear of
the unions. But, as we have seen in evidence above, it was during the
period of the 1970s that the British trade union movement made one of
its greatest advances in membership! It is also, of course, a fact that,
although Labour lost over 50 seats, its overall vote rose from 11,429,094
in October 1974 to 13,697,753.
There was a solid turn out of the working class vote in Scotland, the
North-east and the North-west. Following the Tories’ electoral victory,
the powerful resistance to their policies in the early eighties was not
allowed to develop. It was blocked by vacillation by trade union leaders
capitulating to a legal attack on the unions.
The workers respond: leaders retreat
The leaders had begun with boasts of resistance to trade union legislation
at the end of the 1970s. Hundreds of thousands of British workers demonstrated
in Glasgow, in Liverpool and Cardiff in mighty demonstrations of opposition
to unemployment. The demonstrations were called by the Labour Party and
the TUC. However, very soon, the TUC was to show what its words at these
demonstrations really meant.
Britain went into some severe class struggles which lasted until the defeat
of the miners' strike in 1985. Unemployment continued to increase. In
1981 it was increasing at a rate of 100,000 a month. In 1984-85 many of
the trade union leaders and leaders of the Labour Party were in fact,
overtly and even some openly, supporting the isolation and defeat of the
miners' strike at that time.
This was the depth to which the trade union movement fell at the end of
the eighties. No wonder there was increasing unemployment and the steady
deterioration of trade union membership from the great peaks of the 1970s.
Nervous trade union leaders dropped their heroics in relation to the Tory
government's anti-union laws and embraced the "new reality"
of working with the "new capitalism".
As the last half of the 1980s marked the pit of the retreat of trade union
leadership, with the defeats of the miners and the dockers, so in the
last half of the 1990s the Liverpool dock struggle was the beginning of
the rise of the struggle in Britain.
The retreat of the trade unions continued through all the struggles of
this time with the biggest betrayal by the TUC in the miners' strike of
Defeat of 1989
In 1989, the Thatcher government put forward a Bill to abolish the 1947
Dock Labour Scheme which the dockers felt meant they had some control
over the hiring and firing of labour. A reluctant union leadership of
the Transport and General Workers Union, after months of prevarication,
called a national docks stoppage against the abolition of the Dock Labour
Scheme. The strike ended with the de-recognition of the union in all ports
except in Liverpool.
Because of the capitulation of union leaders, both before and during the
strike, the dockers were defeated. The strike ended with employers de-recognising
the union and the dockers being re-employed under individual contracts
in all the major ports in Britain, with the exception of Liverpool.
The majority of Merseyside dockers in 1995 belonged to the generation
of workers who had begun work in the docks in the period of the sixties
which had won the great advances in the 1967 strike (see They Knew Why
They Fought). They had embraced the traditions and solidarity but found
their power and numbers where whittled away in the 1970s with redundancies.
Then the trade union leaders retreated before the Tory Government in the
1980s; the dockers experienced the defeat of the dockers’ national
strike in 1989 against the abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme.
The five hundred dockers who remained on Merseyside were forced into a
struggle, which for them was a continuation of the struggles in their
In September 1995 the dockers, employed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour
Company (MDHC), refused to cross a picket line set up by 80 strikers,
young dockers employed by Torside, a company connected with the MDHC,
who were on strike over the sacking of a young docker who had refused
to work overtime at the end of his shift, after being given only a few
The MDHC issued an ultimatum:- the dockers must agree to return to work
and 200 would be re-employed on new individual contracts and those who
were not offered re-employment would be given redundancy money (the latest
offer during the dispute was £35,000 for each man). The ultimatum
was rejected and a long and extremely important struggle began, which
lasted two years.
The dockers, now locked out, put their aims in the paper, The Dockers'
Charter which was issued regularly in support of this two year struggle.
Our fight, is for regular employment, for the conditions that our forefathers
won and for the right of collective organisation. So that our fight is
also the fight of millions of men and women throughout Britain facing
uncertainty of employment both day-to-day and long term.
Everywhere now there are employers introducing casual labour and individual
contracts. They want to cut their costs and have flexible labour, they
want workers at their beck and call to be brought to work or discarded
at their will.
We had a magnificent international conference of dockers and found common
cause in facing a handful of multi-nationals and a fight against casual
labour, anti-union laws and uncertainty of unemployment.
Millions of people in all countries have now had bitter experience of
the meaning of the "free market" and free licence for capitalist
values. Throughout the world, capitalist governments dismantle welfare
provisions and drive the poor and defenceless into the pit. The circumstances
which have moulded these dockers and their companions who formed the Women
of the Waterfront (WOW) and who picketed the dock gates with the men -
are the drastic changes that have taken place in their living and working
conditions over the past decade and a half.
Policy of dispute leaders
The policy of the dispute leaders towards left political groups and tendencies
was impeccable. Their mass meetings were open; their policy was for "political
and industrial" support and solidarity committees from trade unions
and socialist organisations including Trotskyist tendencies and those
developed from the Communist Party.
Their rallies and mass meetings had international dockers' leaders speaking
from European countries, the east and west coast of USA, from Australia,
New Zealand and Canada but they had a continuous stream of reports from
workers engaged in struggles in Britain, including immigrant workers fighting
for union recognition and against low wages and against deportation. They
heard speakers from Nigeria, South Africa, Iran, and the Indian continent.
Leading members of the Movement for Socialism in Argentina spoke to them
on the persecution of the unemployed leaders there and a leading member
of the PSTU (Workers Socialist Party) in Brazil spoke on the struggle
of the landless peasants.
During one meeting early in 1996 a speaker from the Liverpool dockers
declared: "We are only ordinary people". So they were. However,
real history is full of ordinary people becoming extra-ordinary in meeting
the circumstances which have forced them into struggle. In this dockers'
dispute of 1995-97, one among many of the extraordinary things which these
ordinary people - both men and women - did was to travel to cities in
Europe, Australia and the Americas relating their struggle and gaining
support. Before these dockers were locked out and sacked, neither they
nor any of their partners who rallied to their support, had the least
thought of becoming international emissaries of a workers' struggle.
The delegates not only came back with reports of protest actions in their
support taken in other countries, but also with reports of conditions
and political struggles of workers there. The greatest impact was made
by the reports of the delegations to Turkey. Dockers had been there several
times, were there during the hunger strikes of political prisoners and
the brutal police attacks on demonstrations. Turkish workers played a
leading part in the dockers' support committee in London.
The new rise of resistance
The dockers' struggle in 1995 held the promise of the beginning of the
revival of the rank and file in the unions. That was the feeling of many
at the beginning of the dispute. It certainly attracted a wide support
in the country.
A very important aspect of it was the uniting of dockers with the most
exploited immigrant sections of workers in struggle, and with the "reclaim
the streets" movement of the youth.
The tenacity with which it was fought, the sympathy and solidarity which
it gained nationally and internationally, came because it was a struggle
against the ills and problems facing the working class in Britain and
throughout the world.
The dockers had the longest and most consistent history of rank and file
movements, through which they sought to resolve the problems of trade
union bureaucracy. Their unofficial national port shop stewards' organisation
had played a big part in pushing forward the struggle against the abolition
of the Dock Labour Scheme in 1989.
The relationship with their union came up continually in the struggle
of these Liverpool men and women against the Mersey Docks and Harbour
Company and in their campaign against casualisation, individual contracts
and jobs for young workers.
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The increase of international consciousness was the most inspiring aspect
of the Liverpool dockers' struggle. The action of five hundred men swept
through the world with a reaction from Japan to the USA, from Spain to
The majority of the participants in this struggle were of the generation
which came into industry at the end of the 1960s when they could feel
the strength of the working class, only later in the 1970s and 80s to
have it wasted away by the retreats of working class leadership.
They are part of that generation in Britain who suffered the great disappointments
of the end of this period which had reached its height a few years before
and its depths in the last half of the 1980s and the first half of the
1990s. It should be recorded.
Women of the Waterfront
Dockers’ Wives - Sue Mitchell and Doreen McNally
name is Sue Mitchell and my husband has worked the docks since 1964. He
worked for 15 years in Birkenhead for the Caledonian Stevedoring Company
as a “rigger/storekeeper” and when we were married in 1976,
after a year or so, he came over to Liverpool and took the job of a “counter-off”;
he was on the staff and was then on the Staff Pension Scheme; he wasn’t
on the Dock-workers Register. After 15 years doing counter-off he worked
on the timber 15 years and in 1990 - 91 he was moved; 60 men from the
timber terminal were moved (forced to move) to the container base. The
shift patterns all changed. He then became on a three weekly rota of 114
hours. We were used to having him at home of a night; he only worked nights
very, very rarely. I think I can count on one hand the times he worked
nights. He did work, sometimes, weekends for overtime. But suddenly he
was out of the house at all different hours; I think it was on three different
shifts. I gradually saw a deterioration in him as a man. He just became
like a robot. He was working long hours for weeks on end. We did not see
one another. The children no longer saw him.
He used to get telephone calls at home. They used to ring up and sometimes
we had visitors, and we might have been sitting in the garden and the
phone would go and he would be saying, “I’m not in! I’m
not in!” It got to the point when you couldn’t live normally
for fear of the phone going because you knew they either wanted him in
or if he’d worked his 114 hours, or sometimes more, they’d
ring up and say, “...you’re not required.” So, as soon
as he reached a point were they needed to pay him overtime they would
say that, “We don’t want to see you for four or five days”.
So all the time they were “kicking him”; taking every ounce
of energy from him and then either saying, “you’re not required”
or “we want you more” because the ships are in.
BH: Did they give him a bleeper?
Sue: No they didn’t give him a bleeper. They didn’t give him
anything like that but we only live just 10 minutes away from there. I
must admit he did work when they asked him. Most of the time he would
say yes because we only had his wage and I used to say, “Why? You
haven’t had a day off. You look bad. You look awful.” But
he would say, “It’s a bit extra to pay the bills. It’s
a bit extra for the kids.” So when I didn’t pressurise him
to do this, I felt the company were just draining him of all his resources.
But men tell me now that he was a good worker, but to me they had over-stepped
the mark and he became under the control of the Mersey Docks and Harbour
Company. I don’t think he regrets working hard but I think he feels
hurt and angry to think they did treat the men this way. They made comments
about the men, “...they wouldn’t move with the times!”
Well Colin used to be a counter-off; he could drive all the machinery
on the timber [terminal]. Then, because his pay had taken such a drop,
said, “I can’t cope on this wage!” I think he was on
£14,000 a year. The highest pay was £18,900, and that was
working on the “straddle”. So he asked to go on the “straddle”.
First they would not let him. They said, “No” and ignored
him. They just said, “Get on with the ‘Office’.”
He wasn’t very happy but the other men were trying to fit him in.
They had their job to do. They had done their jobs for so many years.
And then you had somebody coming in the office. You had to train them
up. But Colin said, “I don’t think they’re doing this
deliberately but I felt like I’m slowing things down. You know when
you’re organised? You know exactly what you’re going to do.
Then suddenly you’ve got to stop what you’re doing to tell
somebody, ‘This is what you do now. You’ve made a mistake’.”
I think it was at the third attempt of asking the boss that was in charge
could he try again, could he train on the straddles. I was a bit apprehensive,
I said, “Them big machines.” “That’s them,”
he’d say, as we were driving past. I’d say, “don’t
you think that it’s a bit dangerous now because you’re not
getting any younger?” “No,” he’d say. “If
I’m going to earn a decent living that’s what I have to do.”
So he did “move with the times”.
BH: So did he move onto the straddles?
Sue: Yes. He’d been on the straddles 18 months.
BH: Did he complain about them?
Sue: Yes. He used to come home. He wasn’t just black, he was caked
in oil. He’d get washed and if you used them after he had, you would
feel oil on the towels. He would say that there were so many bad machines
you were either breathing in the fumes; things kept breaking down. One
day, I remember he came home and he was really tired. He said that he
had been up eight straddles that day. In them you are about 60 feet up.
All the controllers say is: “Keep going. Keep going. Do your best.
O.K. it’s blowing smoke in but keep going.”
He used to stay behind. I used to be sitting in the car park waiting
for him. I didn’t know anybody then. And I would see all these men.
In the end I would pick up a bit of courage and say, “Excuse me,
do you know my husband?” and they’d go, “What’s
his name?” [I’d answer] “Colin Mitchell,” and
they’d reply, “Oh he’ll be out in a minute.” He’d
stay. Because of the length of the queue he’d stay and do a few
more lorries because he didn’t live too far. There were men who
had to drive half an hour or get a bus. He would stay and do it. And not
just him but other men.
But I would say, “You should have finished at 11.00 not twenty
past.” This is what he was like. He was conscious of the pressure
that men were under so he would do his job a little bit over so that the
man who may have been a little bit late because of the traffic wouldn’t
get into trouble. This was the way it was. I used to take him into work
about 7.00 and the queue of lorries would be out of the gate and past
where the picket line is now. And he used to say to me, “Oh my God,
I’ll be on the pads.” Meaning that was going to be a bad day.
BH: So did you get boiled up like him?
Sue: Yes I was angry. I kept saying, “Who’s worked these shift
patterns out? Don’t they know this is not working? This is taking
over your life! It’s taking over our life and the children’s
lives!” And he used to say to me that Dempsey (the union official)
had agreed to these things. And I’d say, “Who’s he?
Why didn’t you get rid of him? This is terrible, this is more than
a job. This is taking over your whole life; your social life! We’re
getting pestered with phone calls. You only know your children by name.”
It got that way were you did not have a weekend any more. Every day was
just the same.
The children would say: “Where’s Dad, Mum?” I'd reply:
“He’s in bed.” Or: “He’s at work.”
They would be lucky if they saw him. Usually he would be lying in bed
or he would have just come in as they were going to bed. That’s
the way it was. You would be on edge because the children were complaining.
You would say, “Excuse me! Your Dad is working to keep you, so don’t
complain.” But you knew they were right. We wanted the human side
of him back; not just the robot that brought a pay packet home. That was
not what family life is about. It just seemed that we had no control.
It wasn’t until they sacked them. I remember saying to Colin a month
before, “This is terrible!” and he went, “I know Sue.
Don’t worry, the firm know it’s not working. We’ve had
a meeting. They know it’s not working - they are going to sort it
And a month later they did, didn’t they? Because they sacked the
lot of them. That’s probably why the women were so quick on getting
involved because before we have never needed to because there has always
been strikes. We’ve had to do without anything, but then this was
different. This was like it was because we could see what the management
had done. After the initial shock, and after not being able to see your
husband very often, and working all these hours, and keeping and keeping
his little dates of the times he had worked because he couldn’t
even trust the people that kept the times because many was the time he
was not getting paid for the time he had been working. So it got where
he had to keep record of exactly what hours he had worked so he could
go in and say, “No. I didn’t get paid for those hours!”
This was what it was like. It must have been stressful for the timekeepers
and everyone who was working because you just got told, “You’re
working on!” “You’re working on!”
Unless you did exactly what you were told you would go “on report”.
Some men did do exactly what they were told but Colin once did go “on
report”. He had worked six 11.00 to 11.00 shifts. And when he got
to the car at about 11.45 he went, “I’m out at 7.00.”
And I said, “You can’t go out at seven in the morning. Look
at the state of you!” You were looking at a 45 year old, more like
a 65, walking out of the gate. And I said, “You can’t, enough’s
enough!” And he went, “I’ve got to.” And he was
10 minutes late that morning; we overslept. By then I’m having to
get up and take him to work. I’m still up; going to pick him up
from work. So I’m tired.
We just overslept, and he rang in, and he said, “I’m late;
I’ll be in 10 minutes.” And they said, “Oh no, It’s
not a problem. You can be first tea break so there’s not a problem.”
But he was put on a warning for that. And I remember reading it. In fact,
he went in and had words with the people that had done it. He said, “I’ve
done everything I think I should’ve done. It wasn’t like I
was hours late. I was 10 minutes late.”
And this was what was happening. Even the men that didn’t argue
about the hours much. They were doing it to them thinking, “We’ll
get you! We want you all upset. We want you all on report!” So then
it’s like ammunition against them. Like I say I was just so mad
over it. And when they sacked them I think that is why I wanted to do
something, and I didn’t know anybody. I used to listen to ladies
on the radio. It must have been Doreen and Ann Morris. And I’d be
in the car and I’d hear Radio Merseyside and they would be going
and saying things that were happening in my family. This was before we
knew one another.
And I’d say, “I wonder who that lady is?” This was even
before the strike took place. She would ring up talking about the hours
the men were working. How the men were being treated. I didn’t know
anyone then but I was saying, “I wonder who it is? I wonder if we
could get in touch with her.” And I used to say to Colin, “I
heard a woman on the radio today and they seemed to be going through the
same as what I’m going through.” You said [to Doreen] that
they were intruding on family. And then the first time I really got a
word was when we went on the rally and Doreen spoke.
And I think you read out the letter, Doreen, that you had written; and
I was crying. I really was because I felt like Doreen had written for
every woman, could see themselves in that letter and I think everyone
was going up to Doreen saying how brilliant! But I was absolutely choking,
thinking this can’t go on. This is not just about the strike, or
crossing or not crossing the picket line. They used these men and then
they thought, “I think it’s about time now to get rid of them!"
They thought the morale was low. Everyone was on warnings. Men were frightened
to do anything wrong and I think they must have thought, “Right!
We’ll do it.” And they must have thought all the men would
just go away; but they didn’t. I don’t think they envisaged
the wives getting involved.
Two weeks after the strike started, I think it was 18 October 1995 we
were asked if we wanted to come to the meeting. It should have been on
the Tuesday. I came. I’d never been before. I didn’t know
where Transport House was. And I sat down in the foyer and nobody was
here! The door was open but everywhere else was locked up. I think it
was about half an hour before anyone else turned up. I don’t go
out of a night on my own and I came on the train that night and I remember
thinking, I was so determined that I wanted to get involved and do something
and it seemed the time [of the meeting] had been changed as well! It was
the next day, but I still came back! And we came to that very first meeting.
That’s when anyone was just asked if they had got any time to spare.
There was about 80 to 90 women; and there were a few stewards there.
Some women didn’t know anything about what was going on. I knew
everything. Well when I say “everything” - I knew what had
been happening and I was able to tell this woman next to me (I think she
was a “Torside Mum”) and she said, “Are you a Torside
wife?” And I said, “No my husband has been on the dockside
30 years.” And she said to me, “Ah, we feel awful.”
And I said, “Well, why? If it hadn’t been you it would have
been something else. We’ve all just got to keep together and fight
Then when all the stewards were answering questions she was saying to
me, “You already said that!” So she must have thought “She
knows everything!” But I’m looking at Doreen and other women
that were there and thinking…well they know as well. Well I think
that when everyone felt clear about what was happening I think the stewards
said, “You need to organise a committee.” No they didn’t
even say that at first.
Doreen: The dockers’ shop stewards rang our house and said, “Look
Doreen, would you be interested in starting a women’s group because
all the wives have indicated that they want to get involved.” So
I said, “Yes I don’t have a problem with that.” So I
came down and all the women were there. Sylvia Pye had come down because
we didn’t know how to form a committee so there was Bobby Moreton
and Kevin Roberts in the room with us and they said you need this and
you need that; you need a Chair, you need a Secretary; you need this,
you need that. Sylvia Pye said, “When we started we didn’t
have a clue but we muddled our way through and eventually it all fell
into place,” which of course it did.
BH: Did the stewards know you?
Doreen: Not really. What happened, you see, I’ve always been a busybody
(laughter). Since the men went back to work in 1989 I’d been making
my views known. They’d never actually met me but they were all aware
of my feelings from supporting the strike of 1989.
I knew about the Torside lads from my husband. I remember feeling furious.
I sent a letter to Jack Dempsey saying that we had no confidence in his
ability to represent the men and that we didn’t think that he was
doing a good job and we sent a copy to Bill Morris.
We got a reply from Bill Morris; and we waited weeks and I rang here [Transport
house in Liverpool], practically on a daily basis asking, “Has Jack
Dempsey replied to my letter? I haven’t had a reply from Jack Dempsey!”
I did that first, and several weeks later when Bobby Owen the union official
died and everybody went to the funeral and it was after that funeral that
we got a reply to our letter from Jack Dempsey. But in the February before
this dispute the men had all been moved. They were told that they either
signed this contract like the LCH [Liverpool Cargo Handling] men.
BH: That would be 1993?
Doreen: No! What happened with LCH was that when Torside came in they
were on a lesser rate than the dockers so what they used to do was, any
ships where you could make money, they’d cop the job. They could
make a lot of tonnage on that. They’d put the Torside on it where
they weren’t getting paid tonnage. And that was the type of thing
they started to do. Initially the LCH men were giving the Torside the
overtime but then they decided, well no, we can’t give them the
overtime; we’ve got to do our own overtime because they’re
not having to pay them. So there was a lot going on at LCH which complicates
BH: There’s two or three questions. First didn’t the LCH go
Doreen: What happened, we told the dockers it was absolutely booming,
I mean booming. The guy came in, the Christmas before, and said to them
you underestimate yourselves, you men. You’ve brought this company
from nothing to being renown throughout the world. Everybody knows about
Liverpool and Liverpool cargo handling. The port of Liverpool is booming,
LCH is booming, here’s a bottle of scotch. And he gave all the men
a bottle of scotch and when my husband came home I couldn’t believe
it because we didn’t have anything from the dock board. And as I
say, it was a bottle of Grant’s I think it was; the three cornered
box. We laughed about that because it was like a pat on the back - Well
done Lads! But what happened they then told them the work started going
less. It was a plan. It was all part of their plan. The told the dockers
you’re all going to Seaforth. So the dockers were going, well no.
This is our job here a LCH. There’s work here. This is our job -
we’re not going anywhere. So then the union representative came
up and said to them, ‘“You’re either sign these…”
There was an agreement put on the table - three times the men agreed the
terms and three times when the stewards went back they were told “That’s
off the table!”
Then the third time they came back (everything’s off the table).
[Employers]“You either take the money; £25,000 and go. You
go to Seaforth container base or we will liquidate. And then that’s
not just you out of a job - Torside are out of a job as well”.
Right! So they were forced to go to Seaforth. Others that felt that they
wouldn’t be able to handle it at Seaforth (they knew the hours and
all the rest of it) took the money.
BH: What was the connection? If they said, “If we liquidate that’s
Torside out of a job” what’s the connection?
Doreen: Well you see they were employed by LCH/Torside although they were
supposed to be an agency all their work was for Liverpool Cargo Handling.
So if Liverpool Cargo Handling liquidated as they threatened the men they
would if they didn’t sign these contracts there would be no work
Sue: They did the same with the timber. Once Colin had been forced to go
to Seaforth he… I remember him saying one day,” I’ve
got to go back and work on the timber”. I said, “Well I thought
you had been sent out of there?” He said, “Whatever has happened
they think they’ve had Torside working on, and the ship company
wasn’t happy with the work. It was shoddy the work. Because you
had the Torside lads that weren’t as well trained as the timber
men who had the job down to perfection. Everything was really running
perfectly and the ship owners they were going to pull out if they didn’t
get the original timber men back. So what they did in Seaforth was they
sent many of the timber people back to work and right the wrong - if you
know what I mean. I remember think if he goes back there - there were
some men that he didn’t think should have been left there that did
- I thought he might have said something but he didn’t. He was still
angry over the way they were all treated. But they went back. Did the
work and that was it.
BH: The Timber then went into Seaforth?
Sue: No the timber always stayed at the timber berth. But then what happened
was that they only used to use them when they needed them to put the mess
to rights. Colin used to come in and he used to say to me, “You
want to see the state of that quayside now where they have had everything
out!” I used to say to Colin where’s such and such. As big
as that timber berth was, Colin used to know where every piece of wood
from every part of the world [was kept].
Doreen: Liverpool is the only port in the world that does a mark [on the
cargo], so when a driver comes in you know exactly where the stuff is.
But that all went to pot.
Sue: What happened then was when these new contracts came out, they sacked
the men for refusing to cross the picket line; but who did they give the
contract to? They gave it to the Seaforth men. So what they probably wanted
to do no one on the timber got a contract amongst all the men in 1995.
Well, they sent 200 contracts out. And those 200 contracts were for the
container base. What they’ve done is that they’ve made the
timber men obsolete. So that was probably to become agency, or casual
labour. By the sounds of it that’s what they’ve done. They
have got the original men out of the way, brought the casual labour in
like Torside. But I remember saying to Colin, “Well who are they?”
Coastal didn’t get contracts - so it looks as if they just wanted
to run the container base but the 200 men didn’t sign the contracts
and that’s where it backfired on the company. Had those 200 men
gone in they would have been able to run that base and the other men would
have just had to go away because there wouldn’t have been enough
of them. They would have just had to go without anything and this is where
it backfired on the company. They must have thought, “They’ll
all be thinking, ‘Oh we’re alright, we’ll go in’.”
They didn’t think that these men had got principles and morals and
this is what the company didn’t think about. They thought everybody
was like them. They thought everyone was greedy and wanted their own living.
Doreen: When Charlie went to Seaforth he was sent to the container base
and he said that, “…we’ll have to play it by ear because
we don’t know the score.” In the first two weeks he’d
worked over 114 hours. So he went into the office and he said, “Well
I’m off next week, am I? I’m off now and I don’t come
in until a week next Monday. Is that right because I’ve done my
114 hours?” [They replied] “Oh, you can’t be doing that!
You can’t be doing that! You’ve got to come in!” So
he went in.
When he brought his first pay packet home from Seaforth I nearly collapsed!
Because he had a whole week of these extra days all at overtime rates.
I said that’s absolutely obscene. I said two families could live
a decent life style on that.
I said that’s absolutely outrageous. So he said, “I know;
but it won’t happen again.” He said that they had decided
that they wouldn’t work any days off.
If his day off was on the rota, he was having those days off and it didn’t
matter what they said and what they didn’t, they were the days off
and he was having them. I said, “Yes, that’s right.”
But you see what happened; whereas before your weekends were your days
off and they were overtime. What happened now, Saturday and Sunday were
just a normal day. You could be getting your day off on a Monday or a
Wednesday. So you were down to work 7.00 to 3.00 on the Monday, your day
off was Tuesday, you would get a phone call, “Come in at 11 o’clock
tonight, not at 7.00.” So you’d work 11.00 to 11.00 or 11.00
to 7.00, or 11.00 to whatever time they decided you could go and then
your day off would be on Tuesday. So you didn’t get your day off.
Sue: I said to Doreen, “You know, your Charlie made a stand and
didn’t do that.” Colin did the opposite. He worked, anything
they asked him and I used to say, “I don’t believe you…,”
and he’d go, “Look at this,” [but I’d say] “But
what can we do with it Colin? You could drop dead with a heart attack
tomorrow and I’m left a widow!” And Colin must have thought,
“Well I can earn it!”
Doreen: You know what would have been at the back of Colin’s mind?
The same that was at the back of all our minds, “This is going to
blow!” Because Seaforth was a time bomb! And the men reacted in
different ways. Some men thought: right we’ll work it at present
because it’s going to explode; I think that was the feeling. But
they all wanted to fight. They were all waiting for the explosion because
everybody knew it was just round the corner. [to Sue] Really, didn’t
you know? Seaforth was a time bomb. That’s why if people say it’s
because of Torside or wherever, I go, “No! Seaforth was ready to
blow!” And if it hadn’t been Torside it would have been something
Back to top
Dockers in Dispute
These following interviews with dockers in the middle of the 1995-98 struggle were made in 1996.
I left school when I was 15. Well I didn't learn much at school. I had ‘sagged' it at every opportunity. The c's were the bottom classes in a year and I progressed from 1c to 2c to 3c to 4c. Then, I kept wanting to leave and kept at my mother.
My aunty got me a job in the South end of Liverpool, in a factory that did chromium-plating, King and Fowlers. It was a horrible job. I was there for eight months and bloody hated it, but because my aunty had got me there I didn't want to let my aunty, my mum and my dad down. They used to say, “You don't know how lucky you are, your aunty got you the job.” But I absolutely hated it.
Anyway there came the time when I started to think about something that I'd always wanted to do: go away to sea. My uncles had all gone away to sea, and I started talking to my dad about it and he said, “Well if that's what you want to do, well have a go then.”
Well I did try to get on the British shipping pool, but at that time you had to be a certain height and a certain chest and I was small. At my size, I couldn't qualify to get an interview at the training school.
However, there was a Norwegian shipping pool at that time in Liverpool, and it was quite easy to go down and get a job on the Norwegian ships. They had a massive merchant fleet, but the population in Norway was only small.
I went down to the Norwegian shipping office and was told to bring one testimonial from school and one from where I'd worked.
I did that, and within two weeks I'd been for a medical and had my inoculation - which knocked me sick for two days - and then went away to sea. I went to sea in 1963 and finished up in 1968, when me dad got me the interview to start on the docks,
On the Norwegian ships
I was thrown in at the deep end and was sent up to Glasgow to join a tanker ship. My first trip was between Africa and Argentina. It was a six-month trip and I really enjoyed it.
I was paid off from this ship, and then joined a general cargo ship, the best I've been on.
On Norwegian ships at that time, there was a mixture of crews - you could sail with Spanish lads, Filipino lads and there were Polish people, Swedish, Danish, and, obviously, Norwegian.
I was a seaman until I was 21 years old. Now, let me just tell you a little thing about the sea I have to explain. It was a great education for me. I was never a clever pupil at school, and human nature-wise and common sense-wise, I learnt more about life, about people, about humanity, about how people live, in five years at sea than I ever learned at school.
It was an absolutely great education to have worked with different nationalities, to have lived with them and mixed with them, to have seen how other people lived in other countries.
The making of me
I grew up, in those five years – from 16 years old till I was 21 - when I finished going away to sea. I could honestly say that it had made more of a man of me, a better person. Not that I was a bad lad, but I just learnt more about life, about the everyday life of other people in other countries; it was a tremendous experience to me.
I've been all around the world. Three lovely months between Australia and Japan; I went down the whole of the East coast of America and then I went up the St Lawrence Seaway. I visited every port on the St Lawrence Seaway - Toronto, Montreal, Toledo and Ontario Chicago, Michigan. I also visited most ports of Europe – Spain, France, Norway and Germany.
I had to join the Norwegian union, being on Norwegian ships. I have to say that, for me, at that time it was a matter of joining only in order to get away to sea.
I didn't really get to know me dad, to tell you the truth, in fact what sticks in my memory, was that way that my mum would say, “Aye up: here's your father, get out the way, get your tea eaten, and get out.
My dad and his work
Everything for me revolved around me mam, if I wanted to go the baths or the pictures, if I wanted anything I dare not ask me dad. If you wanted three-pence or whatever, you'd ask me mam. One of his favourite sayings was: could you get blood out of a stone? I didn't really get to know him that well, he worked that hard, and sometimes he had a bad day and had a nark on.
My mam would have tea and toast for us in the morning, but my dad had been up early and made the fire, so we never saw him in the morning.
Then most times at night he'd work till 7 o'clock at night and he'd always religiously have a pint on the way home.
So he wouldn't really be getting in till 8 o'clock or 9 o'clock at night. He'd come in, have something to eat and then go to bed. We were in bed or we were out.
You could smell my dad when he came from work. You would smell fishmeal, oilcake, the hessian bags or whatever my dad had been working on in the docks that day.
Stories of my brothers
When my two older brothers became old enough to go on the docks, I remember them talking about what was going on at the docks and they told me about the pen where the men were hired.
Our John told me: "It's terrible down there Billy. Me and my dad and our Peter would go down to work, and go into this horrible pen. With dad being the breadwinner - it was a matter of us getting me dad hired first.” My dad was small. Like me, and our John would tell me, “You know, we have to give him a lift up, so the man doing the hiring can see him, in order for him to get his book taken.”
Only when he got a job, would our John and Peter try and fend for themselves, and try to get hired.
I remember them talking and arguing about it, and about the conditions and hours of work. I'm not saying that the older dockers didn't do anything about them, or tolerated the bad conditions and bad hours or anything.
It wasn't a case of that; it was a case at that time of having to do what they needed to do, to live. We were a family of five and, it was a matter for my dad of earning the money and keeping the homestead going. I remember them talking and arguing about the conditions.
Our John and Peter started in 1960, and knew how my dad had to shape up for work, and he told them that before there were the controls and the pens under cover, you had to stand out on street corners and your face had to fit to get hired.
I think from about 1963 onwards the younger element started to fight back on the Liverpool docks, not that the old fellows hadn't fought the bad conditions and bad hours, it wasn't a case of that. It was a case at that time of having to do it: my dad had five kids; it was a matter of earning the money and keeping the homestead going and everything. But the younger fellows had the chance, they wanted the money, and they didn't have kids like my dad.
Millions of people care
Just before this struggle broke out, I got the feeling that the labour movement wasn't what it was. I thought that eighteen years of the Tories had created a situation where it was ‘look after yourself' and no one cared any more. After fifteen months I can report that there are millions of people who still care.
There are workers in Britain who are still concerned - unfortunately, through lack of leadership from whatever union they belong to, and through lack of leadership from the Labour Party, they have got a little weaker economically, and scared. But there are still plenty of people who are willing to fight if there was a little bit of leadership shown from the top of their organisations. They need the confidence building into them.
What happened to the dockers in Liverpool - the introduction of the short term contracts, the longer hours, the removal of the health and safety - these attacks are happening all over Britain, all over Europe and in the best part of the world.
Back to top
BH: How did you come on the docks, what year, age?
Terry: I started on the docks in 1967, age 16. And I come direct from school. At the time, to be a docker, you needed someone in your family, usually your father. Because of the system, fathers passed the jobs onto their sons, or they put their names forward. The scheme that operated then was the National Dock Labour Scheme, and that was accepted by both the unions and the employers, that both sides could put forward names.
BH: so the names were put forward.
Terry: To be an actual registered dockworker you had to be over the age of 18, it might have been 21 but I think it was 18 at the time.
My father wasn't a docker, so the only way I could get on to the dock was through the staff, and I was given an opportunity on leaving school to go for an interview with a firm called T&G Harrisons at the time, who operated in the south end of Liverpool and Birkenhead. I was given the opportunity to go for an interview with them. I was accepted at the interview for a job on the docks, and so I was started at 16. I was put out on the quay after one week's training. They were both a shipping and a stevedoring firm.
BH: So you started as a clerical worker?
Terry: That's right. In your first training you were put out on the quay to work with dockers. At that time, it was, there was a hell of a lot of cargo which come in by road, so you were what was classed as checkers, working on the quays, checking the cargoes off the wagons that put them onto the quay. I was a what was classed as staff, we weren't registered.
You're talking about a young lad of 16 years of age, and politics, the trade union movement was something that a lad of that age didn't really take a lot of notice of. But there was quite a bit of unrest, at the time I joined the docks. It was just coming to the stage of decasualisation, so there was a lot of industrial unrest during 1967. I began to get my first understanding of what the trade union movement was. This was at the time of Devlin report.
The introduction into the union for me came at really a nasty type of moment. I was part of a young work team, working for the Harrison Line. Although we were doing what could be definitely classed as dock work, not one of us was a registered dockworker.
We were young lads who had just left school. The firm I worked for - and we only found this out later on, was renowned at hiring young kids and paying them very, very low wages. Certainly we got a lot less than what a registered dockworker, a checker would have been on.
It was all to do with undermining the Dock Labour Scheme at the time: they used to bring in young kids straight from school. I think I started on £5.10s a week and I think the going rate for a checker at the time was something like £17. There was a massive difference in the wages.
My first experience of the meaning of a trade union was during one of the national dock strikes - the 1967 strike - where every registered dockworker was out on strike, meaning that no ships could work within the port of Birkenhead or Liverpool.
There was still an employer that was trying to get cargo into the quays and because of our total lack of understanding of what the trade unions meant, we were the people that were used by the employer to try and break the dockers' strike at the time.
BH: They didn't get you loading?
Terry: No, no you could never load ships. But you could actually break the strike by putting cargo which was on a quay, back on to a wagon so they could take it out of the port.
Now at that stage we were met by experienced dock workers, shop stewards of the day who come down to tell us what we were doing was wrong and when we started on the docks, we should have all been taken into the Transport and General Workers Union.
So that was my first experience. It's a flashpoint experience when someone comes up to you and says, "You know what you're doing there, scabbing it, you shouldn't be doing that job,” and initial reaction is to stand your ground, is to argue your cause. But we soon were convinced that the arguments put forward by the dock stewards and by the dockers at the time were quite right.
We were being used by an employer to not only undermine the pay and conditions at the time, in 1967, but also to try and break a strike in a small way by loading cargo which was impounded on the quay because of the dispute, taking it off the quay and helping to get it shipped through another port. At the time, like, there was a staff union which had just started as part of the Transport and General Workers Union.
I think it started in ‘64, ‘65, and started to recruit the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked on the dock who weren't registered dockers. I think when I started there was something like 2 or 3,000 clerical workers, who were employed to do the documentation work.
The vast majority of these clerical workers were non-union. So after the initial experiences we had, talking with dock stewards, being told exactly that we were undermining pay and conditions, not just for ourselves but for the experienced dock workers, we started to take notice. So we joined the ACTSS, the staff union, just before the Christmas of 1967.
At that time we had a Labour government and there was a lot of debate and detail on what was classed as dock work, what was classed as non dock work. At the end of 1967 there was a big move then to get everyone who worked on the docks classed as registered dock workers.
That was my first experience and what the dockers were fighting for should affect everyone. Every time the dockers won benefits, i.e. better wages, better conditions, it went right through the system. Managers benefited, staff benefited, the staff who were in the union. Everyone benefited.
The dockers were the first to be able to do away with the compulsory work on a Saturday morning, and everyone benefited from that. Every time the dockers won a pay increase, the staff got a pay increase. Not because the staff fought for it; they automatically got it to keep in line with the registered dock workers' wages at the time.
Need for unity of staff and dockers
I joined the union, and from then on I was working with a number of people that were trying to make the staff union as powerful as the dockers union, to fight also for everyone on the docks to be classed as a registered dock worker.
Although we were both in the Transport and General Workers Union, we had our separate negotiating committees. In the 70s and 80s we failed to achieve a Joint Shop Stewards Committee.
We did have a Liaison Forum, but that usually only came into play when there was a major problem, like problems over new work and manning scales, over new jobs if there was an argument over who was going to do them - whether it should be a staff job or a registered job. In the 80s there was also a problem regarding redundancies because there were a number of stevedoring firms closing.
So we ended up having to form a Liaison Committee to try and sort the problems out when it was at the critical stage, where before there was very little dialogue between us in the initial stages. If we'd had the Joint Shop Stewards Committee at the time our relationship would have been a lot stronger.
As we moved towards 1989, there was an understanding by both sections that we did need to come together if we were to succeed in combating an employer, that we'd need to do it together.
To be divided on major issues like abolition of the scheme would have left the door wide open for the employer not just to work out on registered dock workers but also to take that a step further, and attack the staff and ancillary workers that work in the Port of Liverpool.
We'd come together on all the major political issues and during the miners' dispute for instance, over the unloading of coal by people who weren't registered dock workers.
BH: What about the steel strike? Were you together then?
Terry: That's right, the steel dispute I think brought us an awareness that we had to act together. The registered dock workers had given a lead; it was a big industrial issue of the day, the steel strike. They give a lead that they were gonna take action against firms who were loading or unloading steel, who weren't using registered dock workers.
They could do it on a national basis because it concerned registered dock workers. But within the various ports, I think it was only the likes of the staff that I belong to, who would actually support registered dock workers in their struggles. We were like the only unregistered type of workers who come along and supported the dock workers.
In the steel strike, in the miners' strike, and of course within the national dock strike itself in 1989.
BH: Now, in the miners' strike because that was important, I think there were two, weren't there two...
Terry: There were two issues of coal being loaded by non registered workers – Grimsby and Immingham. In Liverpool there were mass meetings of dock workers and they took action because the Dock Labour Scheme was breached, by employers backed up by the Tory government of the day. Any attacks on the Scheme were always faced with a united opposition as far as the registered workers on Merseyside were concerned.
The staff then would have to call their own mass meetings, which we did. And we'd have to then persuade our people of the benefits of going out and supporting that case, although we weren't registered.
BH: Did you have a fight?
Terry: In the early days it was a fight. There would always be a small number that would object to us going out whenever the registered lads went out. We could always win the argument, because you couldn't move away from the links we had won between the registered workers and the non registered workers in the Port of Liverpool.
They were there because they brought everything that we'd achieved regarding the pay, conditions, pensions, holiday entitlements, sickness entitlements - right down to our basic wage. Our basic wage of the staff was actually negotiated by the registered workers themselves.
They negotiated a wage system which included the checkers, who were clerical workers, registered clerical workers. And the wage system that they negotiated for the checkers would form the base rate for the staff, that would be the lowest rate for the staff. Then we would go in and meet an employer and we would build our differentials on top of that.
So we could always win the arguments as to why we had to support them, all the issues were so closely linked. In many ways, the way things have turned out now I think most of the people who are still working on the docks, who are classed as staff, fully understand now that it was the correct way to go about it, they were the correct decisions to take at the time.
BH: So what was relationship between dockers and clerical workers?
Terry: Well it varied all the time. Whenever there was a severance, it wouldn't just be registered dockers who went.
That was another benefit the staff won, if you can call it that. We were the only staff working on the docks who had a similar voluntary severance scheme as the registered dock workers.
When it was introduced for the dockers, I think it was the early 70s when the first severance scheme on the docks was to be £12,000 - then there was a similar severance scheme for the staff, who were not registered. Then our severance offer went up with the dockers' to £15,000, £22,000, till it was £35,000.
Reputation of the branch
BH: What about any changes inside the union?
Our branch - the 6/567 branch of the TGWU – had become known as one of the most progressive branches within the whole of the Region 6. Not only was the branch interested in issues connected with their own type of work on the docks, which would go for any branch, we were expanding into all areas, the political struggles of different countries, the political struggles within our own country, and of course the political argument within the union. We were concerned with Chile, South Africa, Namibia for example.
We were one of the branches, although we were an unregistered branch and a clerical branch, with a good record of supporting physically as well as monetary the major industrial issues that occurred in the 70s and 80s.
That is the steel, the coal, and disputes on Merseyside. I can recall the A1 Feeds dispute on the Dock Road, when an employer wanted to derecognise the union, and when he sacked all the workers who belonged to the union at the time. Dockers and staff workers picketed the firm and I think the staff were more prominent on the picket lines of A1 than the registered men at the time.
As people started to grow older and learn more, there was more of an awareness that you needed to go tackle issues and go right to the top, certainly within your own union movement. I would say in the late 70s and early 80s there was a growing understanding that we had to get people into key positions, that we had to get them on to the Trade Groups of the TGWU.
At the time we weren't in the Docks and Waterways group. Our trade group was the clerical one which was ACTSS. We were able, however, to successfully get people onto the ACTSS trade group committee, to expand the policies of the branch and the beliefs, and left wing beliefs, on the trade group.
And as we got more knowledge and became wiser, with greater recognition for the role we were playing on Merseyside, we were able to promote candidates and successfully get them into position on the Regional Committee of the union.
We had Labour Party members, and of course in the 80s our branch was heavily linked with the Militant tendency. Rightly or wrongly, we did have people who belonged to Militant. And I've got to say right away, that it wouldn't be for the cause of just coming in and selling the papers. The political issues that were raised by Militant tendency, at that time, had a bearing on what was happening in our place of work.
I think the first political meetings that I ever went to were Militant meetings. They would try and generate a discussion by coming down to the pubs on the Dock Road.
You know the great number of pubs that go up and down the length and breadth of the Dock Road; we would encourage debating meetings and hold them in some of these pubs. Militant was influential, but they weren't the dominant force.
There was the view by a lot of the activists of the day, that the employers on Merseyside were softer than the other port employers. In most of the ports, once abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme took place, the employers got rid of as many dock workers as they could with severance pay.
Those that were left made it absolutely clear there was going to be no recognition agreements with any union anymore in those ports. They were all issued with a contract of employment, either take it or leave it. If you leave it, that's your job, there's no job for you. So in no time the employer imposed total authority in all the big ports outside of Liverpool. They were the masters, and no one would question or argue with them. So they were able to get the casualisation of the port back into being long before Liverpool.
They seized on that opportunity right away in ‘89 and within a matter of months they'd succeeded in every aspect that they set out to do, to have a casual port again - the hire and fire of employees, no union being in the port. But in Liverpool we did come back to work with a recognition agreement: we come back to work with a shop stewards' movement - still a very progressive and buoyant shop stewards' movement - we came back with quite a large number of dock workers.
Again agreements continued, whereby workers could elect shop stewards, whereby we would have regular shop stewards meetings, and again we could start building up progressive policies to help dockers in future battles.
BH: How far did you get?
Terry: I think we were successful for a couple of years. But as I say, there was a view that most of the employers done their business of casualising in one fell swoop, but in Liverpool the employers were doing it bit by bit, take so much from you this year.
Employers aim – a port of casual workers
Some people thought our employers were good at keeping up recognition agreements, but they were no different from any other employer. They had a method of achieving the same goal doing it bit by bit with the same aim as other employers of having a casual port, a port without any stewards movement, a port whereby contracts of employment would be the name of the game rather than negotiating committees. they succeeded in that.
BH: Could you say something about how many clerical workers in the ports were involved in the struggle in ‘89.
Terry: It's easy just to tell the numbers of clerical workers, because we were the only ones in the country that were out – the only unregistered workers. Liverpool was the only one, the only grouping that supported the '89 strike, both the unofficial action, and also the official action.
There was the total realisation that we should just be one body, as I said before, one body moving forward whereby the employer couldn't use the divide and rule tactics. And if we could come to an understanding regarding representation, who represented us, who were the people that represented that group of people, then we should be able to progress. That was the argument that we put forward, we should be able to make progress.
Liverpool and London
I think coming up to ‘89 there was a strong view that if we were to be successful in taking on the Tory Government and actually winning the battle so that we maintain the National Dock Labour Scheme, the leaders were going to have to come from either Liverpool or London. That's where the lead would be.
There was a build up well before ‘89, I couldn't give you the exact number of years but way before ‘89, there was a feeling that we should have a National Port Stewards body. When you look at the make-up of the National Port Stewards' all the prominent people come from Liverpool. Jimmy Nolan was the Chairman of the National Stewards, and it was really the ideas of Liverpool that pushed it. I think the Secretary was Micky Fenn who was from London. There was that view that the leaders of a successful challenge against attacks on the Scheme would either be Liverpool or London and most likely it would be Liverpool.
BH: Why was that?
Terry: I think within all the registered ports there'd been a gradual erosion. Before the actual Dock Labour Scheme was abolished, there had been an erosion of it. The employers had made successful moves that I can recall in Hull, Southampton, to move from dockers, work that was always classed as registered work.
They'd actually made inroads into the Dock Labour Scheme before it was abolished. Now you can go through every major port up in Scotland, Southampton, and even the likes of Tilbury and you could see an employer being successful in that.
One thing the employers had never been able to do in Liverpool was to make inroads into the Scheme. Every job inside the dock gates when it comes to loading, unloading the ships, was done by a registered docker, including the coal terminals, which in 1989 were still classed as new work to Liverpool. We'd always had registered dock workers in attendance - you know they'd work alongside the experts - but there would be registered dock workers on every job where there was an unloading or discharging of ship.
So Liverpool I think had maintained the fight, been able to battle against employers, and keep the sphere of influence that registered dock workers had. In some other ports, however, the employers had already started to push dockers back.
Liverpool had been able to maintain full control on the loading and unloading of ships and actually keep it within the sphere of registered dock work. But I think another main thing was the fact that when it come to manning we'd always stuck out for better manning scales than other ports, such as eight holds-men down below. A lot of the manning levels that we had in Liverpool had been greatly reduced in other ports. In Liverpool we fought for manning scales more so than for better wages while in some other ports I think they decided, "Oh well we can sacrifice our manning levels if we can get improvements in wages etc."
And throughout the industry the employer was gradually eroding the number of registered workers that operated within the United Kingdom, way before the abolition of the Scheme. It was like a drip feed, they were doing it bit by bit. Every time a severance offer came out, the union's policy would be, "Well we don't negotiate severance, we have no part of severance. If an employer wants to make an offer then so be it, he makes it and if people want to leave then they leave on a voluntary basis." But what we were never ever able to achieve was that once a grouping had gone, we then couldn't go back to an employer and discuss recruitment. And all this undermined the Dock Labour Scheme. This led up to the 1989 dispute.
Again, just a personal point of view on the ‘89 strike. We had the official union that were making the right type of sounds.
Ron Todd was in charge of the T&G at that time. Docks and Waterways were always to the forefront as a trade group; of all of the policies that the union had adopted over the years, whenever it came to changing BDC [ Biennial Delegate Conference] policies, all of the political debates, all of the industrial discussion, I would think the Docks and Waterways was the most progressive of the trade groups.
Attack on National Dock Labour Scheme
So when the attack came, when Thatcher finally announced she was going to do away with the National Dock Labour Scheme, you did need a strong voice and a well organised plan of action to be ready and in force to take on the Tories. The union had made the right type of noises; Ron Todd was making the right type of statements. He told the Prime Minister, “You go ahead and abolish the Scheme, you expect one of the biggest battles that you've ever had in your reign as Prime Minister."
That was the type of statement he'd come back to Thatcher on. In reality though, the actual organising on the ground, the organising of a campaign to fight the Government, to financially maintain a struggle against the Government, was not taking place.
Neither did the union prepare to defeat the Government on the international front. All that type of organising was done by the unofficial movement - the National Port Shop Stewards body. When you look back now in hindsight, all the official union were doing was making the right type of statements to the press.
It was down to the unofficial movement to make the physical moves against the Tory Government. And even that was starting to get undermined in many ways by, in my view, by union officials who would pick on the weaker ports, and try and cause a split by them, a breakaway from the National Port Shop Stewards' movement, saying, “You've got to stay within the bounds or the confines of the T&G. We're the union that will make the policy, you've got to carry out the policy that we decide.” So they created a bit of a split between the official union and the unofficial movement instead of working together. There was a feeling that they were starting to drift apart from us.
Todd, the leader of the union, made some good statements. I wouldn't fault the wording of some of his statements. But what you'd fault is that there was never any moves to organise a struggle on a national basis and try for international support.
Here in Liverpool we thought that the dockers should be prepared ready for a national fight, but in certain ports like Southampton, the union had already been doing business with the employers and negotiating what type of pay and conditions would operate when the Scheme was abolished, and so undermining a national fight. The national union was facing both ways at the same time.
They were saying, "Officially we're fully behind the dock workers in their fight for the Scheme, and we've put so many millions aside to make sure that the battle is successful, and we'll pull out all the stops." But at the same time they were saying that they would have their senior officials sitting down in face to face talks with the employers, as in Southampton, discussing what methods of pay and condition would be in being once the Scheme had gone. It was hypocritical.
Feeling of resignation
Thinking about the dockers in Liverpool, I felt that at this stage, after the 1985 miners' defeat, there was a feeling of resignation that if you were to take on the Government, no matter how just your fight was, that you would lose. Within a matter of weeks it was over. There was talk about how we could go the whole hog; we could actually go past the miners, the 12, 14 months of the miners' dispute.
I don't think anyone actually thought we would have collapsed so quickly but there was the feeling that at some given time abolition would take place, but there was the hope that during the fight we would have been able to achieve certain things would have made the abolition of the Scheme a lot easier to bear. But we didn't do that, we couldn't do that. One of the telling factors was the Government had decided to put so many millions of pounds to buy people off, to buy people's jobs off them. So in every major port we were organising for a struggle, at the same time some of the troops were organising to actually take what the severance offer was, and leave. So again that wasn't a good situation to have.
In Liverpool during the strike
The general feeling in Liverpool was that we were the first out, and we would be the last to go back. We'd seen what we would class as some treacherous moves in undermining and actually selling out the dispute.
If you're talking about actually getting into a fight with someone as powerful as the Tory Government, we were sort of defeated before we even had the chance to take our coats off. And a lot of that was due to the undermining of ports such as Southampton. There's the disaster of what happened at Tilbury docks again, where in a matter of days the shop stewards' movement there had been sacked.
There was still a willingness within Liverpool to maintain a battle, to try and get a register within Liverpool, to try and keep the pay and conditions in the system that we had in being. And to a large extent we succeeded in that, in '89, because when we actually come back to work - it's been well documented - we marched back to work with our heads held high. There was a view that we could have achieved a lot more from our employers in Liverpool but the union had pulled the rug from underneath us. We had arrived at a situation in 1989 whereby every major port had gone back, or people had taken the money and left. Liverpool was still out fighting with their employer.
The national union stepped in and said to a mass meeting of dockers, "you've got to go back." So we were going back without achieving the aims that we thought we could have achieved. We did go back to work with a recognition agreement with the TGWU, and with a shop stewards' movement still a very progressive and buoyant shop stewards' movement. So on that side of it we were successful. Again we could elect shop stewards, we would have regular shop stewards meetings, and again we could start building up progressive policies.
Back to top
My Dad got me down the dock 1972; he'd been down the dock since before the war. He came back after the war and went back down there in 1945.
He was on those docks 40 - odd years till tragically, he got hurt. He nearly lost his legs and he could never go down there again.
Seven ton of steel fell on my Dad's legs when he was discharging a wagon – “stowing back”, as we called it. My uncle Ted died on the docks after being down there 50 years. All my uncles were down there, and most of my cousins.
BH: Now when did you become a steward?
Frank: 1981. The conditions by then had improved a hell of a lot. I can go back to the time when my Dad was on the dock and he was working to 7 o'clock of a night, and Saturday mornings and Sundays.
You had to work those hours if you were lucky enough to get them, to keep the family going - 7 o'clocks and working Sundays when they were really busy - even this would only put a few bob in your pocket to have a drink.
The filthy cargoes
The degrading jobs had mostly gone. We still had a lot of dirty jobs, like the bones. The City boats and another line that went out to India, came back with fertilisers, dry bloods, hoofing horn, dried bones, and ground bones.
They were filthy cargoes. You could smell yourself, never mind other people smelling you.
After the 1967 strike, if you got a good job you could earn a few bob, unlike pre '67. The stewards fought for the piece rates and a higher rate per ton for those commodities.
I didn't like going on them, but you know you got sent; you had to work where you got sent. But those jobs started to dwindle away with the birth of containerisation when a lot of them were then put into containers.
The conditions improved a great deal mainly because of the 1967 strike. However, up to 1972, we had what was, in effect, compulsory overtime. Men were disciplined for not working overtime. Our ‘normal day’ was from 8 o’clock till seven.
In 1972 we got the abolition of the 7 o’clocks. That fight was led by the old stewards, Jimmy Nolan, Dennis Kelly, Jimmy Symes and others.
They managed to get an intake on the docks and cut the ten-hour day down and work the three-shift system. We worked 8am to 5pm, 5pm to 11pm and 11pm to 7am. Hours really went down. In the ‘twilight shift’ – 5pm to 11pm - we were only doing thirty hours a week.
The degrading jobs had mostly gone, but there were still a lot of dirty jobs. Where I was, at the West Coast we worked generally on the Vestey Line which was mainly chilled and frozen meats, but we had the Lambert and Holt Line boats which came in from South America with corned beef and a lot of bags.
The stewards got good piecework prices for the lads on those jobs. It was so much a ton for those commodities and they used to have a few bob in them. If you got a good job, you could earn a few bob, unlike pre-1967.
The touch on the shoulder
The old system of hiring had gone. We worked for companies. There was still a pen system but you didn't get ‘touched on the arm’ to signify you were hired. The foreman never went into the pen. The pen would get the orders the night before or that morning, depending when the ship was in. Your book would be behind the counter, and you'd get hired as your book came up.
It was a fair system although it was open to a bit of abuse, but all-in-all it was a lot better than the foreman reaching over men to tap another man because he'd had a pint off him from the day before.
We always had shop stewards in the pen and they made sure the hire was according to agreements. If you had any complaints about the hire, you'd see the steward and he would see the management and sort it out for you. We had seven stewards in the West Coast and one of them would be down at each hire, whether it be days, nights or 'twilight'. Nine times out of ten you'd get a complaint sorted out within a ten-minute time scale.
The Torside sackings
Then they sacked young lads of our own, sons, nephews, brothers of some of the dockers, and I think the dock was in the right mood to say "enough is enough, you're not getting away with that, we're going to challenge you, and we're going to challenge you on everything."
In 1995 the youngest docker was about 43 years old - that was the baby on the docks and it did need a younger element because everyone can say that they can do the job but to drive that heavy plant you have got to be young and you have got to be fit: most of all you have got to have 100% concentration. So the employers needed them down and the union needed these lads. This is a young man's job for people up in those cranes and straddles for eight hours. I don't care what anyone says there is more thought, commitment and concentration needed driving those straddles and gantries round that berth than any HGV license holder driver or wagon driver requires.
It is a horrible thing to blame them. I'm not blaming any man for taking the money in 1989. But if they had waited two years there would never have been in this fiasco, we would have been a lot stronger, with a lot younger workforce.
You are 30/40 feet up in the air driving these straddles and you have to keep your eye on the floor and corners all the time. There are no safety mirrors and there are blind corners. And they had to still chase the job, going looking for boxes in certain rows, certain rows, certain rows...Plus you had all the other straddles on. If there were two or three ships in that berth you would have 12 or 15 straddles running round that berth - because what ever was loaded up the berth had to be loaded on to wagons which the delivery straddles had to do.
You know, it was a confined space with these monsters running round. At least with a wagon driver on a straight road all he has to do is to keep his eye on the wagon or the car in front of him. But these poor fellows had to have 18 pairs of eyes in their head to look round corners. Now your gantry driver was different. A gantry driver had to pick the boxes up and he would be the one that would keep it going. Now he would be 200 feet up in the air. He would be loading ships with men down below. He would be landing on top of men and meanwhile the men are lashing and he's got to keep his eye on that. Sometimes there are what we call slots [between stacked containers] and the other containers have to go right down the slots. Even today many ships come into Liverpool and it’s semi-locking. You have got to put your four corner locks in and the straddle driver would come or the gantry driver and he would have to be lowering it and you would have men round pushing it. He's got to keep his eye on the men. It is a very highly skilled job and your concentration has got to be 100%. Because if your concentration is not 100% you could leave a lot of injuries knocking round.
The law of the land says that HGV drivers can only drive so many hours at a time but our men were doing eight hours a day down there. If you drive a straddle round Seaforth you are on the go all the time, especially ship-wise. To keep the ratio – boxes shifted per hour - they have to drive very fast.
There are people walking round those sites, there are containers all over the place, two high, there are avenues enough for a straddle to get up. You had your planners and your observers round, and the foreman would be checking all the time.
It was still a pen system, but you weren’t getting touched on the arm. You put your book behind the counter and it all depended on what time your book got in, how many ships were in, and soon. No one could come and tap you on the arm, it was a fair system, your book was behind the counter, it was put into slots and they used to take the slots out from the front and you'd get hired as your book was put in. It was not like the old way when the foreman used to come down in front of a rail and take in the docker’s books to hire him.
All in all it is a lot fairer system than the old one we fought to remove - getting touched on the shoulder and someone reaching across three men to tap a man in the third row because he's had a pint off him the day before. You know, so it was really out and out, 90%, fairer system.
That finished in 1967-68 after the strike and the decasualisation.
The hiring system
They put you into companies; the foreman never came into the pen. The pen would get the orders the night before or that morning, depending on when the ship was in. And say one ship needed three or four gangs, your book would be behind the counter and you'd get allocated to work from where you book was.
We always had a shop steward in the pen and made sure that the hire was according to the agreements. If you had any discrepancy in the hire you'd go and see the steward and the steward would go behind the counter and sort it out for you. That was one of the nicest things about the new type of pen; after ‘67 we had six or seven stewards in the West Coast, and one of them would be down on each hire, whether it be days, nights, or twilight shift, they would be there for any discrepancies whatsoever. You could always get your steward and your steward would go and see the management.
Nine times out of ten you'd get sorted out within the 10 minutes, quarter of an hour time scale.
It was a lot easier, a lot cleaner and it was better all around for the men, plus the stewards and plus the employers. You know there was no arguments about, “Your book was here or your book was there” or “You tapped the wrong fella on the shoulder”. It was a lot cleaner, it cut favouritism right down although there could still be some wheeling and dealing with your books, but the stewards were there to watch that.
BH: How would you divide it up into periods? How long did you have the idea that you were in a job that was going to last, and better, that something big had been achieved?
Frank: Well there's always been voluntary severance on the docks since the Scheme came into being.
It was a time of change because the older elements was taking the severance, and it was with dignity, and they deserved it. If they'd been down there all their lives, we felt they should have something. It wasn't a vast amount of money, I think it only started with a couple of hundred pounds, it went up to £1,800, and it went up about five or six times to reach the stage of £35,000 when they got a lot of people who just bailed out.
A lot of young people seeing £35,000 thought they were going to be millionaires. Unfortunately they were mistaken, because you see them walking around the town now, in fact you see a few of the ones with £35,000 who have actually gone back down the dock during this dispute - who are scabbing it on us.
But the times of great change came, I believe, in the later 70s, early 80s, when the job was getting stabilised, and that carried on then until about 1985 with the workforce stabilised.
There was new working, containerisation, bulk commodities, packaged goods. The stacker truck pallet board operating came in. They didn't need the vast amount of men that they had on ships previously, and obviously that threw a surplus up, but we'd already and always maintained that there'd never be a man made redundant on the dock, he'd have to leave voluntarily.
But Glasgow, London and Liverpool, their surplus was vast because of the vast workforces that they had, and the agreements that we had where we kept the eight men down below even though the wages weren't significantly, they weren't significantly lower than the port that had already done agreements over four men and six men down below, and short-handed on the quay with a higher rate of pay, which [meant] they were able to get rid of their surpluses many years before we got rid of ours.
Around '85, '86, '87, the Port of London, Glasgow and Liverpool, they were the first ones where the Government set a final severance offer of £35,000. Now all the other ports, Southampton, Bristol, big ports who were registered, they were still on £25,000.
BH: There was the stick behind the carrot.
Frank: The carrot with a stick behind their back, that's a good way of putting it, Bill, yes, it came really to a head just before '89.
I've always been a great believer that the unions should never have had anything to do with severances whether they be voluntary or semi-imposed severances. Because I've always said that the union's job is to make work and to keep a workforce on. And if a man wants to leave, it doesn't matter who they are, the union's not going to stop them leaving, so I've always believed that the union should never ever associate themselves, physically or even speaking across the table with employers over severances.
I'm quite proud to be associated with that.
I think everyone knew that our day was coming shortly, or very very swiftly. It wasn't coming slow, we knew it quite well it was going to come. But at least we lasted till '89 before they did us.
I thought they'd come for us about '85, '86, but Mrs Thatcher had to recover from the Miners - the fiasco over the Miners when they closed the 81 pits in 1984. I think that took a lot out of that Government of the day.
I still don't think they could have sustained an all-out dock strike, except by using taxpayers’ money to dismiss people and really to buy people's jobs on promises that they were going to create 50,000 jobs on the docks full time, and this new magic market would come in.
Clearly it's a capitalist way of thinking and it's capitalist dogma that people believed. I certainly didn't believe it and none of the shop stewards in Liverpool believed it. But in a way we'd let too many men go prior to 1989, and then right after 1989 it became a deluge, people left: right, left and centre.
The greatest tragedy was that three quarters of the old shop stewards registered dock worker side - left the industry, and it left us with a great void - how to catch up? Which way to turn?
The stewards that were left, especially the ACTSS stewards who came in when they took their identification away as well as taking our identification away, they became Port Operatives, POWs, Port Operative Workers or whatever they used to call them they did a great job but they never filled the void completely.
If the men had stayed in the industry instead of taking £35,000, because they were scared of the future, I still believe that we could have fought the sacking and we could have maintained the union agreements, we could have sustained the people that were down there, and got them proper jobs - maybe for two years we could have held everything.
Then if the people wanted to leave when they were offered £35,000 they could have left, there would have been no such thing as Torside because the older element or the people that were, as the Dock Company used to say 'untrainable', because of age, and illnesses, because the job contained itself if you'd done 30, 40 years down there you hadn't got arthritis, lumbago or anything, any problems like that, chest problems, you're not human! The employers would have had to negotiate to bring that younger element down, and that younger element would have come down to drive the heavy plant, because it is still a young man's job down there for people up in those cranes for 8 hours. I don't give a care what anyone says.
No doubt in my mind that the Torside lads who were brought down were a smashing crowd of fellas. I worked with them all. I think they're the best bunch of lads you'd ever hope to meet, Bill, and I'm talking about trade union, I'm talking about the lads who have remained with us. Some of the lads, Torside lads, they have cut and run. They've found employment elsewhere, and they've found careers, and good luck to them. I don't want to see them again. But actually the lads who have stayed with us, the young bloods, the young Jenkses, young Davieses and all that, you couldn't hope to meet a better crowd of lads. And I'm not leaving anyone out there, it's just names that have just popped into my head. But you know the tragedy of this is that it couldn't have been averted, it couldn't have been. You know people say 'it could have been averted' but they'd laid their plans down. I think the beginning of it was the agreement in 1993 reintroducing 12 hour shifts, 10 hour shifts, 6 hour shifts and 4 hour shifts. You had to accumulate 117 hours over a three-week period. To me that was the beginning of the end, when Saturdays became Wednesdays and Sunday became Tuesday. You know, and there was no such thing as Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, May Day, which is historical because I still believe that May Day was only brought about in this country through the action of the Liverpool docker, any road. And to take them off us under agreements with officials of the union, I'm not saying the union itself, an official of the union, brought in by inexperienced shop stewards after the derecognition of the mainstay of the shop stewards’ movement. No disrespect to them lads but they were kidded by the docks officials of this union. Plus by the employers, the employers saying that they were going to give them three months notice and finish them up and advertise for their jobs. The men, rightly so, were worried. And the haste, and how the union got it through, left a bitter taste in my mouth; more than likely left a bitter taste in the lads who are still down there's mouths. Because I want to know how, in God's holy name, that this union of ours can allow us to have a show of hands, which is, under a BDC [Biennial Delegate Conference policy] any road, for wages and conditions, they allow you to have a show of hands, and a show of hands has unanimously rejected the deal that the employers and the union had recommended, and then come back in 48 hours saying that it had had accountants down, the union's accountants down to check the books, and the Dock Board were losing two and a half million per annum, blah blah blah, and there's only one way of saving your job, and not to be made redundant or the firm to close down, Seaforth, which they were threatening and all that, was to accept this deal.
BH: And what year was that?
Frank: 1993, the democratic show of hands, the docks official brought the ballot box in. Now it wasn't an official ballot, it wasn't recognised by the Electoral Reform, it wasn't recognised by any senior officials in the union, when I say senior officials I'm talking about national senior officials, it was purely done on the whims of the docks officer here. There was no one to oversee the ballot, only him and the shop stewards, and it went through by about three votes. Now in God's holy name, it wasn't a vote for strike action, it was just a vote not to change their standards and conditions. That's all it was for. So, he can make this catastrophic change which consisted of the men getting every bit of free time, every bit of family life, now to take a drop, a substantial drop, maybe some people to £7,000 per annum, and how he could take that on a matter of three votes is to me, it's mind boggling, mind boggling completely. But there again he done it. Now the first agreement was for 10 hours, that was all that was done, they made an agreement for 10 hours, but the employers said that they'd have like a Monitoring Committee, and they would take all the bad things out of the Agreement and the things that didn't seem to work. Instead of doing that the Monitoring Committee, whoever the Monitoring Committee was.
BH: Don't you know?
Frank: I believe the Monitoring Committee was, because I've asked this question five or six times to Mr. Dempsey, and I will quote Mr. Dempsey this time, I asked him five or six times in mass meetings “Who were the Monitoring Committee that put 12 hour shifts in when the Agreement was only for 10? Who were the Monitoring Committee that split the days off?” because the agreement was for two consecutive days off, same as Saturday and Sunday, Saturday and Sunday fall the day after one another, and our lads that were enjoying it in the first few weeks or the first few months of the agreement, that the consecutive days off would apply instead of having one day off one week and three days off the next week, that when it was slack they gave you three days off, and if it was busy they gave you one day off. If it was busy during the week you might get a Monday and you might get a Friday off, or you might get a Tuesday and you might get the following Monday off, but there was no such thing as a week. There was a seven-day period, there was a seven-day cycle, there was no such thing as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. There was no such thing as that; there was a seven-day cycle. And you were supposed to have two consecutive days off within them seven days. Then they started giving you one day and three days, they started splitting the days so you'd have a Monday and you'd have a Wednesday, or you'd have a Wednesday and a Saturday, so this was never part of the agreement, it was never part of what the lads voted on only a few months previous to that. If all this would have came out I'm positive it would have been more than three votes, voting against the agreement. But the agreement was badgered in, the men were badgered, they were actually blackmailed with lies and innuendoes of what it could be like, and they accepted the agreement. Now I don't blame the lads for that, that's up to themselves. Everyone, everyone democratic and everyone will voice their own opinion and they'll vote whichever way their own opinion takes them. But the deal that was in Seaforth six months after that agreement was nothing like the agreement that the men had voted on. And it wasn't done by the men, no one ever brought it back to the men and said, "Hey boys, it's not 10 hours, now you've got to work 12, you've got to work from three o'clock in the afternoon till three o'clock in the morning, you've got to work from seven o'clock on a Saturday to seven o'clock, then get phoned up at eight or nine o'clock in the house to tell them 'you're out again seven o'clock the next morning,' or 'you're out again 11 o'clock the next night,' or 'you're out again 1 o'clock the next morning'." Your shift patterns could change three and four times in a week, which destabilised the body. No human body can take, if you're working 12 hours non-stop and getting it changed three times in a week, you could be out seven till seven, then you could be out one till 11, then you could be out seven till seven, then you could be out the next night seven o'clock at night till seven o'clock in the morning. No human body can take that, it just destabilises the whole being of yourself. And you know, this is what was introduced in '93, this disgusting, it must have been, and I've seen, by God, over the years that I've been in the union and being, mainly being a shop steward for so many years, I've heard and seen some agreements that I thought were barbaric. But bloody hell, it looked like Coney Island beach, the agreement that the union done down there for the Liverpool docker.
So that happened, then the lads finally after a couple of years they were saying "we can't take this no more", they were absolutely, they were zombies walking round the base. They were, Jimmy Nolan likes to use the word, it's not a word I'm pinching off him but they were dehumanised.
BH: How many on the dock were under those conditions?
Frank: In the end, it was only Seaforth in the beginning, and then they started, they had satellite companies and they started, the first one they closed down was the Timber. They kept Timber away from Seaforth, they sent 30, 40%, 50% in some cases of their timber went through Birkenhead, where they opened up a new satellite company. See timber is only seasonal work any road, so the timber that was coming in got diverted to Birkenhead. And they took the opportunity then of not closing the Timber down, but what they did they kept the Timber there with a skeleton crew and pushed the men into Seaforth. The old Timber men went into Seaforth under these agreements. They closed me own company down in Birkenhead, which was a satellite company of the Dock Company, the Dock Company owned 51% of us through wheeling and dealing, they put us into Seaforth.
BH: What was it?
Frank: Mersey Bulk or something, I don't know what the bloody hell it was, the names had been changed that many times, Bill, you lost count of them. They put us into Seaforth. Then they closed the old traditional general cargo area down, put them into Seaforth. So it was every dock labourer, ex-registered, and every ACTSS man, ex-registered, except for this skeleton crew that they had in the Grain, in the Timber, we had the small amount of men that pre-‘89, the Grain, they didn't have a fifth of what used to go there. Coastal Containers, 20-odd men, and 30-odd men in the Norse Irish. All the rest were under this regime.
BH: The Torside lads had their own?
Frank: The Torside lads were left in the LCH, in the Liverpool Cargo Handling, which I'll come on to now. The agreement was with the Timber that we'd supply the labour from Seaforth, which they always stated that Torside would never work direct to the Dock Company. That was an agreement that they had with the union. Within a week of the men moving out of the Timber, the first big timber boat came in, we had men who were unassigned from Seaforth who never went there, they sent the Torside lads there, breaking an agreement. Which we let go through this union. The LCH lads all removed from the general cargo under the cast iron guarantee that Torside would be the ones to do the job there. Torside were the ones, under the same agreement that we had, then they started getting Torside on the two-hour block payments, "you're only getting one for this, you've got to do this, you've got to do that". It became like a tyrannical system, as where the old supervision, the supervisors and especially the new supervisors that came through the Dock Company, didn't know the front end of the ship from the back end, they didn't know a hatch from the black hole of Calcutta.
BH: Were they accountants?
Frank: No, no they weren't accountants, they just dragged them out of offices and give them supervisors’ jobs loading and discharging ships. And they'd always be, not subdued by the old dock workers, but the old dock workers through the auspices of negotiating agreements, they could not touch us because we wouldn't take no notice of them because we've forgot more than they'll ever know about ships, the discharging and loading of ships. But they seemed to take great pride in actually torturing the Torside lads verbally and constructively through the hours they were expecting them to work and what they wanted them to do, and they thought themselves that they were traditionally the old warehouse bosses, where the lads had to do it or otherwise "there's the gate, you can go out or you can stay in and do the job as we tell you to do it".
BH: On the Torside lads, in the agreement by which they came in, wasn't it that the union promised that agreement in which the dockers, in order to get lads jobs, that they promised it would only be a three months, that they would…
Frank: No, no it came down on the auspices of the docks officers at the time convincing the shop stewards that within six months along with his help and the stewards help that he would have them on the same wages and conditions within six months, which never materialised. You know it still never materialised till the day we got sacked.
BH: Symes left?
Frank: Symes left, yeah, and Dempsey took over. But Symes was here at the birth of Torside, and Dempsey was here at the death of it. And, to my recollection, and I've got a good memory, is that the union, and it's wrong to say the union but it's better than mentioning the officer's name, because I can always defend meself, I'll defend the union.
BH: The union officially?
Frank: The official side of this union never helped them lads one little bit. They never got them wet weather gear, they never got them any safety equipment, the only equipment they had was a yellow hat, walking around with a yellow hat. They never had the boiler suit. It went back, when I first came on the docks, well we never got no boiler suits or wet weather gear.
BH: They were working…
Frank: They were working with their ordinary clothes on…
BH: like the old days, that was 1967…
BH: You got the boiler suits?
Frank: No, it went on until about '74, '75 where we used to get the yellow coats and all that. But we fought for them, we got them yellow coats in the end, but it certainly wasn't the official side of the union that got them in. You know, they let them lads just come to work and go home with the same gear that they had on, which was deplorable. You know, they fought to get these lads down, it wasn't the union and it wasn't the men who wanted these lads down, it was the employers. The employers were desperate for a workforce, because the employers had let too many men go, from '89 to '91 they let too many men go on bloody severance. They didn't give a care because they weren't paying a penny, and anyone who wanted the money could go. When they sat back and took stock, and realised the extent that they'd undermanned, no matter with the lads working overtime, and you know the lads did work overtime and it was the remuneration of what they were getting, because they were getting a hell of a good money because they earned a hell of a lot of money, Bill. But that overtime could only go, because the human body can only work so many hours overtime. And it ended up that they had overstretched themselves by letting so many men go. So they were desperate for a young workforce to come in to fill the void that these had created for themselves. So that is why they came down, and that is where it goes back to me first argument, if our lads would have stayed till 1991, '92, then took the money, let us take stock of ourselves, let us get back to…
BH: Would you say out of that they maybe miscalculated?
Frank: Really what it was, they got away with four years of, not turmoil, but they thought we'd take them on over the Torside before this. Now but no, we said to the Torside, "You're only in your infancies, you get yourselves sorted out, we'll support you 100% in every way we can for you to achieve a standard of living at wages, conditions, comparable with ours." And we tried; we tried everything to achieve this. But we were blocked, because the employers started taking us on at the same time. So we were, let's say we were fettered for a couple of years, till, I believe personally that there was no option on our side, when the employers, they'd sickened us. So the time was right to say "Hey, enough is enough, we're not putting no more".
BH: But there's a number who, even the Torside lads themselves, who say, "If it hadn't happened there it would have happened somewhere else."
Frank: Well, I don't know where else it would have happened, Bill, you see, the Dock Company had tried to force us on over these wages, conditions, on the contracts them men were signing, this dis-recognising of shop stewards, and we'd fought it off, and the time wasn't right for us to take them on. I think, if we were playing cards, their trump card was Torside. They were always going to play that card. You know, so it didn't worry me one bit. It doesn't worry me one bit because I knew in my own heart and soul that the trump card that they were going to play was Torside, and they duly obliged. And they played the Torside card by sacking young lads, and young lads who had came down this dock, not on great money, they were only on £160 a week, which was deplorable money for its time, expecting to work, no intention whatsoever to work overtime, the overtime was in blocks of hours of two which was our agreement, but when we went onto an incentive bonus, them lads would be down there earning our money. They'd be actually earning bonus for us and nothing for themselves. But they worked bloody hard, they done ships as quick as us. But they went down there and pulled the Dock Company out of the proverbial cack. The Dock Board company had put themselves behind the 8 ball themselves, and these lads went down there on £160 a week, under the promises, and under the suggestions from the union, never challenged by the employers by the way, the employers never challenged us when we used to get up at mass meetings and say "these are going to be on the same wages and conditions, we're going to work for their same wages and conditions as us", and we hoped to achieve within six months. And the employers never challenged on it, the union never challenged us on it, because it was also suggested by the union that they'd come along with us to try and achieve this. But them lads came down £160 a week, and they came down to save the Dock Board's bacon, the Dock Company's bacon. But the Dock Company had overstretched itself, it had too much work, too little men, and they needed a new workforce. Now they knew they couldn't get casuals in, we wouldn't have stood for casuals. So they had to form this company. They formed it with Bernard Bradley, they were paying the majority of the wages, because Bernard Bradley used to start crying, "Frank, I've got 54% down time this year, I've got to go to the bank." I wanted to know what bank manager where you've got 80 odd lads on, and if you've got 54% down time in a 12 months period, it's more than £30,000 wages. Now he only got £35,000 in 1989 himself. But he went back to the bank manager three years on the run. He had no collateral; he never had a stacker truck. All he had was an agency for hiring labour. Which bank manager in them times, because they were bad times then for the economy and everything, and banks had stopped lending people with collateral, they'd cut down and curtailed their amount of borrowing, but this fella found a lovely bank manager that was willing to pay the Torside wage for three years. A load of nonsense. He went out, he's not bankrupt, all his assets whatever they were, was a phone, that's all he had was a phone and a desk and an office, maybe a typewriter, but all his assets have staved him off of bankruptcy. Who saved him from bankruptcy? That's what I want to know. If he could answer me that, for all the money that he borrowed off the banks, and the union officials used to tell us this, he'd had to go and borrow money off the bank for the men's wages. Yet that man is still solvent, that company Torside is still solvent. No creditor has took him to court, no bank has took him to court. And let's face it; the banks are the first in. Because if you've borrowed money from a bank, before you've had any wages, your lads' wages, that bank will take what you owe it. Now there's never been nothing in the paper, nothing to my recollection, since this strike begin, or till this dispute began, that any bank has took the owners of Torside to court to retrieve the hundreds of thousands of pounds that he borrowed to pay the men's wages. So maybe the Dock Company had paid the wages, maybe the Dock Company were paying the wages all along. That's my recollection of it and almost, I'll go to me grave not doubting a word that I've said over the Torside affair.
Well May Day, and even New Year's Day, now the docker in Liverpool never worked New Year's Day. He wouldn't go in, and he'd lose his holiday money, but he refused to work New Year's Day. Even before that, he refused to work May Day. And when I say May Day, I mean the 1st of May. If May Day fell on a Saturday or a Sunday, it was good because he never lost no money. But if it fell on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, he took that off and he lost a day's pay. And he done this for many many years. He went out and fought for it inside the trade union movement. This was Liverpool by the way, you can look through the National Committee minutes and even the Executive Committee minutes, of where we fought through the union to bombard the TUC and bombard whichever Government was sitting at the time, that May Day should be a bank holiday for the working class of Great Britain. And in the end we got it conceded. But ours was the main industry at the time, ours was a big industry. We had 18, 20, 20-odd thousand. But not only that, you had the ancillary workers and the ACTSS workers who refused to come in May Day. The Port of Liverpool used to get closed down from 12 o'clock on the 30th of April to 12 o'clock the 1st of May. Them 24 hours were sacrosanct for the men in the Liverpool docks, which was, you could say at the time, 30-odd thousand people, which was a hell of a big workforce. And I believe that they lit the candle which turned into an inferno of the trade union movement to force the Government of the day to give us May Day as a bank holiday.
BH: When they modernised?
Frank: When they recognised it, and let's face it they shed many thousands of jobs over the years, through technology obviously. When the pick became a drill, and when the drill became a mammoth earth cutter. But they give one thing; they give the men an incentive. Because the mines, the mines wasn't great pay, but they give them incentive for how many tons a day they done, how many tons a shift, and they were all responsible for earning each other's money, and the extra few shilling they used to have when they used to go to the Miners' Club on a Saturday night to have a drink, was the money that they'd earned by tearing coal out of the earth at a faster rate as humanly possible. And it was then that the Government of the day decided that, and it definitely wasn't anything to do with the EEC or anything like that, it was then that the Government decided that the requirements of the capitalist system that had took mines over in Peru, the black worker in Namibia, South Africa, the new regime that took over Poland, they decided that it would be a lot cheaper to let third world countries, people that were treated like slaves and not human beings, in the African nations, and the new wave of new socialism that was achieved in Poland, where the people actually fought each other for work because there was no socialist system, that they'd work for the lowest possible amount that they could achieve to sustain themselves with no hope whatsoever of having any kind of stable life, family life, that can be achieved in modernised countries. And the fuel to that was definitely sustained and fanned by the capitalist system of Great Britain. Because France never done it, Germany has got its own coal, but France was actually taking coal from Great Britain, buying coal from Great Britain. They never went to Poland or South Africa or anywhere else, but the mentality of the capitalist club, for want of a better word, in Great Britain, have never ever give a care in the hundreds of years of their history, have never give a care who they kill, who they maim, which country they'd see in famine, wasted, or thousands killed in the genocide to achieve an extra few pounds in their pocket.
BH: Do you think also it was a class hatred of miners?
Frank: Oh most certainly, this Thatcher creature and the rest of the fascist Tory right wing, never had forgive Scargill; Scargill was only the figurehead.
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I started on the docks in 1973. I started in a firm called Harrison Line. My Dad, he worked in the next docks from me. He worked for Huskisson Transit Company. But unfortunately when I joined the docks it was too late to become a Registered Dock Worker. So I started off on the staff side in Harrison Line in July 1973. This company was a long established stevedoring company in the port; in 1973 they had 250 Registered Dock Workers who were all in the Transport and General Workers Union. It was one of the smaller private companies on the docks which was dominated at the time by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. Unfortunately the staff side of Harrison Line, which was mainly young women who had come in an intake in the early 70s (the older guys on the staff - what you would call ‘company men’ and in the 60s had failed to form any sort of trade union activity in the company) some of the younger element who had just started joining the ACTSS group of the Transport and General Workers Union were starting to organise. We weren’t actually recognised by the company in the early 70s as a union. They recognised Registered Dock Workers but not the staff side and Harrison Line was the last company on the docks to actually recognise the staff workforce as a union.
But it was the struggles that we had in Harrison Line in the early 70s with the younger element to actually get ourselves recognised by the company.
BH: What jobs were you doing?
Tony: The jobs we were doing were, timekeepers, which I was one. The inward and outward, export-import control, teenage clerks. All the clerical side of the docks, we were doing. We worked alongside Registered Dock Workers.
BH: And you linked up with Bobby Moreton, Terry Keegan, Mike Cardin and would organise under the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company?
Tony: That’s correct, yes, Ian Harrison and I. There was myself, Terry Teague, Mike Carr - who later became a Member of Parliament. They were the shop stewards when I joined, because they were a bit older than me. But there was Mike Carr who has since died and Terry Teague. We fought to organise the union in the early 70s mainly through, it’s got to be said, Mike Carr, and especially through Terry Teague who was at the time only in his early 20s. He was very active and we had a good team there at Harrison Line. We liaised with the shop stewards in the Mersey Docks who were already recognised - Mike Cardin, Bobby Moreton, a guy called George Wilson.
BH: They were all in the clerical section?
Tony: Yes, of the Mersey Docks.
BH: And in your union branch?
Tony: Yes, we were all in the same branch, 567 branch. We gained recognition in the mid-70s in Harrison Line. I can remember the day that we gained recognition.
BH: One small point; Harrison Line was also a shipping line wasn’t it? A big shipping line?
Tony: Yes. The shipping line side was large, the stevedoring side was big compared to other ports in the country but the work force was only small compared to the Mersey Docks. We had about, altogether 400 people in Harrison Line but the Dock Company had a few thousand.
BH: Now, you were saying about the 70s and about you gaining recognition.
Tony: Yes, we eventually gained through the T&G recognition of ourselves as trade union members. I always remember the day we gained recognition because the boss called me in. Being a timekeeper I wasn’t supposed to be in a union; I wasn’t supposed to be doing certain things and the boss called me in and he warned me. He said, no good will come of this! But the week after (I'll always remember this), my wages doubled overnight! From one week to the other doubled because I went on the union rate. I remember I went from (I still remember to this day) £44 to £92 the week after.
BH: What year was that?
Tony: 1976, 1977? ‘76 I think it was. It was in the summer because I went out the next day into town; I can remember to this day that it was a sunny day! When I got my wage packet I bought myself loads of clothes but I had back pay as well. The agreement was that they would pay the union back pay. So I got a few hundred pounds then I started off on the union rate. So in the office side you had non-union staff and union staff. The older gays were still non-union. And what the company did was they built a wall of filing cabinets down the middle of the office. It was quite a big office. It was done overnight. We were sitting next to them one week and they built right down the middle a filing cabinet wall; all the union guys are on one side and all the non-union guys are on the other side.
BH: Doing the same work?
Tony: Exactly the same job. They physically split us up. It didn’t worry me or us because we were on more money than them. Although I’d only been on the docks (at the time) three years I was on more money then than the non-union members who had been in the docks for 15 years and were older than me and more experienced in the job.
BH: They stuck outside the union!
Tony: They stuck outside the union because of the promises they had been made by the company. We continued to organise and we became very, very strong and had a similar line.
BH: And what was their promise?
Tony: Their promise was that if there were any redundancies they would be looked after better than us. Their wages would be sorted out eventually, they would have a system so their wages, eventually, would be more than ours. And don’t forget they had a mis-guided loyalty to the company. They were older guys. They had Harrison Line stamped on their chest! They were loyal. We still talked to them but they had been working for them all the time. So all the young guys were in the union, basically. All the young guys joined the union and all the older guys stayed with the company.
So, especially in the office I worked - the timekeepers - there was this split, because we had been through a struggle. Right from the inception, when we joined we had indoctrinated ourselves, we had all joined political parties by the time we were 20, when we were 21 we were all politically active.
BH: Terry says the Militants were on neither side?
Tony: Yeah. What used to happen then was that Terry Harrison from Militant used to come down and we would often go to the meeting with Mike Carr who was later to become a Labour MP. He was friendly with Terry Harrison and Len McClusky who became an official until 1979. He used to organise meetings and we used to meet in our dinner hour for political discussions. Don't forget that we were only 18 or 19, and there'd be a few of us Marxist/Leninists, and we’d drive the others round the bend! They just could not understand it. They’d just say, “What’s happening here?”
BH: So what else was there going on, just the Militant?
Tony: Mainly the Militant, yes. We had a couple of C.P. members and that. We had these young people because it was an interesting time, the docks then. We were going through a lot of changes and as staff we’d have a few arguments with the dockers because the dockers had had their battles in the 60s and all the rest of it and they had seen this, in my opinion, organisation of staff, these young fellows become prominent and my father was a docker and we had become a very tight knit close branch. We had about 1,000 in the 567 branch in the late 70s.
So in 1980 Harrison Line decided to pull out of Liverpool. They decided that they had had enough of Liverpool and they wanted to concentrate on London, mainly. It came as a great shock. It happened overnight. It just happened literally overnight that they said they were pulling out, and they had been in Liverpool for a hundred years, Harrison Line. So what happened then, they had the company, (the dockers were promised that they had no problem - the dockers) would then, by law, be transferred from Harrison Line into the Mersey Docks.
But for the first time there was a dilemma with the staff. What would happen to the staff union, because we had become well established? Well all these young fellows (we were still pretty young), we were fearful that we would then be dumped like others; it had happened in the past. But with the help of the contacts that we had made and with the liaison with Mersey Docks and Harbour Company we went into negotiations with Harrison Line. And what happened, all the non-union guys that refused to join the union were sacked and we all, the union guys, the young fellows, were transferred into the Mersey Docks in 1980. So we were proven right and a number of the non-union guys came up to us later and said, "We should have listened to you. You were right. We thought because you were youth, and all the rest of it, we knew better."
So we were then transferred into the Mersey Docks in 1980.
BH: There was a split between the dockers and the clerical workers for many years and the timekeepers, particularly, were looked upon as being in the bosses’ pocket. Have you anything to say on that, how you started?
Tony: When I joined in 1973 the staff never mixed with the dockers; never socialised especially. You weren’t supposed to, by the way. It was frowned upon. But the younger dockers (my father being a docker) you did automatically [mix]. I knew these men; my dad drank beer with them so I just automatically leaned towards the dockers rather than the staff. So I would go for a drink with them in my dinner hour. Myself and other young time-keepers would socialise with the dockers - it was just natural to do it with them. Then we would just become part of them instead of part of the staff. So we would (though the company said we shouldn’t) talk about the union with them, never clear them out, never had any problem with them whatsoever - we had a rapport with them. And the older dockers, because we used to do all the office work, we used to actually go out and book the dockers on, that was your job. Then after four or five years they used to come in the office but we always stayed outside and we had a good relationship with them. An excellent relationship with the dockers and it was frowned upon by the company.
BH: So we're back to 1980. You’ve had a fight in Harrison’s. The older workers get made redundant, now what about the union? Were you a steward?
Tony: I became a steward in 1982.
BH: You said that there were changes in the end of the 70s, it was a bit of an, I don’t know if you used the word, ‘exciting’ period. What do you mean? Changes? Changes in work? Was it computers or was it changes in the actual organisation of the union?
Tony: The organisation of the branch that I belonged to, 567 Branch, included all the young men. The private companies were starting to leave Liverpool and we were starting to organise within the Mersey Docks as well as being split up, in the early 80s/late 79s we all started coming together in one company and then we became one shop stewards’ movement. In fact if you remember, in the early 80s we only took 40 Harrison Line guys into the Dock Company. But 60% of the shop stewards were from Harrison Line. We were active. You had myself, Brian Roberts, Terry Teague, Mike Carr and a couple more I can't remember off the top of my head. We became a branch and we linked up with Mike Cardin, Bobby Moreton, George Wilson and then we had a branch, 567 Branch, which then became organised in the Mersey Docks.
All the way through the 80s up to 1989 we controlled all the clerical divisions.
BH: Were you linked by then to the dockers’ shop stewards?
Tony: We formed in the early 80s regular liaisons with the dockers. We had liaison meetings at Transport House where all our shop stewards met all the dockers’ shop stewards and we linked up with them on a weekly basis. In fact we had been allowed, which was unique, to go on the 'Modernisation Committee' which had nothing to do with negotiating our wage, so we had a shop steward on the 'Modernisation Committee' which negotiated dockers wages, as an observer.
BH: So the 1980s you get closer with the dockers and was 1989 the first time that you got a dispute together?
Tony: Yes. All the way through the 70s and 80s whenever the dockers came out, for example in 1978 there was the strike in support of the steel workers.
BH: This was the one over Hunters?
Tony: I’m not sure. But any dispute on the docks, regarding the dockers, we would just automatically join even though it didn’t affect our wages or conditions. There were strong links all the way through from the late 70s to the 80s. We joined the two-week strike in ‘84; it was the miners. The docks supported the miners over Immingham. We were involved in that, we were active in support of the miners as a branch. Any other dispute we would have close links with the dockers. We would meet before we would join the dispute, which other workers in the docks never did. The Port of Liverpool Staff Association (POSA), which is the clerical side of the Headquarters, they didn’t, for example, meet with other unions concerning a dispute. 'Lock gates' or the engineers or anyone else, they all stayed in; during dockers disputes they always stayed in. We always joined the dockers.
BH: Now, 1988/89 that was a big change. First of all the strike. You were all out. What with the unofficial strike first?
Tony: Yes. The year before we made a decision to join the Docks & Waterways - we changed the trade group. The shop stewards in the 567 Branch in ‘88 made a decision, which wasn’t quite that popular to be honest with you with some of our men. And the year after there was the national docks strike - the unofficial one - which we were involved in. The official one, obviously, in 89 we were involved in.
BH: What was the big change after ‘89, or what were the changes?
Tony: Well, the big changes in 89; when we came back, it’s got to be said we were beat, after four weeks there were different job description for us. Some of our men were put into dock jobs, but they [the dock jobs] were no longer registered. We couldn’t do them before. Then we were put into jobs that dockers only could do by law. That was the result. We got the result, the news, of the national dock strike the day after it finished because our lads were put into Registered Dock Workers jobs. And Registered Dock Workers were put into our jobs by the company the very day after the dispute. For example, some of our men were put crane driving and they couldn’t have done that before because it was a Registered Dock Workers job. By law only Registered Dock Workers could do that job.
BH: Someone said at the time the clerical workers were put on dock work but there were very few dock workers put on clerical work.
Tony: Yes. That’s correct. Initially very few because they actually destroyed certain departments and they did away with much of the clerical work overnight. They just said, "That's it. Those jobs no longer need to be done.” There wasn’t that much clerical work left - our manning scales went overnight. From ‘89 we were all.
BH: Now! Where did I get the idea you worked for Torside?
Tony: No. I was the convenor for the staff side of Seaforth in the mid-80s and then I went back to time keeping. I went from time keeper to convenor of the branch which was a non-working job. I was a full time convenor for two years and then in 89 I went into the Seaforth container terminal permanently on the export.
BH: I want to discuss the present strike. What is the percentage of men that go down to the picket line, seeing as you have all the records?
Tony: There’s 420 men in dispute. I would say 400 actually turn up at the picket line sometime during the week.
BH: Every week since the strike?
Tony: Every week since the strike, yes. You get men who may be turn up one or two times per week. I reckon the men who turn up 100% are something like 320. They are there all the time. And the other 80 maybe come one or two times every week. But you are talking about men not actually turning up, ever: 20. I think that’s unbelievable after 16 months; even today I’ve been down the picket line and we have a register, which I/we kept from day one and the numbers are as much now as they were in the first week on the picket line. In fact it might be even more.
These men have faith in the shop stewards. They have that faith in the platform and you have good discussions. Obviously after 16 to 18 months of being on strike and being on delegations, I would say all of them have been well politicised. There are men down there who I just can’t (I’m not being personal) who I know were conservative. I know that they have changed their politics - I know that. I know that they have changed completely. I wouldn’t have believed that there were stood some of the men standing down there. I would have bet on my house that they wouldn’t be standing on that picket line.
BH: Could you give me your idea of the percentage of men on the line that go on delegations, on visits?
Tony: Well, we have a policy that mainly, not all the time - but mainly, the shop stewards go 'international' because obviously you need to be right up to date on what’s going on. It’s not elitist it’s just that you need to go abroad, and all the rest of it, you need to be right up to date and only the shop stewards would know that on a daily basis because they’re in Transport House every day. And things change from day to day so you need to know exactly what’s going on. On the national side of it we’ve got a hard core of about 15% of the men go 'national' and they’ve done something like 9,000 meetings. They’ve done an excellent job. They’ve been all over Britain. In particular we’ve got two guys who go to London on a regular basis - Nick Silvano and Mike Tighe. They’ve set up an organisation in London which is, like, the London support group. They haven’t set it up but they’ve helped keep them informed about the dispute. The support from the Capital is unbelievable.
BH: You’ve got two who go along to Manchester?
Tony: We’ve got Frank Carbury and Harry Hunter that go to Manchester. Terry Barrett and Jeff Liddy go to Newcastle and we’ve got two shop stewards that go to mining communities, mainly; Chesterfield area - Tony Benn's constituency. In Scotland, Bob Richie has formed support groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, which link up. They’ve been great supporters. We’ve set up a network, if you like, a network of support groups around the country. South Wales - Tony Russell - he set up help and a support group in Wales. So you’ve got all the major conurbations in the country that have got support groups - London, South Wales, Yorkshire, Scotland etc.
We have regular delegations, mainly the same people all the time, who go to these places, as do 'international' - we have the same people that go back. For example, Sweden, which has given us great support. We would send the same people back there on a regular basis to update the support groups in Sweden on the dockers. That’s just the basis of national delegations and international delegations are the same - continuity. Send the same people back all the time to up date and give reports to the supporters.
BH: What do you think about this criticism that you should have concentrated on rank and file?
Tony: The rank and file in Britain? I don’t know how people can criticise. We’ve been to 9,000 meetings throughout Britain and the majority of them have been with rank and filers. We do not contact the official unions when we go 'national'. We have to do that 'international' because you just can’t go into a country uninvited. Someone needs to invite you and the majority of times it’s the official side of the international that you need to be invited by. But in this country the majority of meetings have been with rank and file people.
BH: You do contact the official union men from time to time?
Tony: We need to most of the time. We need to; but for example the majority of meetings that are set up in this country are set up by rank and filers who ring up Transport House and invite us to the meetings. You are talking about 9,000 meetings and we have organised through the rank and file. We’ve been to Vauxhalls; we’ve been to Fords. We have regular meetings with the Ford’s stewards.
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I started on the docks 28 years or so ago. I got my father's book in 1973. I first applied for my father’s book prior to ‘67. It was £11 1s 8d a week at that time. I was not fortunate enough to get my father’s then, because I was only 20 and you had to be 21. That was at the time that the employer had half the intake and the union had half the intake.
Prior to going on the dock, I was on ship repair for six years. I knew what casualisation was.
On ship, repairmen were hired on a day-to-day basis. I understood what it was all about and I understood what my father was going through on the docks. My father, god rest his soul, would be 89 years of age if he was alive today. Knowing what my father went through inspired me through this dispute that we are going through now. We don't want any return to those conditions that he worked under. Obviously, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company do. At the present moment, they are proving that they do.
BH: Where did you start?
Micky: When I started I went to school for a few weeks, where we were taught about the safety, how to handle ourselves, how to sling, and to handle different commodities within the dock industry and then, after a couple of weeks, I was put on the docks.
At that particular time there were over two thousand men in that pen alone, in the control where I started.
It was one of the biggest on the docks at the time. I worked there until I went to Seaforth container terminal, where I was working when we were dismissed.
BH: When did you go there?
Micky: In '89, after the abolition of the National Dock Labour Board and things changed drastically.
Before that national docks strike, we used to go to Seaforth on a rota basis. The idea was worked out with the unions, it was a good idea by the way, because it was a fair way of men getting work and there was no cherry picking. It was set up through the shop stewards throughout the port of Liverpool to do away with the cherry picking. Throughout the dispute, none of the men would sign forms, only when the strike started collapsing nationally did some men sign forms and they got allocated to the different position that they asked to go to.
After the abolition of the National Dock Labour Board, they sent forms out towards the end of the strike to ask men where they would like to go. But we were still on strike, so we would not sign.
The likes of myself and many other men we would not sign any forms, we never believed in that, so, needless to say, they sent us to general cargo - it was known as the cancer ward.
It was only in ‘91, or a little bit later, that when there were vacancies, we moved to Seaforth.
BH: What were your feelings at the end of the '89 strike?
Micky: We were disgusted. We were all over the country. We were down at Tilbury, when Ron Todd, our General Secretary, stood outside the gates.
He said that if one man is sacked you would see a strike the like of which this country has never seen. I have confronted Ron Todd since on this particular issue.
What he told me at the TUC, where I saw him, was that well we can't do much about things now. He said, if he only had an army like Liverpool when he spoke in the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool.
Well I tried to remind Ron Todd that these are still the same soldiers but they have got no generals leading them. I do not think he was very pleased with what I said to him.
BH: You were not a steward then?
Micky: No, I have never been a shop steward. I was just rank and file and we just knew what was right and wrong.
BH: It was quite a strong control at No. 2 where you worked?
Micky: Yes, it was a strong control. I wouldn't say it was as strong as the one my father belonged to, which was Box 3. Most of our pay and conditions on the docks are down to Box 3.
I was always active even though I wasn't a shop steward. I'd always attend the branch meetings. Dennis Kelly was the chairman of our branch. I had many rows with Dennis even though I liked him and I miss him. I miss the repartee we used to have.
BH: So you went to the container base?
Micky: We went into the Seaforth terminal and I was trained as a gantry driver. I worked there until the time of our dismissal in ‘95.
The conditions were atrocious. We were going back to Victorian conditions. There were no fixed work patterns. We were getting phoned up at home; they were leaving messages with the children for you to change your shift pattern.
BH: Was that before the agreement in 1993?
Micky: It was after that, when it started to get really bad. We argued with our representatives, mainly Jack Dempsey. We had them all up there, including Dave McCall. We told them it was a recipe for disaster. They should have realised.
Men were frightened about the economic situation. We were an ageing workforce, we realised we didn't have long to go, possibly, and we wanted to leave in a dignified manner. The T&G should have stepped in.
They have got a lot to answer for. I am talking about one particular officer, who was in charge of all this; he really let it get out of hand. In the end, the Dock Board was disciplining men right, left and centre - men who had worked 30-odd years on the dock, 40-odd years, with exemplary records.
They were disciplining them like schoolchildren. There was a particular thing over Christmas, I can recall it. They had men standing up like schoolchildren, men old enough to be their fathers, because they never turned out over Christmas and Boxing Day.
We had explained that we wouldn't be turning out. We got told our duty was to the company and our loyalty should be to the company.
I got a three-day suspension because I told them that, over Christmas my loyalty was to my family and my children.
This was at the time we were voted the finest dockers in Europe by Lloyds List for making the company astronomical profits. All it was designed for was a wearing down process, to wear the men into the ground for the Big Bang, which came on 28 September 1995 when they dismissed the lot of us.
We worked on the basis of three-week cycles. You had to do 114 hours within a three-week period. You could be murdered one week and then if there was no work in the next week they would just have you ticking over. They would bring you in for four hours a day, make you get out of bed just to do a four-hour shift.
When they used to change your times by phone, I think a lot of it was done deliberately. I think it was premeditated, to prepare us for the Big Bang.
As I said, they'd murder the same men instead of distributing the work on an equal basis, which is something we had always fought for since 1967 - work share across the board. They killed that so they wouldn't have to pay overtime.
The rota system
When they brought computer experts down to try to put a rota system into the computers it was impossible. We explained to them it wouldn't work.
With the scab labour that's in there now, they are calling them in at any time of day whatsoever... It was all designed to wear us down. Break our morale, then come for us when they thought we were on our knees.
For with the technology they have now they can pinpoint a ship three days away. They know she's coming! It's 1997! They know exactly where they are with satellites, etc.
Why is solidarity so strong?
One of the reasons is that, dockers like me are from families that have a history of the dock. I’ve not just a father who was on the dock; I had three uncles on the dock.
So I’ve understood some things since I was a young lad when I went on the dock myself. I understood that they fought for decent conditions within the dock industry and I understood the atrocities that were going on with the hiring system.
My father died prematurely because of conditions on the dock. He had an accident when heel block hit him on the head and he never went back to work.
BH: Have you been around the country during this strike?
Micky: The solidarity is bred into you.
Around the country
I've been going around the country now for 16 months with Nick Silvano and the solidarity with our strike is there. First of all we were going out to places like Coventry, Birmingham and Sheffield. I've been going down to London for 12 months now. We've made many friends and comrades there. People are willing us to win this dispute. Despite the blackout we've received from Day 1, the message has started to get out now through the John Pilger article and also Ken Loach's documentary which has brought a lot of people on board.
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My father was on the docks, his father, my uncles, brothers, everyone. They never gave me a lot of advice, one of the only things that most of the old dockers did say to you was: "I don't care what you do, but never scab it." That was the one big piece of advice they used to give. Then, apart from that it was, "Don't let the employers walk all over you but don't be putting your chin out all the time."
BH: And what was the first sort of strike. Were you a steward in the 70s?
Kevin: No, Bill. I was a very vociferous shop floor member but I was never linked to the union in any way. I'd stand up for myself personally and support anyone else who was in any trouble with the boss or anything, but I never got involved in any union office.
Bill: Did you go to union meetings then?
Kevin: No, only mass meetings; never went to a branch meeting, I wasn't interested at the time.
BH: When did you begin to get active, when did you become a steward?
Kevin: Well, to be honest with you, Bill, I'm not a steward, I'm just an activist, but I'm regarded as one of the strike committee, but since, I've always been politically minded in the sense that I know what's going on, but I don't like the bureaucracy of the union, I just don't like anything about the official union. I don't think you can achieve anything through it.
Well early on when I started on the docks, and I had it before that, I was, to be honest with you sort of like a renegade, and I didn't like anyone telling me what to do. So I didn’t like a union official telling me what to do.
And I'm all for, and I always have been, the rank and file me, I'm all for that, I don't see myself going any higher than the rank and file. I don't trust anyone else above that; I think they are dissipated into the Establishment.
I was active in the national Dock Strike of 1989, and when we got beat I thought: well we're starting from more or less scratch now, and I thought: I've got to help, I've got to help out and get stuck in if we're going to rebuild anything.
At the time we did retain some sort of organisation and we had some good men who stayed in the industry in '89.
But the chips were stacked against us from Day One, in '89.
The union position was "we are desperate to keep recognition in the port" and from Day One, my opinion, they were like hand in glove with the management to keep us in line, not just accept any conditions that the boss said we've got to have or changes in pay and conditions, but they were like a police force, they actively campaigned to keep the boss sweet as long as they got recognition in the port.
It never went unchallenged: we had some able people and we've still got them here now, who resisted it, to their full might, but sometimes that's not enough. You need the union, and the union was used as a police force for the employers.
The union went along with everything the employers did, to be honest with you. They never opposed them at all. In fact, some union officials actively campaigned for bad agreements.
The first attack
The Mersey Docks began the attack against us through the back door, which was Birkenhead. They closed Birkenhead down and said it would never re-open again, and all of a sudden, soon as the '89 dock strike was over, we saw small firms appearing in Birkenhead, using non-registered labour.
Some of those who started these firms were ex-dockers who took the £36,000 redundancy money; obviously they had the expertise to work ships.
Birkenhead was the start of it all. We were told in Liverpool: "It's got nothing to do with you on this side of the river, it's private companies, you've lost, you've been deregulated, and you've lost the right to do all dock work."
We used to call ourselves the Alamo; we were encased in one side of the river. And gradually the general cargo work was eaten up by casual workers. And we were gradually pushed up into the Container Base in the north end.
Partnership with business
I think the British trade union movement is modernised in the wrong way. I've got no problem with modern technology and new ways of doing things - if it's used in the right way. But I think we're going partnerships with business. You can't have a partnership with a boss who's out to destroy your pay and conditions.
We all know it's them and us, and the quicker we get back to that the better. You can always sit in and negotiate with a boss, make sure that your workers get best pay and conditions for the jobs that they're doing, and he's got to make some capital, that's the name of the game. But as far as I'm concerned, there's only one type of employer and that's a bad employer, because he's after you and if you're not strong he'll get you, he'll do you. And I think a helluva lot of trade union leaders are making a massive mistake trusting these people. They'll regret it in the end; they're just living in cloud cuckoo land.
Why we are solid
Well in my opinion one of the main things about this struggle holding fast, was the conditions we were working under just prior to the breakout of the lockout. And this was a contract; the official title for it is called "Annualised Hours". And it basically means that you work any 38 hours in a seven-day week, with two days off. But the hours could be any time, and they were invariably Saturday night - 7 o'clock of the night until Sunday morning, and 7 o'clock Sunday night until Monday morning.
And they were invariably the hours you worked if you were on the rota for the weekend. The docking times for most of the shipping the Mersey Docks attracted, were invariably at the weekend. The employers went out marketing to attract shipping for the weekend, because of the low rates of pay.
For the 12-hour Saturday night we were only paid the same as 12 hours Monday day. So we had no prime time payments for unsociable hours for the weekend.
On call all the time
Then there was the fact that we were on call, all the time. The employers wanted us to wear bleepers, but we wouldn't.
There was invasion into your house by the phone. The modern casualisation on the docks is sitting by the phone and waiting for that to ring, and in a sense it's worse because the old style of casualisation, you met your mates of a morning and you could have a talk, you could thrash some problems out.
What happened in the early days was they got organised from those situations, through all the complaints of the men, leaders sprung up and that's how they got shut of casualisation.
But dockers now are sitting in their house on their own and the phone goes, they're isolated and they say to themselves "well if I don't do it someone else will". That's the creeping menace of it. I got put on discipline.
What they wanted, Bill, was to be able to get you at any time. Even when you were on your rota day they were phoning you up and saying, "Don't come in at 7 o'clock on the morning when you next turn in, come in at 7 o'clock of the night."
As to the bleepers: I know that people in industry wear them but they wanted us to wear them when we were out on our own time. And when I refused, like many others, I was put on discipline for it.
I was nearly sacked once. I was supposed to turn out on a Saturday morning at 7 o'clock, so I went out for a drink Friday night and I come in late, maybe 12 o'clock and found my daughter was near in tears. She said, "The dock company's been on Dad, and you've got to turn out 7 o'clock Saturday night."
So I just blew my top. I went down in the morning and said, "Don't you ever give my daughter orders for me, she's only a youngster, and I don't want her dragged into this dispute."
And the answer I got was, "We'll give your orders to anyone, and if your daughter doesn't pass them on you'll be disciplined." So I said, "Well you know if my daughter doesn't pass them on are you going to discipline her?" So their answer to that was, "No, she doesn't work for the Dock Company."
I said: "Exactly! Then, if you want someone to give me orders, employ me a secretary because none of my family will give orders." And I give orders to all my family not to accept any orders over the phone.
I was disciplined for not turning in; in fact I got two days money taken off of me, for not answering the phone on my rota day. It was deemed that I was “not making myself available for work”.
When I said, "I'm on my rota day off, I can do what I want in my own time," they said, "Yes, but you should be there to answer the phone."
I said to them: "Well can I have a payment - a day's pay for staying in all day answering the phone?" I was told: "No, you can't have a payment, you've got to be there to answer the phone." I said, "Well when are you going to phone?" They said, "We don't know."
These were the things we were faced with. They were just invading your house. You began to think that they would set up a video camera to make sure that you didn’t go out. It was unbelievable for a working man.
I got up in the meeting the other week just to remind men who were complaining about the picket line, that it was hard and soul destroying. I reminded them what the contract was like in the beginning. You could get your rota slip and it would say you’d be working on Saturday from 7 o'clock in the morning till 3 o'clock in the afternoon. You’d say to your wife, "Well we'll go out that night.”
Changing the rotas
Then when you went in Friday and you could be told: "Don't turn in 7 until 3 Saturday; turn in 7 Saturday night till 7 o'clock Sunday morning." You’d say, "Hang on..." But they’d say: "We can change your rota any hour, by the hour."
The farcical thing about it was that we used to get a 12 month rota, and they used to say: "We can give you a 12 month rota, we can give you a month's rota, we can give you a week's rota, and a day's rota."
BH: And according to the contract, you could be called at any time?
Kevin: Any time.
BH: During the week, if you hadn't worked 38 hours?
Kevin: No you could be worked even then. One time where we were that busy, I was given a rota to work Sunday when I had my hours in on Thursday night. I went into the boss and said, "I've got my hours in, I have Friday and Saturday and Sunday off," because I've got my hours in for the three-week period. He said, "No, overtime is compulsory."
So I said, "I thought the idea of this deal that you brought in was to cut out overtime because you couldn't afford it." He said, "It is, but it's compulsory." So you had no say in that matter either. We had people who worked 50 hours overtime, it was compulsory, you couldn't knock it off. And we were driving heavy plant, and many's the time, I'll be honest with you I fell asleep at the wheel. I fell asleep driving the machine. That's how hard we worked.
BH: What machine were you on?
Kevin: My job was carrier driver, straddle carrier driver in the container base. Literally falling asleep while driving. I didn't think it could happen, but it happened to me. You'd go home, have about five hours sleep, come in at seven in the morning and do another 12 hour shift.
I think after '67 me older brother and me father, I've heard them talking many a time, they were like called millionaires of the labour force, but it only lasted about four years. The employers regrouped and began the attack with containerisation.
BH: That was after '67 when they won the strike.
Kevin: Yeah well the money was more or less doubled, so they were sort of like over the moon with the conditions they'd gained which was fantastic, but it lasted four or five years and then they attacked again. I mean we used to say, the lads who started in '73, we never won one. We never won one until, even up until this Lockout. I don't think we won anything, anything at all. We were just fighting a rearguard action, against an employer who was backed up with laws getting made by the month, and also with the compliance you know, trade unions making like sweetheart deals with them.
In Liverpool we had a good container deal. But I've always thought, dock workers have been accused of not being flexible and accepting new machines, and I thought we bent over backwards. I've been all over the world and some of their manning scales for the type of job I did, far surpasses the manning scales we had in the early 80s. Even now, in New York, their manning scales on all jobs is more or less double what we had. So like we kept getting told, "You must cut your manning scales because of these machines." But other ports all over the world retained some sort of manning scales for machinery, and I think they've stuck together on the health and safety of it all.
That's how they've retained it by saying, "If you're driving an 80 tonne machine you've got to be fresh when you start and you can give 100 per cent."
BH: What have you learned out of this strike? How do you feel personally, have you developed, have you gone back?
Kevin: Well, I've never changed my position on that it's the rank and file who can gain pay and conditions for workers. Me personally, I'll never change me way of life. I'm a rank and file person, I'll stick with the rank and file, I don't like going to any conferences or celebrations or parties or anything like that that concern union officials.
But, my dream now, my absolute dream is for a world wide dockers’ union and I think if you could get that, I'm not too hopeful of it, I think it's a little bit of a working class utopia I'm dreaming of, but I think if we got an international dockers’ union I think that would be the start of the working class globally saying "We've had enough of this", especially in the Third World. With all these people getting shot dead and tortured and everything else, I think dockers should link up and at last have some international solidarity. It is a reality that can be achieved but we need some encouragement from other people. I think if we can get a dockers' union international, what a shot in the arm it would be for other people. I’m just thinking about the car industries worldwide and everything else. They all do the same job, like us, but they're not in touch with one another.
BH: Where did you go, you've been nearly round the world?
Kevin: I've been to Belgium, Ireland, Holland, went to New York, Baltimore, Norfolk Virginia, Hampton Roads in America. I've been back to Antwerp twice.
We've been criticised for supporting people just because the official union don't like them. And, I just look on that as a sad indictment on the union the way they act about themselves, the way they act in general, they just say, "I don't like the look of that person." Well, come on, just because a person's got long hair or he's going for a cause you don't agree with, you don't turn round and say you don't support him, because he's still in struggle. His struggle might be for a different aim than yours. But when Morris turned around and said he didn't want us to have anything to do with the anarchists, well I looked up at the anarchists and I thought I'd remind Morris they fought well in Spain against Franco, so who’s Morris to turn round and say "Don't support anarchists"?
They should have a look at themselves. In the union rule book it says they support the oppressed, disaffected, unemployed. There's a big list of the people they say should be supported. And yet people on that list are castigated by the union when they come here for support, or we're castigated for supporting them.
At the start of the dispute Jimmy Nolan turned round and said, "We'll open it up to everyone from all walks of life." And at first, you know, people were surprised at that.
We've got nothing to hide from anyone, we report back everything, no facts are hidden from the workforce, and they're not hidden from any left wing newspapers that are always there to report what we say
We've been ostracised by everyone. You're no one until you ostracise us!
However, we got some great support. Rank and file dockers in New York who refused to pass across the picket line. We talked to them. Men doing the same job as I do, pulled up, talked to us and said, "OK, no problem, give me your leaflet I'll read it yeah." They weren't wax dummies we were talking to, these people; they were rank and file dockers.
Bill: What do you think a Labour Government will do?
Kevin: Nothing, in a word, nothing. I just see the Labour Party as the lesser of two evils, that's all.
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BH: You started on the docks in 1966?
Bobby: Yeah, I started on the docks in 1966, and at that particular period you have to bear in mind there was a lot of work about, there was jobs in all kinds of numbers.
Bobby: Ok, the likes of the car giants had just started to put down their roots, the car giants Fords, Vauxhalls etc.
Bobby: They'd put down their roots and they'd started to grow, and there was an air of prosperity and there was very little unemployment compared with what we have today, and also there was a large number of vacancies in a variety of different industries. And although it was traditional for sons of dockers, and my father was a registered dock worker at the time that I left school, traditional for sons to follow fathers into the industry, but it wasn't always possible for them to follow them in as a registered dock labourer. The National Dock Labour Scheme was in existence and at certain periods the register would be opened up for people to go into that type of work. And when I left school it was one of those periods when the register was actually closed. But my father at the time who was a shop steward, a T&G shop steward, and again in those days the shop stewards did have a certain amount of influence, spoke to one of the stevedoring companies AE Smith Coggans, about the possibility of me getting a job with them, either in the stores or on the clerical side of things. And the clerical side suited me because of the education that I had, I was always inclined more towards the English language and literature than I was toward woodwork, metalwork or anything like that. So, I did start with Smith Coggans, and when I started I came into an industry which obviously had hundreds of years of history, and the registered dock workers were a highly politicised, highly unionised group of people. But I was joining the periphery which was then known as the staff. And this was the era just immediate to computerisation. When I joined there wasn't a computer on the docks, and I became part of this staff system. And you have to appreciate, there was a gap between registered men and staff men at the time, and that was probably because the staff men, particularly the timekeepers, were perceived to be tools or extensions of the bosses on the docks. And the registered men had come through terrible periods of casualisation, victimisation, by bosses who were purely in it for the capital. The likes of AE Smith Coggans who I worked for, especially fell into that category, capitalistic, just out for the profit, and they just didn't care how they got it. And in order to maximise that profit they had to use the staff personnel to lean on the registered men, the labourers, in whatever way possible.
And if I give you an instance, the timekeeper was a very powerful person in those days, because if he was taking the one o'clock stand for instance, and there was a labourer who he didn't like assigned to the job, if that labourer was a minute late it was within the timekeeper's remit to sack that labourer and get him replaced by someone else. So there was this great gap between the registered men and the staff. I wasn't a timekeeper but because I was attached to the same type of department you were all seen as bosses’ men together.
And it was only just prior to me joining the docks that the staff who had previously been non-union had started to get themselves together and first of all join a staff association, which was an offshoot of the Transport and General Workers Union, and then later on became if you wish fully fledged trade unionists. So against that backdrop you had a lot of mistrust between the registered men, the stevedores, and the people who ran the office side of the operate force.
BH: And the pushers for a union, they became the ones that were pushing for a union.
Bobby: Yeah, "We shouldn't be fighting with you, we should be alongside you in the same section for the greater good of all." And we went in, and at the time we were looked upon as being, the time that the transition took place we were the more militant or we were perceived to be the more militant of the two groups, because through your trade union system the former registered men had become controlled by the official side of the union. The staff section weren't controlled to the same extent. Because we had an official who was perceived by not only us, by other people, to be a progressive official, who shared our views. So we were described then as now as a militant rump. The other section were the sleeping giant, because they'd been worn down by officialdom. That's my point of view anyway.
But we've got to the stage anyway where in 1989 the demarcation lines had been dropped but it only really went one way, because your clerical supervisory section then became labourers as well. But your labourer or stevedore didn't become an office worker. And it's, that system worked until 1995, which is where we came into dispute at this present time. And by this time you had the groups working in the same trade union section, side by side together, and had become more integrated than at any time previously.
BH: Or would you say that it wasn't until this strike that it finally wiped away, or did it die away anyway, the division?
Bobby: No, the divisions to an extent were still there. And just, if I can just refer to the shop stewards meetings, because we had meetings of people, shop stewards, who previously had represented only registered dock workers, this is up to 1989. And you had shop stewards who had only been representing clerical and supervisory staff. After the 1989 dispute, although these stewards would have been meeting on a separate basis, they were thrown together as one movement.
BH: The Joint Committee, you didn't have before.
Bobby: Yeah, and the point I was going to make to you is that in those early days the shop stewards meetings always ended with an argument. They began with an argument and they ended with an argument. Because obviously you've got these two groups thrown together, different philosophies, different ideas, different policies that they wanted to move on, and it was a bad situation.
Then come the dispute, and this was the amazing thing, come the dispute in 1995, the same shop stewards were thrown into this type of environment where we meet on a daily basis, and have done for 14 months, but all of the old problems.
Yeah, we still have personality clashes, but we don't have the problems that we had prior to September 1995, because now there's just, there's a common goal, there's a common enemy, and there's a common end result that we're all fighting for.
Now having said that, if the dispute ended next week and we all returned to work, no one knows whether those divisions that we had would re-emerge. You can only guess on that.
BH: What was it then? General political situation, or the, which gave them a militancy about collective bargaining. You know you say that each individual...
Bobby: Yeah, I'd say it was a political situation. We had younger people coming through the ranks who put themselves forward for election as shop stewards, and became shop stewards. And we were in a very political climate.
I'll give you a couple of experiences. I said that I started in 1966. And don't forget that I was starting as a young man with all the diversions that being young presents to you. And when I started, although I came from a trade union background and my Dad told me on the first day, "you join the union, and you just get involved", that was never drummed into me. It was advice that he gave me, and never followed it up. When I joined on the first day, that's it, that was the requirement that he had from me, and it's up to me to do what I want from then. So I was never given a trade union education at home. So I'm a trade union member. In 1967 the registered dock workers went on strike, nationally, for six weeks.
BH: No, Liverpool and London.
Bobby: Sorry, Liverpool and London. Liverpool and London went on strike for six weeks. I'm a trade unionist, working in the port of Liverpool with these older right wing people, as staff representatives, who spoke tentatively with the leaders of the dock workers, and there wasn't much of a connection in those days. Now the point I'm trying to make is that when those labourers on whom my living depended, because if there was no dockers there was no staff, went on strike, I was still in work for six weeks, not doing any work because there was no work to be done, but still drawing wages. So I draw six weeks wages until the national dock strike was over. And that's when it first hit home well, there's got to be something wrong.
But I wanted to come to another example, because within five years of that happening the next time the registered men went into a lengthy dispute, I mean they had a week here a week there etc., was 1972, which was another six week dispute.
BH: Over the picketing laws.
Bobby: Just let me make the point to you that we're talking five short years, where in the ‘67 dispute we were paid our wages. Five years later when the dock workers were in dispute, we were in dispute as well. And the company that I mentioned to you, AE Smith Coggans, decided at this period, when the registered men were going into dispute, that they would make redundant 17 members of their staff. Redundant, "there's your redundancy notice". There had never been redundancies before. This is the period that we were entering into. Now he couldn't make a registered man redundant, because he was covered by an Act of Parliament. But staff men weren't covered.
Back to top
BH: First, when did you start on the docks?
Tony: I've been down there 16 years, Bill, on the warehouses side, because after 1973 there was no more intake on the docks, that was the last intake on the docks. And my brother was actually in the last intake, so I missed out on that. So my father got me into the warehousing side on the docks, later on. Right up till 1989 with the abolition of the Docks Scheme, then we got taken over by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, they come in and took us over from the Waterloo Docks Warehousing, and they brought us into the Huskisson Dock from 1990. Now from then on we've been loading and discharging ships. Before that we was just warehousing side, with cargo, never touched a ship. But in 1990 that's when we started getting involved with shipping.
BH: Was this general cargo?
Tony: General cargo, and bulk.
BH: So you were never a registered docker or a listed man?
Tony: No, not until 1990.
BH: When did you become a steward?
Tony: In 1991, I was elected. After 1990 we got ourselves together. We'd already had a steward, but he got made up as a foreman, as a chargehand on these ships, and of course the men wanted to elect another steward. So I've been a steward for Nelson since 1991. But previously in the warehousing I was a shop steward too, while I was working in the warehousing.
BH: You joined the Transport and General soon after you started in the warehousing?
Tony: I've actually been, sorry Bill, I've actually been in the T&G for 20 years.
BH: You worked before then?
Tony: Yes, I was already in the T&G so I just got my membership form by paying the dues.
BH: So what happened then, Nelson Stevedoring, did that become part of Torside?
Tony: No. We got brought on through the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company in 1990, after the abolition of the dock labour scheme in 1989, they come along and took us over, as a satellite company if you like, and brought us in as part of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.
BH: Now did you ever go to Gladstone, to the Container Base?
Tony: There was only one area that we weren't hired out to, and that was Seaforth Container Base.
BH: That lasted up to the strike?
Tony: Right up till the strike, that was the only berth, or the only part of the docks that we weren't allowed to go to.
BH: So you were like Torside, supposed to be apart from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.
Tony: Yes, even though we were owned 52% by the Dock Company.
BH: They used to declare that they had nothing to do with you.
BH: Are you included in the ballots now?
Tony: Well we don't know that, Bill. What they're saying is 329 men. Now we don't know whether we're the 9 in the 329.
BH: What about in the past?
BH: You were part of the secret ballot.
Tony: Yes, the last ballot that we had, we were part of that. You know the last ballot in June, we got ballot papers.
BH: As part of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company?
Tony: Yes. Having said that Bill, they did admit when we went down to…
BH: the Parliamentary Enquiry.
Tony: The Enquiry. They fully admitted that they have got a duty for Nelson Stevedoring because they do own it.
BH: You went to the Parliamentary Enquiry; well we can come back to that.
Tony: That's how we know we found out, well we knew right away in 1990 but they wouldn't own up until the Parliament Enquiry.
BH: Now how did the strike come about, to you?
Tony: Well, we were the first gate to be picketed, because that evening when them five men were sacked coming off the ship, the next morning, or when they sacked all the labour force at Torside, then they automatically went straight to our gate. We were actually working on a ship that day, and they were calling us to come out, and we said, "Well, it's hopeless coming out on the day, we've got to wait for the next morning to go into work, and we see the picket line up, then we'll refuse to cross the picket line," and ours was the first gate to come out that day, or the next day I should say. And then they moved along to Seaforth and other gates after that. But when we refused to cross the picket line that morning, we were sacked by 12 o'clock that day, from the Company. They give us an ultimatum to be in by 12 o'clock, to pass the picket line by 12, otherwise we'd lost our jobs.
Well, we know then, 12 o'clock, the deadline had passed while we were still on the picket line, and the next morning we received a letter from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company to say that we had breached our contract because we refused to cross the picket line, and they said, "You are no longer required for our services, so now you are...” And then a week letter they sent us our P45s.
BH: Now before that, you got the pressure against the union and the stewards from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, in the years following 1989.
Tony: No, it was our decision Bill.
BH: No, I don't mean that, I'm going back onto another subject, before the strike.
Tony: You mean our conditions and everything?
BH: Yes, during the 1990s.
Tony: Yes, because we'd already asked, when we actually went on a go-slow.
BH: When was that?
Tony: In ’92.
BH: For what?
Tony: The reason was, when we worked on one ship at one weekend, on an aluminium ship, they promised us to pay us for the full day because we were hired out for the full day. But we finished the ship about 2 o'clock, and what they done was they only paid us up till 2 o'clock. And we said "No, you're paying us for the day." So when the next ship come in on the Monday, we threatened a go-slow until we got paid that, the other two or three hours that they owed us for the full day. Dempsey, Jack Dempsey come down and said, "You're going to put yourselves in a lot of trouble, you're going to get yourselves sacked." And we said, "Well we demand the money that's ours, quite rightly."
BH: They had agreed?
Tony: That was already in the agreement.
BH: That was the agreement.
Tony: If you're hired out for the day you should be paid for the day, Bill, but we won that, we got the money.
BH: Despite him?
Tony: Yeah, despite him. Because he sent a letter out, and I can show you, Bill, no problem, I can run up and get it for you.
BH: Well, not now.
Tony: No, in the future, tomorrow or. But he actually put out in a letter the things that are happening on the docks, and the Dock Company don't like it, so therefore you're going to be in trouble. And he mentioned us, Nelson Stevedoring, going on go-slows, "not acceptable". Seaforth rejecting the 12 hours, well you know all about that, Bill, and he went down a list of firms who work for the Mersey Dock and Harbour Company, that they're going against the company. And he mentioned them in this letter, and I've got it upstairs and it's still clean and fresh now. And that was like a little pressure to say, "If you create any more problems with the Dock Company, you're creating a rod for your own back, and you'll get dismissed."
BH: Now that was…
Tony: by Dempsey
Tony: 92/93 Bill.
BH: Now that raises the question that, were there other indications, how would you look at the way the union and the Docks, 1989, are there other times in which you…
Tony: No even the pay negotiations, Bill, every 12 months, the annual pay negotiations, they were all for the Dock Company, they weren't for the men.
BH: In what way?
Tony: Me as a representative of my workers, I would go in and negotiate pay deals alongside Jack Dempsey. So naturally he'd have to be involved, through the union, there'd have to be an agreement of three parties. That's the stewards; myself on behalf of my men, the T&G would also have to sanction that agreement alongside the Dock Company. So there we are in a room with the Dock Company, with the union, and me as a representative for my men, for pay negotiations. Now there were several times that I disagreed with the pay negotiations and I'd walk out, and I'd say, "Well I'm going back to the men and see if they will accept this, I can't do it by myself, I've got to go back to the rank and file, give them what you propose to me, and see will they accept it." Now before we'd get any pay settlements, we'd always reject the first four or five offers, 1%, 11/2%, 2%, it wasn't good enough.
BH: When you say that you'd walk out, you don't mean that you'd get up in the middle of the meeting, you mean that afterwards?
Tony: Well, there'd be heated discussions because most of the time I'd say "this is not acceptable," and Dempsey'd say, "it's the best deal you're going to get," and I'd say, "well we'll find that out when I go back to the men."
BH: These were discussions between you and him, after the meeting with the Dock Board.
Tony: No, this is the point I'm leading up to. Look, when I'd get up and walk out, he would stay in there with them. Instead of walking out with me and discussing the best way for a best pay settlement, he would stay in the office within, whiles I go back and tell the men.
BH: And the men would reject it?
Tony: The men would say, "That's no good to us, with the inflation and everything, it just doesn't tally, they've given you nothing." And it was getting harder and harder.
BH: Then what happened, he would say, "Well you've got to take it," eh?
Tony: He'd recommend it to the men, and the men would say, "No, you're not on, go back in and getting something what we want," which is quite rightly so. And then we'd go back in again and do the same thing. And what they would do Bill, they'd juggle the figures around and it would come out the same way. And he'd say, "Well that's a better offer than what you got yesterday." And we'd say, "No, when you work it out, it's the same bloody deal." And then he'd come, he'd stay in the office and have a word with the Dock Company, and then he'd come into, and then tell the men with me. But he'd never walk out with me and go straight to the men and tell them. He'd have half an hour or an hour still in the office with the Dock Company, and then he'd come over to the canteen and he'd speak to us then. Well I knew what was going on, Bill. Well that give me an hour with the men, to say, "Here's the paper. There's the juggling of the figures. What do you think?" And the men, you don't even have to explain to the men, they know right away, they're not soft Bill. And they'd say, "No, go back in." And then he would still come in the canteen and advise the men to take that bloody offer.
BH: And eventually what happened?
Tony: Eventually you did make headway, because that was already there. It was already there but they'd always start off with the rock bottom, as you do in negotiations. And there's no meeting half way, we try to get the best deal we can for the men. And it was annoying on his behalf, because he thought he'd just go in and get it settled and he'd have an easy life. But we made him work for his money. So in the end he'd get really pissed off, and he'd come in and start shouting and bawling to the men. And the men would say, "You've got no right to do anything, it should be us shouting at you to get us the deal that we want every annual pay rise." So he used to get a bit flummoxed didn't he, and then he'd walk out, and he'd say, "Well you won't get no more offers, you won't get no more pay," and we'd say, "That's fine by us. We won't do nothing until we get what we want." "Well you're putting your heads on the chopping block, I'm telling you, you're going to get sacked the way youse are going on." And that was his frightening. And the men used to say, "Well sack us then, go on. Go on, you and the Dock Company sack us then, if that's what you're after." He'd say, "No, I'm trying to save your jobs." We said, "Well it's looking good on your behalf trying to save our jobs if you're telling us to accept less than what we were on last year. So you're not on Mr. Dempsey, you go back in there and you sort it out. We're paying your wages. You've got your lovely house and garden." That's where he used to get upset.
BH: Now how often did that happen?
Tony: Annually, every year for pay rises. And as I say in between them there used to be disruptions, because men weren't happy with the conditions. But anyway, he sent this letter out and he said now you're becoming a bit too heavy handed for our liking.
BH: What date?
Tony: The date will be on the letter; I can't remember the exact date.
BH: Now what, thinking over the period, what would you say about those last six years from 1989 or maybe 1990. What would you say or how do you feel generally?
Tony: Well, the main achievement or what we tried to achieve, Bill, was to get ourselves and Torside on parity with the ex-registered dockers. Their conditions, their wages and everything that goes along with that. Now the problem there was that the Dock Company wouldn't pay us their wages, because we're only 52% owned. All these little excuses they would come out with each year, is that we were fighting for parity, Bill, with all the ex-registered dock workers from ‘89. That's what we thought we were going to achieve, but it never come about.
BH: Now was there a difference in wages and conditions between you and Torside? Also if you can tell us a bit more specifically what some of the differences were between you and Seaforth, and between you and Torside.
Tony: Well every company, you know like the Timber Berth, Seaforth, Torside, Excel, Nelson, then you've got the Euromar, then you've got the LCH, there's that many companies. Every company was on different wages and conditions.
Our achievement was to get all them companies parity with each other, through the union and the Dock Company. Now when every company had different times, different times of the year to go into annual pay talks, there was no two companies that went in at the same time. So what I'm saying Bill, if all them companies went in the same time for the wages and conditions then we could have had an all out strike. But with them being alternative, so ours was in January, Torside would be in March, some other firm would be in July. So it was a mish mash, and they created it that way. But if we all went in at the same time for our wages and conditions every year, then we could come out and say, "Hey boys ,it's not enough. Let's do something about it." Now the union knew that. That's why it was all staggered. Do you get my point Bill? That's why it was all staggered, all the negotiations were all staggered through the year, for different wages and conditions. Now even I brought it up.
BH: Where did you bring it up?
Tony: We used to have meetings here
BH: At the branch?
Tony: Four times a year. But…
BH: Who had the meetings?
Tony: The stewards. But it was out of our hands. It was the Dock Company who enforced that there was different times of wages and negotiations for each company.
BH: Now we'll come back to some of these, but to get clear the background of some of this, can you remember the amount of men at each company, you've given a list down there.
Tony: Well there was 12 Nelson men, 40 LCH men.
BH: Liverpool Cargo…
Tony: Handling. That was Billy Jenks's yard. Then you had 22 men Excel, 80 Torside men…
BH: Excel Stevedores?
Tony: Yes. Seaforth had about 300 men. Timber men had 40.
BH: Who were they employed by?
Tony: Bobby Moreton, well they were also the Mersey Dock and Harbour Company, so was LCH.
Tony: So were we, but we all had different names for different regions.
BH: But there were no registered dockers at LCH.
Tony: Yeah, they were all registered dockers.
BH: And what about the Timber?
Tony: They were all registered dockers.
BH: They'd been carried over from 1989, because LCH had been over in Birkenhead?
Tony: No, that was Euromar.
BH: They were another.
Tony: Mersey Dock and Harbour, over in Birkenhead.
BH: Now all those companies, with the exception of Torside, had a majority shareholding from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company.
Tony: They had shares in those companies.
BH: Now, what happened, did they gradually transfer the men?
Tony: Up to Seaforth.
BH: Except for…
Tony: Torside, ourselves, and Excel.
BH: Now Torside was formed later.
Tony: I think it was ‘91 or something, Bill, something like that.
BH: So that you've got all these different companies, and what was the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company trying to achieve with the different companies?
Tony: Well they set out to achieve and they done it, so they had all the little companies.
BH: They had all the wage negotiations?
Tony: That's right, and they had the lead of any wages or negotiations for each company, and they were all staggered when it come to negotiations.
BH: And the union initially had no policy in relation to that?
Tony: No, no. They would just go in with different companies and negotiate wages and conditions for them.
BH: Now it comes back again to the general feelings that you had. What else was going on?
Tony: Well as I say Bill, it's mainly part of the conditions. They can enforce you to work hours, after your normal eight hours.
Tony: Yes, now in some cases they'd say you've got to work overtime. And there was cases when I said, "I don't want to work overtime, I've put my hours in." And what they're saying is, "This is wrong, you should work when we tell you to work."
BH: The pressure was on.
Tony: The pressure was on.
BH: But you had an agreement, did you have the agreement that was broken by Torside?
Tony: The agreement we had was eight hours daily, 40-hour week, just a normal 40-hour week.
BH: But what about on overtime. Torside had an agreement, they were supposed to get so much time, notice. How much?
Tony: Well we used to get, you know when you get booked on of a morning, they would tell you whether you were working late or. Now there was times they never told us, 8 o'clock in the morning, then they'd tell us, "It all depends on how the ship is going," then you knew it was going to be late. And then they'd come in the afternoon and say, "You're working tonight." And I'd shout up at the hatch and say, "No, I've got to go somewhere because you never told me this morning, so I haven't got time to ring back and tell my wife that I've got to work over, because I've already organised to go somewhere with her," and they say, "Well you better get on the phone and tell your wife that you're working tonight." That was the pressure.
BH: And you had a continuous feeling on your part, of parity.
Tony: Yes, we were always fighting for parity alongside Torside.
BH: Did it get worse before 1995?
Tony: I was on more money, my wages were better the first two or three years I was down the docks. I'm talking about 1989 onwards, or 1990 onwards. The last two years my money dropped by about £2,000, £3,000. So it wasn't getting better.
BH: Why was that?
Tony: Well, we also used to get hired out in the bulk section. That was taken away from us. That was where we used to make our money.
BH: And what was that?
Tony: That was animal feed, all kinds of loose cargo, you know. And we used to get tonnage for that. Never used to get tonnage on the general cargo, but we got tonnage on the bulk.
BH: So what did you get paid, did you all get paid piecework?
Tony: Well it was, once the ship was finished, say there was 10,000 ton on the ship, well then they'd record that onto the computer, and what we used to say, rather than get it weekly, you can pay us every six months, let it build up, and we'd have it six monthly so we'd have a nice little pay packet after six months, for the summer holidays, and we'd have one for the Christmas, so we'd have two payments, and it was roughly like £1,000 every six months. Well there's £2,000 went right away, because they blocked that.
BH: Had they blocked any payment for the amount of work you do?
Tony: They come along after one pay negotiation, about ‘93-‘94, and they said, "No more tonnage, you won't be going over there much longer." So the men had lost £2,000 then, plus bits of overtime.
BH: Over there, did that mean over at Birkenhead?
Tony: No, over at the other berth, in the Canada. Well that was lost. I used to get hired out all around the dock, we all did, wherever they needed a surplus, they were short of men, then the night before they would say to you, "Tony Russell, you go up to the Timber Berth in Seaforth tomorrow, and book in with the timekeeper. Be there for 7 o'clock or 6 o'clock or whatever time the ship starts. But you book on with the timekeeper and he'll give you your job.”
Tony: Just to carry on with that, Bill, different berths work different hours. See like their own agreement with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company say, that they must work 10 hours in the Timber Berth. This is just as a matter of trying to explain how it works. So our normal time is eight hours a day, but if I went up to the Timber Berth I'd have to work their agreement, I'd have to work the 10 hours.
BH: And were you paid overtime for two hours?
Tony: Yes, but I couldn't turn round after eight hours and walk off the ship and say, they'd say, "No, the agreement on this berth is 10 hours whether you like it or not." Well that's more pressure.
BH: And what about other berths?
BH: Such as, give us, for people who aren't on the dock.
Tony: Yes, there is like, our berth, we used to have three breaks in a day. In the Canada you got two, but you worked the same hours. We lost a break. Well that's another thing we could have said, "We'll go in the canteen". "No you don't do it here, you only have two breaks a day". Well that was more pressure, because we lost the break time.
BH: Anything else?
Tony: The main thing was, if you started a ship and it was sailing that night you had to finish it no matter what time it was, midnight, you still worked through. You couldn't come back the next morning and finish it, you had to work through and finish that ship, if it's sailing that day. That was more pressure to get the ship out.
BH: And where was that?
Tony: In any berth. That was a full agreement right across the board.
BH: But then they'd tell you that in the morning, would they?
Tony: Well, same again, same again Bill. You wouldn't know in the morning how the day would go. You could have a, just say in the general cargo, some cargo could have collapsed so we'd have to make it all up and then send it out, well that's all time. And then they'd say the ship's running late; you're working up to finish.
BH: Did you say that you wouldn't work?
Tony: Yes, we've actually said that we're not working tonight, because they gave us the overtime too late, they'd told us too late.
BH: And what happened?
Tony: Well it's been enforced that they'd made you stay and work. So I've missed a social evening with my wife.
BH: Did men sometimes walk out?
Tony: Yes, they would get reprimanded, through the union, well the union would be representing them, as a representative in front of the Dock Company, but they wouldn't fight for the men.
BH: And it went on your record.
Tony: That's right, after three of them warnings, then you were dismissed. You, like, you get two verbal. That was going on every day. I was going on the dock; I was going in with Jack Dempsey nearly every day, through reprimands.
BH: Did anybody get the sack?
Tony: No, we fought for one man and he worked for Nelson. And I went in and I fought tooth and nail with the Dock Company to save this man's job, and good enough they gave him it.
It was too early for the Dock Company to set this dispute up, because it was in ‘94 when that happened, and it was too early for them to react. In other words, if he'd have got sacked the men would have walked out, and they weren't ready for that then. They were ready for it in 1995.
BH: You say they were ready for it in 1995. Why do you say that?
Tony: Well in 1995 it was constructed there is no doubt about that. Because two weeks later they sent 200 contracts out and you know all about that, Bill. That's the situation it was. Now from them 200 contracts, which were rejected, I mean if they'd have accepted them 200 then this dispute would have been over. So you've got to thank them men for rejecting them 200 contracts back. And by the way them contracts, it wasn't a contract because you were working for yourself then.
Tony: No union representation. In other words, you weren't in the union when you take this contract on. You were on £6,000 less money. And you were working 12 hour days or longer hours.
BH: There were various different wages.
Tony: No, no, it was only with the 200 men from Seaforth.
BH: I see, all the others were down. Nelson, all the others.
Tony: None of them were offered a contract. And all the activists on the docks never received a contract. So they were weeding them all out, they were weeding them out, you could see them.
BH: So no union, £6,000 less, anything else?
Tony: Well as I say, you were more or less working for yourself, because the contract you received, or I received or whoever was part of the 200 men, then the Dock Company and that man who received a letter to return to work, would sort the contract out. There was no union representation; it would just be between him and the Dock Company.
BH: Now, while we're on this, is that withdrawn in the offers that they made while you're on strike?
Tony: That's all come out, that's all been put out to everybody who didn't know about it.
BH: No, no, I don't mean that, I mean that when they offered you to take back 40, is it on those conditions?
Tony: Well that would be up to the man who received a letter to go back into work. We wouldn't know that, Bill, because it would be between him and the Dock Company. Now just saying me and you got a letter to go back into work, you could be on different conditions to what I'm on.
BH: What I mean is, that for instance, if the dockers who were locked out had accepted the conditions in that secret ballot last February, would they have gone back as individuals with signing individual contracts?
Tony: If we'd all gone back, the February, then we'd all have been going back as one, a contract for everybody, this is what we're fighting for now for the…
Tony: You're talking about the contracts that they got given.
BH: If you capitulated, would you have gone back on individual contracts?
BH: The amount of men that the Dock Company said that they'd take back eventually would have been on individual and the union would have been ended.
Tony: Well, the union wasn't even in the contract. There was no union recognition. They weren't even involved in it, so what they wanted to do was do away with the union and I'll sort a contract out for you, me and you. Nobody else, individually. And that man, once he was in there, he wouldn't have a leg to stand on, because he'd have no representation Bill, only for himself.
BH: Now let's talk about the strike. What would you say is the reason why it's remained solid, why it went on, I mean it's historic.
Tony: Well, Bill, you know yourself that my father was on the docks, my grandfather; they went through a hell of a lot of strikes. Through the 20s, 30s, 40s, right up to the 50s and 60s. And as I say the last intake was the 70s. Now I know through history, through my father, he was a good trade unionist. Now a lot of these dockers are good trade unionists, they are good men. Now they must have been, they refused to cross a picket line, Bill. They must have known what the consequences were, that it was against the law. They knew this; they must have known what the outcome was going to be. But they were determined to fight the Dock Company because they were all up to here with what was going on inside the docks. They were all fed up with the wages and conditions, so they were also fighting that too. But they were fighting for reinstatement to go back on better wages and conditions to beat the Dock Company. That's why the men are still solid now, to win, to win this dispute and go back on better conditions. It's about jobs, it's about jobs, Bill. But then, these men refused £35,000 in 1989. So it's not about money, it's about jobs and conditions, Bill. And they're going to fight until they get that.
BH: You couldn't have lived with yourself if you'd gone over that picket line.
Tony: No, there was no way I could have done it, Bill, no way I could have done it. I couldn't leave men standing outside there, and me working merrily away. But I wouldn't be working merrily away, because the conditions that are in there now, I wouldn't be able to survive. That's another thing in the back of your mind. It's just a thing that you're going from bad to worse. So you stay out with these men and you've got a better chance.
BH: Any general ideas on the strike, like how it went. What's the difference between what you think now and what you thought at the beginning?
Tony: Well in 1995 when this was constructed, the easiest way to solve this was to pay them men the extra hours. It would have only cost about £300 or 400 pounds to pay the men. This is how I know. I mean £300 to the Dock Company is nothing. But they let it go on, they let this go on and escalate. That's how I know. To solve this problem all's the Dock Company or the supervisors had to say is, "Ok, we'll pay the extra hour. Here's the couple of hundred pounds to pay the men for that hour." And it would have all been done and dusted and we'd have all been back to work. But it would have gone on somewhere else. It would have been a walkout somewhere else in another yard because the men were fed up of what was going on in there. So if it wasn't Torside it would have been Seaforth, if it wasn't Seaforth it would have been the Timber, if it wasn't the Timber it would have been Nelson. So it would have happened anyway, and the men would have been still solid, because they knew what was going on down there. They were having bad times. Pressure, as you call it, pressure. So that's why they've had to come out and support someone, and they're also fighting for themselves, for their own reinstatement. Each man is fighting for his own reinstatement on better conditions, and we'd all be together then, Bill, on the same parity. That's what we've had to do.
BH: Have you been around internationally?
BH: What do you think of the development of the strike that way?
Tony: Well the people I've met, Bill, in other ports around the world, such as Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, the dockers are exactly the same as ourselves, only that the language is different. But I can relate to men that I've worked with who look like some of the men over there. Same looks and everything. I've got men that I've worked with that look like some of the men over in Italy and some men look like in Holland; it's exactly the same. The only difference is the language. And if you can get over your point of what's been happening, and you tell them that it's us today and it's them tomorrow, and it's true to life now. They're actually working out on them ports. That's why they want to come out and support you because it's starting to hit them, Bill. That's how I know we're getting solidarity that we're after, and the support. Plus the financial side of it as well. They're unbelievable. It's a breed of its own Bill. Even when I was addressing canteen meetings with the dockers, you always get one of these men at our meetings and one would be shouting out and everyone would laugh. It was the same over there. And I'd say to the translator, "What did he say?" and he'd tell me and I'd just burst out laughing, and all the men would laugh. So we had a good rapport between each other. They know I'm a dock worker, I know that they're all dock workers and I'm speaking. All's I'm doing is speaking to other dockers, just like when we're speaking to our men at the mass meeting. It's exactly the same, lovely people, lovely people, and they look after you as well. And I wouldn't like to see it happen to them men, and I've said that on numerous occasions in these meetings, "What's happened to us I don't want to happen to you, but we've got to win this, through you. It won't happen to you if we win this dispute, because if we get, when we get reinstated, then we can help you out. If you have any problems, then we can black ships that are going to Holland, that are going to Italy, or going to wherever, Denmark, wherever." And they agreed with that, they say, "You're right. So the quicker we can get you reinstated, the quicker we can all be as one body." That's why we set up the Steering Committee, the International Steering Committee. That's why we've gone round the world, to tell everybody it's going to happen to them. And it has happened. Brazil. They tried to casualise Brazil and they come out for two days and the government backed down, they couldn't beat them. So that was a good fight, they won that. But it's happening everywhere, Bill. You know more so because you're internationally involved anyway and you know yourself.
BH: Did you ever think you'd get support from Japan and India?
Tony: You know it's amazing, Bill, it is amazing. But we're lucky enough to be in an industry where we can do that, Bill. I mean if you worked in a factory and you picket a factory for 16 months, like the Timex, they could just knock it down, take it 40 mile away and build another factory. They can't do that with a port. And while there's a port there, Bill, we're staying. We're not going anywhere. You can't knock a port down.
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BH: And when did you come on the dock?
George: I came on the docks in January of 1966.
BH: And your father was a docker?
George: My father was a docker, and his father before him, who was killed at the age of 27 at the West Brunswick dock, down the South End of Liverpool.
BH: Who, your father?
George: No, me grandfather, me grandfather.
BH: How was he killed?
George: Some kind of ship's derrick gear, carried away, I believe it was a shackle not taking the correct weight, and it parted, and it knocked me grandfather down the ship's hold and he was killed at the age of 27.
BH: So you'd only been there about a year when there was the strike, ‘67.
George: Yeah from 1967 when we had the long six-week strike, I was only young at the time, not long come down.
BH: Now what about the period up to ‘89. You achieved a lot on the docks didn't you after the strike?
George: Yeah, after we had the six week strike in, gradually with the shop stewards’ movement which was formed, things gradually did get better for us on the docks as regards, we seemed to get better conditions, wage rises, and, one time we never had proper facilities to wash and clean yourself or where to have a cup of tea and so over the years up to '89, it took a long time of struggling and strikes of not such a long period as the six week strike but we did have to come out the dock gates from time to time to achieve certain standards in our living standards, better conditions, better living standards etc. and not too far off the period up to '89, losing the National Dock Labour Scheme, everybody seemed very contented, everybody was happy in the working, we felt we were going forward in the Port, we'd achieved conditions, as I say we'd got work overalls, weatherproof gear which previously we'd never had, and things in general, everybody was happy.
BH: Were you a steward; were you ever a shop steward?
George: No, I was never a shop steward, no. But always enjoyed the work and like most of us prior to '89, you know most dockers if they had the choice of working elsewhere wouldn't want to work anywhere else, only in the dock industry, it was a good job, good comradeship with the men, and it was one of the best jobs you could be in on Merseyside and no doubt nationally.
BH: Did you go on the container base? Or were you on general cargo?
George: I was in the general cargo area, I trained up as a, they were short of markers and weighers at the Grain terminal so I trained up to become one of the markers and weighers, Liverpool Grain Terminal, and I used to do, ended up doing four months at the Grain Terminal and four months in General Cargo working areas, but over the years, the period of the years I'd learned to drive many plant machinery, the old fashioned cranes, slewing cranes, fork trucks down below the ship's hatches, and eventually after 1989 when we did lose the National Dock Labour Scheme I didn't put in any forms.
BH: You didn't sign the forms?
George: I didn't sign any forms for any permanent areas because we didn't believe that because it was like weakening us or like splitting us in a certain way, so when we lost the Dock Labour Scheme after '89 I went back into the General Cargo area because I'd never put in any forms to fill where I'd used to work regular at the Grain Terminal, and after 12 months in the General Cargo area I eventually, with some of me close friends, we put in application forms to come up and work in the Container Terminal, thinking, you know, well this is the place to be for security in the years to come, containerisation is going to be for many many years, certainly after our time, and that's what we done, meself and some of the younger dockers, we did transfer up to the Container Terminal and eventually we volunteered to train for the Gantry cranes, with us having crane experience down the line, general cargo areas, and we trained up and became drivers of the gantry cranes.
BH: Now what was the safety like, what about the gantry drivers?
George: Yeah, well I felt as a gantry driver the responsibility to me and to the gang and to the men working underneath them cranes, safety was a priority, and many a time I'd want to work the safety cages and used to ask for a safety cage, and when we were busy, when we were getting a lot of ships in we were very very busy, they only had a couple of safety cages and things.
BH: Where was the safety cage, what did it cover?
George: It used to be brought underneath the gantry by a straddle carrier and he'd drop it underneath the crane and then the crane would pick it up, and that allowed men to get into the safety cage with the equipment, con-locks, which were used for locking onto all the containers, but it was a very very slow process using all the safety gear, and sometimes they'd like you not to use it because it did slow the job down or sometimes, if there wasn't a cage available you were more or less just getting on without it, which, that was dangerous at times.
BH: Now, why do you think there's been the solidarity in this strike, why do you think it's stuck 18, 17 months? What do you think keeps all these men and the women together?
George: Well I think first and foremost it's, you know, the principle of what we've been brought up with, you know even for me, even men that's say never agreed with coming outside the gate for their own point of view, nevertheless they stuck together believing in the unity and the solidarity of the workers, you know, you could achieve maybe a decent result by staying together. It's just we feel there was such a wrong done by us, by the company, and that should be put right and that's why we stayed together for such a long time. We felt it's been such a bad injustice, and the company have took the opportunity to take advantage of the situation which they could have easily turned about very very quickly and had us back in them gates but obviously it must have been something they've had down on, like an idea or a plan that if ever we were to go outside the gates that they'd take the full advantage of not having us back in or choosing the men who they did want back in. Because after, initially when we never turned in on the Friday morning and we were all told we would be sacked, I was one of the 200 men who received another chance to go back to work, having another contract sent out to me on the Saturday morning, saying if I was to report into work by 12 noon on the Monday I would still have a job in the container terminal, but my principles and what I've been brought up as, you know me family, I could never go into a job and leave men outside them gates that I've worked with alongside for many many years, I just couldn't do it.
BH: You went on the picket regularly?
George: Oh, been on the picket ever since, ever since the day we got put outside them gates in September 1995, round about the 28th of September, and I've also gone away and done delegation work, I've gone on coaches like this Saturday, gone we went to Cheltenham; we had two buses of Liverpool dockers and the WoWs, the Women of the Waterfront, and we went to Cheltenham in support of the people who've been sacked from GCHQ headquarters for 13 or 14 years going on now.
BH: What do you think of the international campaign?
George: Well the international campaign has just been something else; it's gone far beyond our wildest expectations. When it was first mentioned to us we were a little bit sceptical, thinking well here we are in Britain and we knew with the abolishment of the National Dock Labour Scheme we couldn't even get support off dockers in our own country for the simple reason they've got agency labour in and the whole system has changed, so when we heard that the initiative from our stewards, Jimmy Nolan, Mike Cardin etc. saying the way to forward our campaign and build upon it was to go worldwide, although the idea seemed to be very very good at the time, a lot of us were thinking, if we can't get support in our own country how are we going to get dockers worldwide to take actions on our behalf? So when the internationalism got built up with other dockers and they held the first conference in Liverpool Town Hall, and we've just gone strength to strength from that, it's just been a magnificent achievement for workers worldwide to unite and show what can be done and achieved if you keep unity together.
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I was born in the South End of Liverpool and I started on the docks in 1962 when I was 15 years of age.
When I was a kid we lived in the courthouses with communal toilets. We moved from them into brand new tenements when they were built just after the war. I've lived in the South End all my life.
My Dad was a wagon driver - he used to drive a team of horses.
He delivered to the dock four times a day in his wagon - creosote, tar, bitumen - all for export mainly for West Africa.
I got on the dock because while my Dad was delivering to the dock, he asked someone called Steve Christian - who was a wharfinger for the Elder Dempster Line - if there were any jobs for young men. And he was told there might be in three months time. So, three months later, when I was 15, I got a job in the stores.
BH: Did you join the union?
Andy: Well at 15, no. We were on the staff as storekeepers. However, in the stores we were making ropes, anything that was involved in loading and discharging a ship, a cargo board, asbestos gear; we spliced up to 4" log wires, anything that was discharging logs off a ship - we spliced the wires; we spliced the rope for all the bags, made cargo nets, cargo boards, anything that was to do with loading and discharging the ship, we made the equipment. I was in the cargo gear store; there were about four or five of us. I worked for the "Monkey" - that was the nickname of the Elder Dempster Line.
By the time I was on the dock a couple of years I knew everybody: the registered dock workers, and I knew about their union and the local union officers.
I can remember all the old union officials, Tommy Murphy, Tommy Doyle and all the people that used to come and do all the arbitrations for the dockers. I finally made enquiries about joining the union and I joined the 611 branch of the Transport and General Workers Union, which is the South End dockers’ branch.
You couldn't get a book until you were 18 but I never had a book, as I was not a registered dockworker.
Soon after I joined the union I had a complaint and I went to the dockers’ shop steward and said, "I want you to represent me.” He said: "I can't, the management have said I can't, because you’re not a registered dock worker.”
He then told me: “There's a union for you called ACTSS, which is the staff branch." So I got transferred out of 611 into the staff branch – the 567 branch.
I wrote to the secretary of the staff branch who was called George Edgar. He was a ship's boss in the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, and he wrote back telling me that, yes, I'd been accepted into the branch.
He ended up as a personnel manager in the Dock Company. We used to call him "Hairclips". Because he was once in charge of rigging two derricks and they bent together like a hairclip and got carried away.
The branch was mainly clerical workers: counters off, timekeepers, ship's bosses, wharfingers, quay foremen, plan men. All were what they call ancillary staff. I was in that branch up until February '88.
I worked on the ‘receiving and delivery’. That was receiving and delivering containers. A lorry would come in the docks, go to reception, book in with his piece of paper. And they would issue what they called an interchange, with three copies. The container that he wanted, and he'd have that, then he would come to me - the Checker - with his interchange. It would have a number on it. It would say 126 or 325. And I would punch the 325 into the computer with all its details and then the printout would come out either to Terry Teague or Tony Nelson who were in what we called the ‘Tower’.
It would tell them exactly where the container was located on the park. And then he would be in radio contact with the Carrier driver. Kevin Bilsborrow was a Carrier driver, and Terry would tell Kevin where the container was, the lane it was in, the row it was in, and whether it was on the floor, on the first height or the second height. And then Kevin, the Carrier driver, would pick the container up, tell Terry he’d got it, and then Terry'd cross him off. He would come back to the bay and load the wagon driver in the bay, then the wagon driver would come to me with his container, full or empty, and I would check it -- check the seal wasn't broken, check the number of the container against his interchange, make sure that everything was all right. If it was damaged I'd have to put down damaged, and that driver would go back to that Reception Centre and drive out the dock. That was the receiving and delivery.
Then I got sacked from Liverpool Maritime Terminals. It changed its name from Elder Dempsters to Liverpool West African Terminals, then it changed it from Liverpool West African Terminals to Liverpool Maritime Terminals, and eventually we all were finished.
I was sacked along with another 38 staff from what was Liverpool Maritime Terminals. We wanted to keep our jobs, as the firm was opening up on the Monday morning under another name - Liverpool Stevedoring - my job was still there.
They said, "All you staff are going and all we're going to take on in that company, is registered men." That was February the 20th, 1988.
There was an agreement made between the stewards and the management, to open up on the Monday morning with the firm being called Liverpool Stevedoring with different manning levels, especially down below, where the gang was dropped from eight to six.
BH: What were you doing then?
Andy: Well, I wanted to keep my job along with another four staff - storekeepers and timekeepers. A local agreement was made on the Modernisation Committee. As a result of negotiations we were kept on. We became listed workers under the Dock Labour Scheme.
BH: But not registered dock workers.
Andy: No! Listed workers, in the Scheme. There was a place for what was known as listed workers. Like an anomaly. There were loads of them; they were all over the country. No one ever brought them to the fore and said, "Oh he's a listed worker under the Scheme," but they had them, men who'd been in companies for years, all over the country.
BH: Were they on the same conditions as registered workers?
Andy: Yes, I worked along registered men from then. I was trained as a crane driver and a stacker, and I went to work on to ships loading and discharging, wherever I was required.
I was a listed worker under the National Dock Labour Scheme.
BH: Now, the branch. Were you part of the development of that branch? The staff branch?
Andy: I was a shop steward, I was a storekeeper shop steward, I was a shop steward for 20-odd years from the time I was 20 - in 1966 when England won the World Cup.
BH: So what about '67, were you in that strike?
Andy: Well we were in the staff branch, we were all allocated into companies after the '67 strike. I remained as steward for the storekeepers, the department that I worked in. We were always on the lowest wages. The staff had an agreement, negotiated, with grade 1, 2 and 3. We were always on the 3rd grade. They had counters-off and timekeepers on grade 1, quay foremen and all that.
I knew all the dockers. I worked all the South End docks: Toxteth, Harrogates in Toxteth, Kings, Queens docks. When I got sent to the north docks, I worked the Hornby, Gladstone. Since I was 16 I’ve worked everywhere, I was all over the docks.
BH: Now what about the developments in the '70s?
Andy: Well we had the inception of the shop stewards after the strike in '67. They became more organised and you had the shop stewards’ movement then, obviously it was better for the men.
We had separate negotiations as staff. The registered lads, they met with their certain set of negotiators, and the staff lads met with another set of negotiators in the Port of Liverpool building.
BH: But you were part of the fight to bring the two together then?
Andy: Well yes, the branch sought registration under the Scheme, tried to get registration. There was a couple of shop stewards at the time who've left now, very progressive, who saw that registration was a key thing.
If we got registration it would give you protection, and amalgamation with the likes of the dock workers. But that was never achieved, but it was always something that they aimed for, registration.
BH: But you came together in 1989, dockers and clerical.
Andy: Yeah well everyone came together. When Maggie (Thatcher – BH) smashed the Scheme in '89 I'd been allocated to a company, Ray Bulk Handling, because of dockers leaving with the severance pay.
We got trained on cranes and machines and sent out to every part of the dock. I was in Ray Bulk Handling a matter of months and then we had our fight to prevent the Dock Labour Scheme being smashed.
Well it was awful, it was terrible. Because it was everything that you'd fought for, everything that the dockers had ever fought for, everything that the staff had ever worked for, all your agreements and all that and everything you'd all worked for, was all being smashed.
And obviously we had to go into dispute to try and protect it, to try and retain the Scheme.
We went on strike and we went all over the country picketing, Southampton, Ipswich, all over the place. When we went back it was like you'd lost everything.
So you had to regroup, you know, there was no staff then, there was no registered workers - everybody was assimilated together in different areas and you just had to regroup. We went back to the Ray Bulk Handling, and Ray Bulk Handling carried on working and we stayed in Ray Bulk Handling.
People left with severance, the men went down from 60 to 45, then 45 to 30, in the end we ended up with 17, just 17 of us. But Ray Bulk Handling subsequently changed its name. It went out of business in 1991 and we were in dispute for 17 weeks, we were on strike for 17 weeks.
The rest of the Port was working and we were on strike for 17 weeks, on a picket line for 17 weeks seeking a new employer, from when Ray Bulk Handling went down.
Eventually Ray Bulk Handling changed its name to Transit Northwest, and then Transit Northwest went down, and we became Euromer - 50% owned by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and 50% supposedly owned by European Grain, which was a big important conglomerate then importing animal feeds - all bulk cargo in Birkenhead. Then Euromer went down and the 17 men that worked for Euromer were transformed into Seaforth Docks.
BH: Now we get up to this strike then. By then you were on the computers.
Andy: Yeah, I only entered information. Nothing complicated, just entered it. I just worked on the receiving and delivery. Worked a three shift system but I didn't do the 12 hours, nights and all that stuff that the lads did. I didn't do that.
BH: So the strike. What do you think about that, what happened? Where were you?
Andy: Well I was on days, the day they put the picket line up you know.
We knew there was problems with the Torside, we knew that obviously the five lads had been sacked. And obviously when they put a picket line up, you observe a picket line don't you, this is the old age tradition of the docks, I've been brought up to observe a picket line.
The lads had been unfairly dismissed, treated badly, so they were fully entitled to put a picket line, because it was their place of work. So naturally we observed the picket line.
BH: Did you think it would be a short thing?
Andy: Well you could never tell on the dock could you, everyone always had their opinion that in Seaforth where the lads were, with the horrendous working agreement they had in there. They were working 12-hour shifts.
You know you could get a rota sheet, put you on 3 to 11, you'd book, you'd work a 12-hour shift, you could work till 11 o'clock at night and they'd have you back on the next morning. There were things building up apart from the Torside. I just think anything could have sparked the dispute off. You know you always had the feeling that the management were coming for you. That was my opinion.
It could have started off over wet weather, clothing. Anything.
People would say, "I’ve worked eight hours, I'm going home, I've had enough. I'm not working 12 hours. eight hours is enough for me, I'm back in the morning." I think it could have been started for anything. And ok, the Torside position triggered it. But you know it was inevitable that something was going to happen. That's how I felt, and a lot of other people felt that way. But no one could ever have predicted that this one would last this long. I mean I couldn't have said, "Oh it will last three months."
BH: This is 14 months?
Andy: Fourteen months now, but you just got to keep going. You have nowhere else to go have you, you just got to keep going and hope, maintain what we've got, and hopefully we'll get there in the end.
When we made a decision to go back on the legal advice, we were met by the terminal manager and a superintendent handing out Drake forms, saying, "Oh no we've got a new company in here called Drake who are handling the cargo handling. And if you want to join them, if you want to work for them, well, fill the forms in, no problem." So that's what happened.
Out of 500 men or whatever the total is, you've always got an element saying, "Ah well, maybe we could have handled it better." Maybe we could have done in hindsight. But at the same time, you're in the position you're in because it’s happened. It's evolved.
You know it hasn't been of my choosing. I didn't choose to go on strike; I didn't choose to give up the job after 34 years on the dock. I just carried out basic trade union principles and the company took the appropriate action.
When the scheme was finished in ’89, the dockers lost all around the country. It seemed that the whole port industry surrendered to cooperatives, or people took the money, or management buy outs or whatever you want to call it. The whole dock system as we knew it, the strength of the Scheme and the allied workers, it had all gone in ’89.
It was natural then, that later, we had to develop internationally, and that's how, that's why we took the decision to go to ordinary dockers around the world and explain our case.
I believe that Liverpool today, Antwerp tomorrow, Rotterdam the next day, Australia the next day, Canada the next day. Because it's a worldwide problem isn't it - casualisation.
It's not only shop stewards in this struggle, Bill, who go out of the country. Most of us are what you would call lay members who go out and have been all over the world.
We have lads, ordinary lads off the picket line, ordinary rank and file lads have been out the country, explaining to dockers and foreign people our position.
And the women, of course, we've had women who've gone round, all over the place.
And look at the support groups that have shot up! We’ve got a London support group; we've got a South Wales support group, Cardiff, Swansea. We've got a big support group in Scotland, we've got a support group in Newcastle, we've got support groups all over the country.
We've got lads who go to Hull on a regular basis. In fact we've got two lads who are permanently based in London three or four days a week. There are two lads in Manchester. There are lads in other towns.
You build up a relationship with certain groups don't you, and they do their best to try and fit you in meetings where you can explain your position, give out our Dockers Charters, spread the word so that we can get financial and moral support.
We've always supported everybody: the miners. The nurses in struggle, the building workers in struggle, anybody in struggle - the dockers have always been the first to help.
You must remember the dockers have got a tremendous history of solidarity, so I would say that the same solidarity is still there, it's a feeling, the docks has been your life. You're talking today about people with at least 23 years service and going up to 42, 43 years. That length of service, and that depth of knowledge of the job, it's like the docks is a culture.
BH: I know there was the solidarity internationally in the 70s, Namibia uranium, Chile, South Africa.
Andy: And there was Cuba. Solidarity is much greater now. We were shocked at the atrocities in Turkey.
BH: What would you say, about the committee? It gave good leadership?
Andy: Those, the 16, 17 people on the committee, the least they've got in is 23 years on the docks; the most they've got I think, is Jimmy Davies with 36 years in the industry.
So you've got a deep knowledge of docks, deep knowledge of the problems of docks.
There was a decision made early on, that we would actively seek support of any group, doesn't matter who they are. If you're willing to help me, you are willing to help us, in my pursuit of our aim to get our jobs back, and carry on working in that industry that’s on the job rightfully mine, it's not scabs.
The scabs have got no history on the dock, they've got no future on the dock, they're just today people, they're passing through, they're a passing phase of people aren't they, they've got no past, they've got no future. They're just passing through, they're just scabs, they're filling my job and I don't want them to win.
All I'm interested in is the pursuit of winning, winning my job back. It doesn't make no difference to me who you are. If you will stand along side me in a rally, or you will help me financially or morally. It doesn't matter to me who you are, what colour you are, what creed you are, what part of the world you come from, or what political stance you take, it doesn't make no difference to me.
You might have a lot more skill than me, you might have a lot more history than me, you might know more about that particular item than me, but at the same time you're making a positive contribution to me aren't you, you come in here, helping me, going on a rally, putting 10 pence in the box, telling other people about my position. Why should we say that we don't want that particular group helping us? We want to embrace all groups, all groups, doesn't matter who they are, and indeed we have, haven't we?
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I started work as a registered dockworker in 1973. However, I've always worked around docks. I've never been away from docks since I was 16 years of age.
I was a seaman from 1961 to 1971, but when I came to work ashore, I was employed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, as it was then, as a fitter's mate, and I worked for them for a short period until I was actually accepted on the dock.
My father and my two brothers were both on the dock at the time. My father had been a seaman, he'd come ashore and became a docker the same as I did. My father died in 1972, so my brothers then claimed his book for me under what they called a “deceased member's priority”. In 1973, I actually took over my dead father's registration book. Not his number, but his actual book.
When I started, I went to work for the National Dock Labour Board as a registered dockworker. I was then allocated to Liverpool Maritime Terminals, where I served a type of apprenticeship in dockers' work, working on the quay at first and then working below in the hold.
I was picked out to become a member of what they used to call a puddling gang, that's an oil gang. We used to discharge oil out of the tanks, clean the tanks etc. It was a little bit specialised. I was actually down the holds all the time and never on the quay and it was a very dirty job.
I did that for quite a number of years until I hurt my shoulder and I couldn't do climbing that was required in the tanks, because they were very slippy, and I was in danger of hurting myself.
So I then became a docker deckhand, driving the winches and the cranes and everything like that.
Now in 1987 I was employed by the Liverpool Stevedoring Company. That Liverpool Stevedoring Company only lasted a matter of maybe 12 months or something like that.
BH: Did they have Mersey Docks and Harbour Company capital in it?
Terry: I think they were about the last of the private firms that was on the dock. I don't think there was any after that.
But once Liverpool Maritime Terminal went, the part I went to was Liverpool Stevedoring Company; they attempted to run it still as a private company.
So we ended up then, the dockers who were in Liverpool Stevedoring, in what we called a "sin bin", virtually waiting to be picked up again by someone else to go work at another firm.
I ended up working for a firm called Coastal. Now Coastal was a Garston based firm, they'd been down in Garston for donkey's years. It was Irish Sea traffic. When it came to Seaforth, there were about a couple of hundred men who were in this "sin bin" as we called it. All this firm wanted was 25 men. I was one of the ones that got accepted for this firm.
When we ended up with Coastal at Seaforth, we were a little bit isolated even from Seaforth itself. There was a fence built across from Seaforth to isolate Coastal workers from the other Seaforth workers.
To be quite honest with you it was a little bit hurtful for the likes of myself. First of all the Coastal work was supposed to be a Dock Company job right from the off. But because myself and other men were in the "sin bin" at the time, it was decided by a shop stewards committee, that anyone who was not in work should be put to a new job before anyone being transferred from an old job to the new job, so that was actually what happened.
So I think it put a few people's noses out of joint. They knew that this Coastal was going to be a good wage earner and so on. They didn't actually like the fact that some guys who didn't actually work at Seaforth all the time had come up there to become part of the cream if you want to call it that.
But the actual job itself that we took over, we found ourselves far from being dockers. I felt I'd left an industry where it was a way of life, and I'd moved into this other section of an industry where it was just a job. After 1989 I didn't enjoy the docks the way I'd enjoyed it before, the whole camaraderie had gone as far as I was concerned. Even still there was a lot of good lads there, a lot of good people, but the actual camaraderie that we had didn't seem to be there any more.
I became a steward. I was a gantry driver you see, and this was one of the things that actually happened down there, is that we seem to have put ourselves on a constant merry-go-round.
We were wound up through the work, we became robotised, I'll call it that, we became robotised in the respect that when a ship came in we had to get it out as quickly as possible. That's exactly what happened. The actual hours that we worked at Coastal, we were doing a ship a day at first, and then we were doing two ships a day, every day.
We were starting at 7 o'clock, we didn't knock off for dinner, we had rolling breaks so we were relieving each other.
We convinced ourselves that because we didn't want to end up out of work again, the way we had last time, that we had to keep this job moving quick quick quick.
I was one of the gantry drivers who was quite quick at the job, quite good at it. There were other people as well as myself but we decided that we were better doing that type of job because we didn't want to be there till all hours of the night, and the only way you could do that is by having people who are proficient to do the job quickly in them particular jobs.
I became a steward in 1995. We seemed to be getting backed up to a wall all the time. No matter what arguments we put forward, mainly for more men or for less hours or whatever, we seemed to be getting backed up into a corner all the time. So the lads asked me would I stand for steward, so I agreed.
Well then, before this actual dispute started I found out, as I say I've explained to you before about being a steward.
I don't believe that you do need stewards if the men are prepared to stand up for each other you don't actually need a leader, you just need a spokesman. But when I did eventually end up going into meetings with the management, I found out how devious they could be.
We had an agreement that had been drawn up, not so much an agreement; it was something that they'd put forward, to cut our hours on a shift system. Now this shift system would have suited a lot of the lads who didn’t want to be down there for the amount of hours that they were working.
Now it worked out that a lot of the lads were looking forward to working a shift system. This is where it all becomes a little bit murky. Because I was actually one of the stewards who went in about this, and before we had a chance to agree to a shift system the management spokesman pulled a paper off the table and said, "We've decided that this is not the right time to implement this shift system."
Now looking back, all I can think that that meant was that, to bring a shift system in, you had to change the routine, and when you change the routine it takes a little bit of time to get into that routine. So it could have wasted 2 or 3 months, I don't know, possibly a length of time trying to get into a shift system pattern, and knowing full well that something was going to happen where the people involved in that shift system would not be any use to them anymore because they'd all be outside the gate. That's what I think the deviousness was.
BH: Now, your feelings when you went into the strike, and your opinions and how they developed since.
Terry: Well, when we went into it, I went in with my eyes wide open; I had no hesitation in doing what I did, as far as I'm concerned. You either came out, stood out on the picket line with the lads, or you went in, you became a scab. It was as simple as that.
As I said to you before I had already had a 12 months probation so there'd be no way that I'd be getting second chances about anything, I knew that like. So basically, it was a setup from start to finish.
I think maybe that they thought that the Coastal would have carried on working, to be quite honest with you. As stewards we've all spoke about this. That because there were a few lads there who were a little bit on the weak side, they were a bit frightened, you know everyone's frightened of their own futures and what have you. We've always supported everybody: the miners. The nurses in struggle, the building workers in struggle, anybody in struggle - the dockers have always been the first to help.
You must remember the dockers have got a tremendous history of solidarity, so I would say that the same solidarity is still there, it's a feeling, the docks has been your life. You're talking today about people with at least 23 years service and going up to 42, 43 years. That length of service, and that depth of knowledge of the job, it's like the docks is a culture.
I was the only steward there at the time you see, there was two stewards but one had been off sick for a long while and I was the only steward who was actually able to speak for the lads. Now, whether it's to my glory or shame I don't know, but I'm the only steward actually in Coastal who's ever had 100% majority and I had it on this issue.
The lads joke about me: "You haven't been a steward for long but you got us all sacked."
But it was basically a joke what the lads say, these are all my own mates who say this to me.
We do have a very small element who are not militant.
BH: What do you think about the international campaign?
Terry: Well, I'll be quite honest with you. Without the international side of this, I think we would have been finished a long time ago. Basically, when it all started, I mean let's face it, we were basically, 500 people, our backs were against the wall no matter what way we liked it, because of the anti-trade union laws and what have you - they concluded that they sacked us for breaking our contracts.
We had no way to turn to other people in this country to actually give us any kind of secondary action or anything like that. So the only alternative left to us was to go abroad, we had no other alternative.
Luckily enough for us was that, I've tried to explain to some of the lads because you know, people get despondent; you must understand that, Bill, people do get despondent. Like the views they term about the Torside lads, you know, "They've only been on the dock five minutes and this is what's happened," and this and that. I've tried to explain to them at times that without them Torside lads, you wouldn't have got all this support from abroad.
Because, as I've tried to explain, there was different things happening in Coastal. I mean, can I just explain one little thing. What may have happened in Coastal in the near future if this hadn't have happened. As I say, they were talking about letting people go on voluntary severance. Now the way we tried to work it was, ok if people went on voluntary severance we needed people to take their place, and we didn't want to deplete it any more than we already were. Now we worked out a system for the RDW's [Registered Dock Workers] who worked out on the park, on the gantries, on the stackers, on whatever you know, we would work out a type of apprenticeship. If a young lad came in, and for two years he was on less money than anyone else, but then, once he'd learned everything that he had to do, driving gantries, driving straddles, driving everything else, then he came on the top money, it wasn't any different from anyone else, after two years. That was agreed, and that was already implemented because we had one lad who had more or less come up onto that money. So we knew it was a fact that we could do that.
But what they actually wanted to do as regards the office workers who were still RDW, or ex-RDWs, they said they, as far as they were concerned, this is the management talking about the office workers, that they were doing jobs to them which were menial jobs. Now I thought that was an insult to be talking about men's jobs who had been in the industry for a lot of years. But basically what they were saying, when they leave, they won't be replaced by anyone who'll get the same money.
So, if say like we'd have ended up in a certain position, because we wouldn't accept men on less money, I don't think that we'd got this international support. We got the international support because of the injustice that had been done to the young lads in the beginning, and then the injustice that was done to all of us later on for supporting the young lads.
BH: So you think, well what about the other criticism that you went along with the union, that you were afraid to take on the union leadership, you should have demanded it being official and so on, and concentrated on the rank and file.
Terry: Well it's easy to say that, Bill, you know I understand the feelings of people like that you know, but you go and look at our own men even, I'll be quite honest with you. All right we know at the moment they're the beacon of light and everything else, but you've got to go back a little way to think how our own lads would have reacted under similar circumstances.
Now the union itself, I would love for them to have come out and made it official from the very beginning. But once we'd made our own mind up that we weren't going to cross that picket line, I suppose it made it impossible. We've blamed an officer in the union, you know everything about that.
BH: What's this about blaming an officer?
Terry: The officer who people blame: he is reported to have known that these young lads, who were originally sacked, would have been reinstated, yet he never passed on that information to anyone until it was all too late. I mean the first anyone knew about it was when everyone had been officially sacked. The police never showed up near any picket lines until everything had hit the fan as they call it, until, I mean when the Torside lads set up their picket lines there was no police about, no one tried to remove anyone outside or anything. So this is where we say like it's an actual engineered dispute. Obviously like because if a group of workers have no right to be there had tried to stop any other industry I'm sure that someone would have contacted the police to say, you know, "Get down here and move these people, they've got no right to be here." Which they actually did to us later on, removed us off a picket. I mean we don't picket any more, you know it's a demonstration now because they don't allow any pickets near that gate; they don't allow any six pickets or anything, whatever they're supposed to.
But the actual union side of it, everyone hides behind the trade union laws, we know that, Bill, everyone does hide behind them. As far as I'm concerned they should have threw their cap in the ring at the beginning.
I've spoken to different officers about it, that they were frightened of their sequestration. Now the first time I had this conversation with one of the senior officers was, I'd say six months into this struggle, and I put it to him then that, at that time, if they were going to be sequestrated they should have been well sequestrated, because of the involvement of us inside of this building that we're sitting in now [Transport House, Islington, Liverpool], and all the use of everything and even themselves being involved in negotiations and things like that.
The particular person agreed with me at the time, but he wasn't able to convince the General Secretary over that. But that's the reason why they never became involved.
We still, we'd still welcome an official reaction, not so much for ourselves but if there was an official reaction it would help with people who are crossing the picket line into the dock, it would give them nowhere to hide then, because they're hiding behind the unofficial side of it.
BH: And what do you think of the position, the reaction internationally?
Terry: Well I'm one of the stewards who, I'm lucky enough to have been to quite a number of countries; I think I've been to about 9 or 10 countries since this dispute started. And everywhere I've gone, it's a lot of hard work for the simple reason that you're there to convince people that it is an injustice that's been done, and you've got to convince them that it's in their interest as well as your own interest that we do get an international solidarity action.
And luckily enough for us, the majority of the people are listening to what we're saying. It's proved it now, the latest fax that we've had from Japan, that what we've warned people about is actually happening. I mean we're not scaremongering. In Japan there's talk of deregulation on the docks there. If the Japanese dockers can recognise that what happens there, that what's happened to us, sorry, can happen to them tomorrow, once them docks have been deregulated they've got no protection the same as we didn't have. Once our Scheme went, what protection we had went. People have commented on the Torside lads being allowed to come on the dock, as they were hired for less money and what have you, and as I say they were brought onto the dock basically to stop casual labour. And with promises that they would be brought up to scratch with money and conditions and everything else.
Now because the Torside lads themselves never got up to that basis of pay and what have you, they started to flex their own muscles. Well I think this is where the Dock Board then decided well "enough's enough" really, "we thought that we'd get rid of them somehow, but instead of getting rid of the older dockers we're going to have another breed of younger dockers coming up, who will have exactly the same type of strength."
It's because of that, that's my own opinion. I think they've realised that far from kow-towing young dockers, what they were doing was stirring them up like, involving them with older dockers who were on far better conditions of pay and everything else. So instead of them causing disharmony amongst us, in some ways they're causing all of us to blend together a bit better.
We probably made a lot of mistakes, but basically it's the type of situation you're in, Bill, you do what you think was right at the time. You can't change anything. People said that we should have balloted before we come out. But those young lads how were they able to ballot when they were sacked on the spot? You know, you were unable to do that type of thing.
Obviously we'd have liked it all to be official, because maybe then we could have got everyone else in the Port out, tugboatmen, gigboatmen, and everyone else. But basically what it comes down to, what Jim Nolan always says is that, when you need to stand up for yourself it's a case of standing up for yourself, it doesn't have to be official.
I'm on one of these small committees here, and at a meeting, Tony Nelson, one of the lads; he made a very poignant remark to some people who were at the meeting, because you had tugboatmen and other departments at this particular meeting.
What he said to them is basically very true; he said, "Do you think that a docker would have worked with anyone with a balaclava covering their face? You know yourself," he said, "that a docker would have walked off the job sooner than work with scabs who are brought in to do your job." I mean that is what these tugboatmen and these gigboatmen and everyone else done in the early days of this, they worked with scabs who had their faces covered.
So you know, that's down to them as individuals, because they're going to have to live with that for the rest of their lives. We know that what we did was right. People say that we misjudged it. I don't think we misjudged it at all.
As I said before, I worked as a, not as a docker but inside the dock, I worked as that for about two or three years. Now I know the way them people think, because people used to speak to me about it. I worked with one fitter one time, this fitter actually said to me, "Oh I see that the dockers are on strike tomorrow over an issue." I can't even remember what the issue was, but he said, "Good on them, good on them, they always do the business these lads, like." Later on that day, the shop steward walked up and said, "You'se are up the other end tomorrow with the dockers," and this fella caused murder. Now do you understand the point I'm making? The actual ancillary workers inside the dock have always rolled on the backs of dockers. I mean I was down there two years I knew what was going on. I'll give you an instance, a quick instance.
I was an ancillary worker; I was in the AUEW on the dock when I first started, because I had worked outside on a contract job. But when I actually became a fitter's mate, there was a number of one-day strikes going on the dock, by fitters. Now basically all the fitter's mates on the dock were in the T&G, but I wasn't. So every time the AUEW fitters went out, I went out with them. And I got called into the office, I was asked to explain why I was on all these days off. And when I explained to them that I was in the same union, I was told right there and then in no uncertain terms, "Well you're in the wrong union." Well I said, "I understand that, but I won't transfer my union until them strikes are finished." When they finished I did transfer to the union I should have been in which is the T&G, which I've been in ever since.
But that was just a point I was trying to make about ancillary workers. A lot of ancillary workers didn't mind because, I don't know whether you know this but ancillary wages always waited for dockers to get their pay rises, and when they got their pay rises they would go on the back of that, they never ever negotiated a pay rise themselves, they always waited till the dockers did it for them.
Gigboatmen and them type of workers, you know. You know your fitters and your electricians down there; they were the cream in the Dock Company. You know that anyway. I worked with both at different times. They earn, they rule the roost.
We’ve held very disciplined meetings. We've fallen out a few times over different things, never major things; it's just difference of opinion on what way we should do this and what way we should do that. Basically we're all being very very democratic. I mean Jim Nolan is the Chairman, we've overruled Jim a few times.
Now Jim being Jim, he's had his say, he has proved himself right a lot of times when he'd argued against what the majority were for, and he's proved himself right and the rest of the committee has owned up to that.
I'll give him his due; he has turned around and said, "Okay if that's the democratic vote, that's what we'll do. I might not agree with it, but that's what I'll do."
BH: You couldn't have held 500 men like that, just stage management.
Terry: No you couldn't just do it, you've got to be proving, you've got to be proving that what you're saying is true. I've made the points, I don't speak that often but I speak.
But basically any time that I speak I hope that no one ever thinks that I'm saying things just for the sake of saying them, because I don't believe in that anyway. I'll tell them exactly the way it is, with warts and all as they say. I've come back from different countries and I've told them exactly what's happened.
Some times it's been good, some times it's been a bit iffy because you know, you don't just walk into countries and they jump up and say "oh yeah we'll give you 100% support". You have to work very hard at it to try and get that support.
There was something a few weeks back, I don't know if you remember it, everyone has a go at wagon drivers, at lorry drivers because they cross the picket line. Now I know two men who've been laid off ever since this dispute started, two drivers.
I brought it up because I know them personally like, but we brought it up with Jim Davies when he was giving his report, "Wouldn't it be right to give these lads a mention?" because not every truck driver is bad, it just seems that way at the moment. When Jim Davies did that, the lads gave, I don't know if they gave them a standing ovation but they gave them a good round of applause.
You've got that type of thing where, they basically are fair-minded. It's fair-minded. We all have our little idiosyncrasies and we think different ways about things, but basically the actual meetings, I mean, whenever we have guest speakers I think everyone always gives them the best of respect, don't they, even if they might not agree with what they're saying or anything. The only time I've ever seen disrespect, and I don't blame them for that by the way, was when that priest spoke.
He started off quite well saying he appreciated our fight, and this and that, and within a minute or so he changed, he turned right around and was telling everyone to take the money.
Well all the lads started giving him stick then, but that was just asking for it. You don't walk into a dockers' meeting of people that they've been out of the gates for months and months, and then you tell them just to give in like that, and that's what this man was saying. So I respect the cloth of course, but the person who was actually speaking that day, he said the wrong things; he shouldn't have come to a meeting like that. The term was used there "Judas' shilling", you know the lads were shouting back at him, "What do you want us to do, take the Judas' silver?" I mean it was a fact, that was a spontaneous reaction. I mean we looked at him on the platform, because we couldn't believe that someone would get up on a platform advocating what he did to people trying to protect jobs and protect future generations. So that was a spontaneous reaction.
I know a very religious lad, a religious lad; he goes to Church and everything else, which is his own thing like. I was standing there when he went over to the priest who spoke and his companion with him went right over to them, and I thought he was going to ask his apologies for the dockers. But, when he got over there, he gave them a good telling off in his own way. “With respect,” he said, "you shouldn't be coming down to these meetings and putting those type of words across."
As far as we were concerned, we thought that priest must have been put up to it by someone, to actually put this type of thing to bring it to an end, because I mean, it's not about money, we're not here for money, we're here to try and first of all to get our own jobs back, but also to protect any other jobs for the future.
BH: You've got lads, haven't you, what do you tell them?
Terry: All as you can do is to emphasise that you as an individual have got to stand up and be counted. It's as simple as that. I'm one of the people who could actually lose my home over this dispute.
I've already lost my car about nine months ago; I could actually lose my home at some point in the future. Luckily enough I've got a wife who is of the same mind as myself, we're quite willing to accept whatever happens, you know. You either all stand together or you're finished, it's as simple as that. If you don't all stand together, you might as well let them all walk all over you now, because that's what will happen in the future.
Obviously I don't want to lose my home, but I mean we're prepared, if it happens it happens, we're prepared for it. "Worse things happen at sea," as they say. But it's basically - put it this way: you know, my mother. I told you before, is 84 years of age, and my wife and - this must have been two months ago - we were having a cup of tea with her.
My mother is a very strong woman; she's buried sons and buried grandchildren.
Anyway she turned round and said: "Well, you couldn't have done anything else really could you, except not go in, your father would turn over in his grave if you had."
My wife said: "Certainly he could. He could have gone in." I nearly fell off the chair! Then she said, "But, if he'd have gone in, I wouldn't have been there when he came out." So that speaks for itself, doesn't it Bill, I mean that speaks for itself. It’s not just me as an individual, that’s my son, my daughters, my brothers, my sister, we all think the same way.
BH: And now after 16 months, you think you’re beginning to get a bigger, wider support eh?
Terry: Yeah, definitely. As I said before I've been lucky enough to have been abroad quite a few times, but I also just don't go abroad, I also go up and down this country.
I've been all over this country, Chesterfield, Newcastle, Bristol, Nottingham, London; I've been all over doing different things. It is a fact that the different types of people that I've met; every one of them from what I can see would give you their last penny for you to win this dispute. I mean we know that money's not going to win it. Money won't actually win it but it's going a long way to help us sustain it.
That's the thing like; it's convincing people that we can actually win it. Because we keep saying that it's not about money, it's about jobs. But obviously some other people don't believe it. They obviously think that the longer it goes on, that we can be bought off. This must have been a long-term policy for them.
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Jimmy Davies Jnr
BH: When did you start on the docks?
Jimmy: November 1991, late November 1991. The third intake of Torside began in May '91, and there was, they took on another 30 people in groups of 10 over a period of a month, and that started in October, November.
BH: Ok. So what did you expect, your old man had told you what to expect?
Jimmy: Well, he had a lot of reservations about me starting on the docks, I mean he had the opportunity to get me a job on the docks six month previous, but I never took it because one thing and another. I never really fancied it to be honest, because my Dad never used to tell me much about the disputes, about the docks. I used to ask him, "Well, what do you do?" "Well I load ships and I unload ships," you know very basic. So I never had a great working knowledge. But obviously I think one of the main things is wanting to work alongside your father, obviously it has a great, that's a lot to do with it, to me anyway personally, I wanted to work alongside him. Yeah he had his reservations, because he knew it was an industry that was going through a lot of changes, and that was going through a lot of problems, and it wasn't going to be a safe job, wasn't going to be a job for life. So obviously he had reservations.
BH: And you went to Torside.
BH: You didn't get the same conditions as the other dockers.
Jimmy: No. We were on basic pay, no pension, no sick, less wages. Obviously that was the start of the problem, that was the major problem from the start, that we were never on the same conditions, because we believe we should have been. Most of the dockers believed we should have been, but it was either "you come down on a lower pay or you don't come down at all." Now obviously if people had seen that problem there and then, they might have been able to do something about it, but I don't think anyone really knew what was going to happen. Very difficult to foresee something of this magnitude happening.
BH: You worked in the general cargo.
BH: What part?
Jimmy: Timber, plywood, copper, aluminium, and lead were the main cargoes, but obviously you'd have other things like, there was a lot of individual contracts. You'd have railway lines going to Iran, a lot of old chemical plants and things which were being dismantled in England, which were then sent over. Petrochemical, a lot of stuff from the petrochemical industry. Some mining equipment. As I say, general cargo, but the majority of it would be plywood, timber.
BH: More like the old docks, eh?
Jimmy: Yeah. Plywood, timber, a lot of copper and a lot of aluminium. You'd have your other cargoes as well, your bulk cargoes which we used to work on as well. And oil drums and that kind of stuff. It did vary, and obviously we had the container vessels, but a lot of the copper ships which came in carried containers on the lids and copper down the hatch, so containers come off, copper comes out and then you put other boxes on the lids, or down the hatch whatever the case may be. As I say they were the main cargoes. We worked more timber vessels than anything else, I would say. Plywood was one of the main imports into the general cargo area, and they built a massive new shed for that to keep it under cover. The more they started bringing in.
BH: Were you in the union?
BH: Were the others, how many were working there?
Jimmy: Eighty full timers. We were all in the union; it was a prerequisite of your payroll that you had to be a member of the union as well.
BH: Did you have shop stewards? Were you one?
Jimmy: No I was never a shop steward, I was always heavily involved obviously, because, any problems we had on the docks, a lot of people went to the likes of my Dad, Jimmy Davies, Jimmy Nolan, for advice, because they had a better knowledge of what was going on, and the industrial relations side of it. I always tried to keep a back seat, stay out of the way, you know be involved and keep the men informed but not actually officially doing the job as shop steward,
BH: But your stewards were recognised?
Jimmy: Oh our stewards were recognised.
BH: By Torside?
Jimmy: Oh yes, at the start of the company they were, we had two recognised stewards; Bob Ritchie was a steward at the time, and Keith O'Carroll. And then we had another two stewards when they resigned. It was a very difficult time to represent men, a lot of changes going on, a lot of problems.
The problems we had was like the basic industrial relations with our management. Our management were very bad. They treated people like school kids. They were power crazy, you know. You had James Bradley was the director of the company.
BH: Not Bernard Bradley?
Jimmy: Well no, this was his son.
BH: Bernard who was in Fords.
Jimmy: Yes but his son actually ran the day-to-day running of the company with another guy who was an ex docker, called Tommy Hendrick. So they more or less ran the company on a day-to-day basis.
BH: And then when you say they treated you like shit, what do you mean?
Jimmy: Well I mean you were talked down to, you were told off like you were a fucking school kid you know, and they used to shout and scream at you in front of the rest of the men to try and intimidate you or embarrass you, "If you don't do this, if you don't do that!” They were sticklers for punctuality. We had to be in for quarter to 8 in the morning. If you were one minute after quarter to 8 you were sent home without pay. There was no leeway with them. There was no give and take whatsoever.
BH: Did you have a contract? Was it individual contracts?
Jimmy: Yes, individual contracts. We supplied labour every day, usually for the general cargo area, and you didn't have to be there until 8 o'clock. And we thought it was much easier and reasonable to just go straight to the Liverpool Cargo Handling area. But the supervisors there didn't want the burden, the responsibility, of having to book the Torside men on; they wanted the labour allocated before we got there.
So we had to go to our own labour control, which was in the Alex, the Hornby dock, and then we had to go from there to wherever we were sent out to. I mean, we had to be where we were sent to by a certain time. And when, say you get to Birkenhead at a quarter past 8, you could be sent home, because they would say, "Well you've had half an hour to get here, where've you been?"
They used to liaise with each other, obviously. The amount of people who were on discipline was ridiculous. I think nearly every person in the firm had been disciplined.
Apart from his family, because Bradley had a lot of family and friends working for him. The Bradleys themselves are quite a big family, and they had a lot of nephews, cousins and all by intermarriage, they'd have people who'd married their daughter or married their cousin, that kind of thing. They never used to get told off.
BH: And what about overtime, that was compulsory?
Jimmy: It wasn't really. It was, I suppose, but it was very rarely that they carried through the threat that you had to work it. That was probably one issue where if you could get somebody else to do it for you, you were ok.
I never used to work overtime or very rarely, because I used to go to football on a Saturday, and on a Sunday. For me working overtime wasn't practical.
What they used to have (on overtime) was split shifts. You could work from 8 till 1, or from 1 till 6. So if that was available I'd work split shifts. But you didn't have to work, you accepted, the company would say to you that if you were asked to work overtime then you had to work it. But there was a certain amount you could get away with it, you could say, "Well I can't work it because I've got to do this or I've got to do that, I've got a doctor's appointment or a dental appointment." And once they've asked you at the beginning of the week whether you want overtime, and then you refuse, they don't ask you again for the rest of the week.
BH: Now you said 8 till1, 1 till 6.
Jimmy: It was split shifts you see. And we - to ensure that everybody got their fair share of overtime in Liverpool Cargo Handling - we would split the shift so you could either work mornings or afternoons, you didn't work the two. That was on a Saturday. After the Liverpool Cargo Handling men had been moved to Seaforth, or taken their redundancy, Torside started changing the conditions in the Canada; maybe because they didn't think we were strong enough. And what they did, they did away with the split shifts - that got thrown out the window.
BH: And you worked what?
Jimmy: You worked 8 till 4. The split shifts what I was talking about was only of a weekend, that was only Saturday and Sunday.
Of an evening, the way the overtime was worked - now this is very important because this is where the whole dispute arose from. Overtime in the Liverpool Cargo Handling area where we have always worked, was paid in two-hour blocks. After 4 o'clock, you were paid from 4 till 6, 6 till 8, 8 till 10. So if you were working 4 till 6 and you finished quarter to 5, you were still paid till 6 o'clock. That was the agreement. That was the condition.
So on this particular day, when the dispute began, obviously I'm jumping ahead but because we're talking about overtime it's important because this is where the lockout came from.
We were told by two supervisors, the men on the ship were told by two supervisors of Liverpool Cargo Handling, who were directly employed by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, that they were working overtime. You was under another thing whereby you had to be told by at least 3 o'clock that you were supposed to be working overtime. More often than not you'd know yourself by the state of the ship, how much was left to go on or how much was left to come off. And this day the lads were told, I think it was a quarter to 4 that they were working overtime, which they weren't happy about anyway but which they then agreed to do.
So then the supervisor said you know, "You'll get paid till 5 o'clock." So the lads obviously say, "Pile of shite. You pay 4 till 6, what's different about today?" "There's nothing different, you are getting paid by the hour." So the men said, "We're not having it" and off they went. And that's the way the dispute started. Just from that.
BH: Your feelings?
Jimmy: Well at the time I thought it was great. I was full of the joys of spring, I thought it was, "Here we are, we're having a go, let's fucking have it" you know. Totally confident that it would all be over and done with within a period of days. When it started, that's the way you think you know, you think you're strong. You don't fully appreciate the situation. I don't think anybody fully appreciated the situation we were getting ourselves involved in at the start, I know I didn't.
I remember doing the first picket roster on the table tennis table in the canteen, the day we were sacked. I've still got copies of it in my house, the first one. We were doing 24-hour pickets then, and a lot of the lads thought it was like a great laugh.
We had the brazier and people were bringing food down to you, and it was like the first time we'd been actually involved in anything like that. But as I say when it began it was "let's have it brothers". See we took a lot of shit for a lot of years working at Torside, and I was talking before about the managers, the Bradleys and Tommy Hendricks, so you'd had a lot of shit from them over the years so you just wanted, you wanted to be rid of them as well, and the conditions that they brought with them. We were of the hope that when we got the backing of the ex registered, the dock workers, then we'd be in a much stronger position. It never worked out that way.
BH: The lads were solid, have they stuck solid?
Jimmy: We lost quite a lot of people in the first month of the dispute we lost about 20, 20 people because there was about 12 family and about eight friends, people who were friends of the family who refused to, because they were obviously of the opinion that they'd get looked after somewhere else, and most of them have been.
BH: This is the Bradleys?
Jimmy: Not just the Bradleys but friends of theirs, people who they brought into the company - who were keeping their loyalty to them because they give them the job, by saying "I'm not going on no fucking picket line". And we know for a fact a couple of them are now HGV drivers and a couple of them are working up in Garston, and one or two ex, well one that I know of, an ex-Torside lad is working in Seaforth. So when you say it's solid, solid after we got rid of the flotsam. Because they were people who we didn't want anyway. They were never involved in any votes, they were never radical, they never wanted to change anything. They never wanted to fight for any better conditions when we worked at Torside, so as far as we were concerned it was good riddance to bad luck. I'm glad that we haven't got them. And there's still a few people that surprise me, to be honest with you. Because there's people who I didn't expect, that stuck, and who are now solid; different people who in work, wouldn't say "boo" to the boss, or would work all kind of hours, and they stuck.
BH: Why do you think that is?
BH: In the strike?
Jimmy: Yes. A political education, but educating yourself. There’s a quote that people are freer than they ever were when they're in dispute or out on strike, because you're not tied, you're not working for a paymaster, you're not under anyone's control. And a lot of them have freed themselves, obviously there is the financial side of it but, they're not working 14, 16 hours a day and they've got a little bit of time to sit back and look at their own lives. As I say, education. A lot of people have learned about the Government, learned about the company, and learned about themselves as well.
BH: And learned about the conditions that they did work under, eh?
Jimmy: Exactly. You don't see it when you're stuck in it. It's only when you sit back that you realise "fuckin-hell it was awful", and it was awful. But I still hope to go back to it, because you just want to go back, know what I mean? I desperately want to get back, desperately.
BH: When you say politically, what do you mean?
Jimmy: When you look at the age group of the Torside lads, you are talking about boys, 21, 22, going up from there. Boys have grown up overnight and become aware not only of the problems that we've had but by going round the country and talking to other groups of workers, they're now more, they've taken in more of what's happening as a whole around the country, and that can only benefit the working class movement as a whole.
Well I mean lads going out on delegations, talking to trade unions and finding out about the Government and what it's doing to workers across the country and across the world, but especially the British Government, its oppression of the working classes. People are learning more about socialism, people who might have voted Tory before, are now like a little bit of staunch socialist kind of thing or will definitely vote Labour next time. And just travelling about and watching what is going on. And the meetings themselves are a political education, you get all MPs coming up and speaking, we've had international conferences, and they were well attended by the men, everybody wanted to know what was going on, they were dead interested. People want to involve themselves in every aspect of the dispute - which they have done, really.
BH: Where did you go, internationally?
Jimmy: Went to Sweden. Sweden, basically. I've been to Sweden, Belgium, and Denmark. But the first one was Sweden, that was the first one. That was this time last year. I was in Sweden this time last year. Me and Bob Ritchie. The support from the Swedish dockers from the onset of the dispute, I think they actually contacted us. We never contacted them. I think the first original contact we had was through Militant Labour.
We had contact with a guy called Arne Johannsen, who organised a tour for us to four ports, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmo, and Helsinburg, which are the four main ports in Sweden, and he organised a tour for us. But the problem was the tour got us into the port a little bit, and then it was fringe meetings and political activists, that kind of thing, which, and also like we linked up with the Syndicalists which is all well and good because we were getting a lot of support but what we needed to do is mainly Gothenburg, we needed to get into Gothenburg,
We needed to speak to the dock workers in Gothenburg, but what happened is when we got there, there was a new steward that was taking over from the old steward, and the new steward wasn't as radical as the old steward and he didn't think it was important for us to visit the container area at Gothenburg which was obviously the place that we needed to get into, to enable us to try and speak to the men to form a boycott of the ACL [Atlantic Container Line], which is its next port of call after Liverpool. But as I say there was a little bit of politics going up with the shop stewards there themselves, and we never actually got round to getting into the port. We met the Stockholm dockers and obviously I think you've met Bjorn Bjorg who's like one of the best fellas I've ever met to be honest with you, because he, like the work he done on our behalf was like tremendous.
He is the Svenskahamnarbetarforbundet. That's SHF, Swedish harbour workers federation. So when we went there, we got invited back obviously, and when we were invited back the next time we were invited back by the Swedish dock workers, exclusively by the Swedish dock workers and we stayed a place in the very north of Sweden, and it's a historical place for them because it's where the union was founded, so they have their conference there every year. So me and Bob went there and we attended the annual conference and we got a resolution passed that all the ports would give us financial help. You only have to speak to my Dad and ask him about the financial help that we've had from Sweden, it's been absolutely fucking amazing.
They've just sent us 10 thousand through now. So when we gets back we actually gets through into the container area. Now this is where we meet a guy, Bo Johannsen. Bo Johannsen's a shop steward for the container area. And he organised meeting upon meeting upon meeting with the dock workers. Work stop meetings. And the one that we attended, me and Bob, we knew that it was very very important. We'd been told that before we came out there that we'd got to get some form of physical action, which I was nervous about because obviously I've only been a shop steward for 10 months, I'd only been a shop steward at that time for four months.
So I wasn't too confident on my public speaking and that thing, and to realise that it was an important delegation which it was, sort of like, but it made me work better because I knew how important it was and I knew how important it was that I came back with a result. So, it's funny because, funny story what happened, we spoke to the men in the container area and they were really receptive. Whereas some places we'd spoke people hadn't been listening, but they really listened and they stopped, everybody in the whole container area stopped and they all came and we stood on the stairs, and anyway we set our case.
And obviously they won't give you the decision there and then, obviously they had to put it to a full members meeting which was the next day, so me and Bob's in the airport, and you know we'd got all the loot and we had money to bring back but we're waiting in the airport for our flight and I said to Bob, "It's a pity that we can't go home with the good news" and the next minute it comes over the tannoy in the airport "Can Bob Ritchie and Jimmy Davies go to the passport control." And when we got there, there was two Swedish dock workers with a letter, and they said, "Look, wait till you get on the plane till you read it."
We said "no problem", gets on the plane, opens it up: full boycott, 12 hour boycott of every ACL that comes out of the port of Liverpool. So it gave me a great sense of pride to come back with that, to know that on a personal basis the work that me and Bob had put in over the months, and it had been over the months, collecting information to send out to them and making sure they were fully informed, and we got it, and that boycott's still in effect. It's been one of the longest physical actions ever taken on behalf of the Liverpool dock workers, and it's happening every week. You know we can't thank them enough for that.
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I think Jimmy Nolan said we've spoken at over 7,000 meetings. I think I've spoken at something like 700 myself, all over the country but predominantly in Scotland. What we tended to do, we've targeted an area and I'm going up there again on Friday for four days, factory visits, workplaces. What you find at every meeting, every group of workers that I've spoken to is under attack in some form or other whether it be wages or their conditions, their hours, temporary contracts. And a lot of big firms now are totally derecognising trade unions.
And I certainly found a lack of support that the union leaderships have got, and I'm not just talking about the T&G now, the leadership has become so far removed from the views of their members.
It has been a unique dispute. I mean what we've actually done, as the Port Stewards, is tremendous. Basically now we've covered every port around the world, we've met workers who actually deal with ships that actually come in to Liverpool. I know there's some international comrades who've done more than others, is possibly down to the ITF [International Transport Federation]. The ITF should be throwing its full weight behind us from more or less day one, but their argument was "well we can't do anything unless Bill Morris informs us to put the weight of the ITF behind it". Of course Bill Morris' argument from that is "I can't, it's an unofficial dispute" and that's what he's argued all the way through. All's it've took was a bloody phone call, he didn't have to send any letters out even to anyone. I think really the T&G come out with a disgraceful role they've played in this dispute. I think it's bloody disgusting. But the support from international comrades has been absolutely amazing. I went with young Jimmy out to Sweden, three times we went out there, and the comrades over there are absolutely amazing, straight away, and I think the Swedes out of everywhere, have kept on with consistent support, you know the 12 hour stoppages once a week every Sunday or Monday. But you know throughout, and I want to say for the other lads, it's been, it is a global attack, particularly as dock workers, we can only see it from a dock work, we know the working class is always under attack, we have a capitalist bloody society we live in, but what we find from all the information we've had back it seems there is a global attack, this trend to casualise the workplace, and it goes, and it is by casualising, taking away everything which we've fought for, not just a few years, what's been fought for before we come on the scene. You know because conditions have to be built over periods of time, and you know yourself Bill particularly with docks the conditions were a bloody disgrace in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, even the 70s, the conditions were an outrage. Now the comparisons in this country to give on that, on the dock estate in Liverpool I think the conditions are disgusting, the facilities just don't compare with some, I say, go back to Sweden again. We walked into like a 5 star restaurant, it was there for the men, subsidised meals, subsidised canteen, beautiful set up, saunas for the men to come out; they actually employ a guy in an overall room who's an ex-docker, who had an accident and now all's he does is looks after the men's overalls, to clean their overalls every day. Bloody hell in Liverpool you'd be walking around with the same pair of overalls for 12 months without getting them washed. These are the things that do stick in your mind throughout the dispute. It's so much, internationally. It's now what 15 months into the dispute where you think, "Can we still go on with things the way they are?” Because after 15 months everybody becomes tired. You can't, you couldn't keep on with the rate of work, the amount of work that we've had to put in, you burn yourself out. In time you burn yourself out with the amount of work that's been put into this dispute. With all the different aspects, you know internationalism, sending delegations all over the country here. I mean there's so many highlights.
You can give nothing but praise for the men though. I mean, particularly for somebody who worked at Torside. When they were all dismissed on that Thursday evening or afternoon when the couriers were running around with dismissal notices, I mean fucking amazing we live in these 90s and they've got couriers giving out dismissal notices. I've got nothing but pride and admiration for every man who refused to cross that picket line. Because I remember that Thursday morning when we were standing there in that pissing down rain, wondering, because you do, a lot of fears race through your mind, "Are we doing the right thing?” Because don't forget what them men were giving up that day. They were giving up a severance that they refused to take in ‘89, a lump sum payment, the pensions, putting their job on the line for us. So what can you say? You can only say you've got nothing but admiration for people prepared to do that for you. That's all you can say about the men.
BH: The experience throughout this strike?
Bob: You've seen men grow up, Torside lads, obviously the Torside lads going out on delegations, we've got lads who now are addressing national conferences who wouldn't prior to the dispute say "boo" in the bloody canteen if you spoke to them. They've all got more politically aware. And the feeling inside, for the way they've been treated as well, or the hatred they feel for the establishment for what's happened, and allowing it to happen. You know I don't think that'll ever go away. Whatever the outcome of the dispute, I think the working class movement as a whole is only going to gain from it, for the amount of work that lads have put in, when they've actually gone out particularly around the country. We say, like, boys have grown into men, overnight, particularly when you look at the age group of the Torside lads, you are talking about boys, 21, 22, going up from there. Boys have grown up overnight and become aware not only of the problems that we've had but by going round the country and talking to other groups of workers, they're now more, they've taken in more of what's happening as a whole around the country, and that can only benefit the working class movement as a whole.
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Even though I've worked down below and on the quay, and I've been down there now for nearly 30 years, there was always a gap between the people who worked in the office and if you like those who did the manual and down below and on the quay and drove the cranes etc. But I've always had an affinity with them is because they've been good comrades of mine and therefore I'm a great believer of you never judge the book by the cover, and as much as they were sort of in a pigeon hole of being conservative in a small c because a lot of those people in the offices they looked upon themselves as separate, way above the dockworker. And I know there was a lot of good comrades who worked within the ranks of the office, who always had the affinity with us, and I struck up that relationship with them, and I'm proud of that. And even through the heady days of when it was everything was appertaining to the docker, you mustn't forget that those lads who were working in the office, some of them are sons of dock workers, and they wanted to be part of the action, they didn't want to be elitist. I've worked with them right through and I've still worked with them, even when they were ACTSS, and I was always proud to sort of attend their meetings and speak to them and discuss things with them as a shop steward.
BH: Now when did you start on the docks?
Kevin: I started on the docks in 1968, and that was on the back of the fact that my father who worked all his life down there, and my grandfather and me two uncles worked down there, they made a concerted effort to keep me away from the docks, not to go down there even though I lived outside the docks and as I fell out of bed I landed up alongside a ship. At the time, and rightly so, my Dad was trying to give me something that maybe he never had the opportunity to have, and that was to keep away from the docks because it was a rat race, and he didn't see a regular future in it at that time. And there was no future in it at that time, when you didn't know when you were gonna get paid, you didn't know when you were gonna get a day's work or half a day's work, you didn't know what type of money you were bringing home. And my Dad had to raise seven of us, and so I can see the justice in what my Dad was saying. But nevertheless it didn't keep me away from the docks, because I've been down there now for the last 30 years, and I'm proud and I'm privileged to say that I've been given the opportunity in those 30 years to represent dock workers for 20-odd years or more and it's my privilege because in those struggles, and there've been some very hard battles, we've had to fight, and we haven't won every one but nevertheless we've tried to reshape the industry for the betterment and not for the detriment, and that's what the employer has always seemed to want to do.
My Dad was in the Blue Union, and my Grand-Dad was in the White Union. So you can imagine the dilemma I had. I'd just gone on the dock as my Grand-Dad retired and my Dad left.
He remained in the Blue Union and proud of it, because he believed the way forward was with the Blue Union. And he had a great feeling for the Blue Union. As a kid I didn't know a great deal about it, but I remember him being in the Blue Union because he used to have this button on his belt, and I can always remember when I had to go and pay me Grand-Dad's dues into the Transport and General. So I was caught in between two stools but what an education that turned out to be!
We had to join the White then, but we worked with Blue Union lads, and I can remember in 1970 when they even tried to drive a wedge between the lads in the Blue Union and ourselves, and when the employer made a decision, they told the Union, that was the Transport and General, and members in the White Union, that we must disassociate ourselves with people in the Blue Union, where that was actually, like trying to ask me to disassociate myself with you, Bill. The one thing and the great affinity of dock workers is the loyalty to each other, and what particularly happened there was an incident that took place with some deckhands and I was involved in it at the time, where there was going to be some disciplinary measures taken against the Blue Union colleagues, and what they were basically saying was that we shouldn't take any notice, whatever discipline is dealt to these people that we should ignore it. But we didn't, we actually went on strike to give them that recognition.
BH: I didn't, in the book it's more or less the struggles to defend the Blue Union, the last of them was well before then, except in '67 the Blue Union played a big role.
Kevin: Yes, well this would be about 1968. As I say I can remember the man himself in question, Dick Williams, from the South End. I was in Box 10, and they were great people, they really were, they had, in my eyes as a young Turk coming in the industry then, because one thing about people like ourselves when we went down the industry we made it abundantly clear, because you had a workforce then who'd been totally dominated by an employer, in fact frightened in many occasion, and when they seen young lads like us mixing in with them, we were the breath of fresh air to them, because we were the ones who were saying, "We're not doing that. We'll do that if you give us the boiler suits and you give us the gloves and you give us this," and we were actually standing up to an employer whereas the older people, they were absolutely made up inside that we were doing it because they'd been so used to being docile in a lot of ways. So when they seen young lads, because I always maintain, they may have treated my Dad or my Grand-Dad and thousands of other workers badly, but they're not going to treat me, and they're not going to treat the younger ones that come down. And we made that abundantly clear to them. "You may have got away with it in the past, but you're not getting away with it in the future."
My Dad, this was the dilemma, my Dad worked in the Gladstone in the North End, and my Grandfather worked in the South End, in the loyal 10, which is Box 10. They used to call it the loyal 10, the Royal 10, but the thing about it was in our, in Box 10, the younger element, because we were prepared, because we didn't have no commitments, we weren't married, a lot of us weren't married, and we more or less said, "Well we're going to have a go, we're going to have a go because if you don't stand up now at the beginning of it, then you're going to just carry on as if things haven't changed. You'll have your hot water, you'll have your toilets but you won't make no impact on the way forward that's changing the overall structure of the improvement of wages and conditions, better holiday pay, sick pay, pensions etc. etc." So it was an ongoing thing, and the more that you actually stood up against the employer, because we had the award system then, and the more you stood up and said "we're not doing it, we're not doing it" well the older people who were more experienced they used to say "oh they're young grabaways, young grabaways", and of course these were men that I always call "Mister", I was brought and taught that you always call them "Mister" because of the respect, and I always had done. And it was just that attitude that we had, we'd got nothing to lose, and they're not treating us like this so we want to try and get involved in shaping the future because we're going to be here for a long time. And as time wore, and the old people, the older men realised that we were good things in so much as that we could speak and we weren't going to accept what they had to put up with in the past, and they actually, we become something of a folk hero because when we were in Box 10 they used to call us "Garrison's Guerrillas" all the young ones, because they didn't know when we were going to strike next.
"Garrison's Guerrillas" was the television programme and it was all about gangsters in America and they would go in and they would just sort of blitz a bar, go in there and take over events and things like that, so we got the nickname of Garrison's Guerrillas, because on the television it was a fella named Elliott Ness and he was the detective always trying to go after them, and what we were doing, with being young guerrillas, we were mercenaries in that we didn't have no respect for bosses or anybody like that because if you didn't like it we were just going to go home and that's the end of it. We were unpredictable as young lads. And ok we made one or two mistakes but at the end of the day it was a shot across the bows for the employer to say, "hang on, we've got a different culture here, we've got different people". Whereas before you could sort of point the finger and say, "You will do", now you've got to get down and say, "You don't mind if you do it, do you?" They sort of got into a situation where they were asking us to do things, as opposed to telling us. And that was good for the older people as well.
For the first couple of years I didn't actually have a steward’s card but I've always fought on the side of justice, and I've always fought for the underdog and whenever I've seen anything that's not right I'll always challenge it, even today, if it's not right I'll challenge it. And people, I felt that I was respected in this way, people used to come up, when the stewards weren't around, you had to do an arbitration with the berth manager, well I was proud and privileged when people used to say, "Will you go and do it Kevin? Will you go and put the case forward?" And I'd go forward and I'd speak, and I'd do the arbitration for the men. And that's the way I did it.
It must have been in the 70s, in the 70s I officially took it on in an official capacity as a shop steward. And the thing was I've always been supportive of the shop stewards, I've always been supportive of the union. I would never undermine the shop stewards, so therefore when the shop stewards knew that I'd been in to do an arbitration or been, they'd know I'd be working for the men and I wouldn't be working against those lads to undermine the shop stewards and I would never ever do that, and even the stewards themselves used to say "you should be one of us". But maybe I had that much respect for the shop stewards and they were doing a good job at the time, so I didn't see what role I could play in that as much as though I would have loved to have played a role but it was just my respect for the shop stewards’ movement.
BH: So you went through your own committee in '72 and through the period of the Pentonville Five and the dispute over the beginning of containerisation.
Kevin: I've been fortunate to have come in on the back end of the '67 regime, pre '67 and see containerisation, palletisation, you know all them types of things, modernisation, have all come into this port and I've seen these transitions, and I've seen where we've introduced modernisation and technology on one hand, we've also seen vast numbers of men going out the other end. And now we know why technology's here, it's certainly not to improve us as such but to turn the ships around quicker and help to move cargoes from A to B quickly in big groups. I saw containerisation come in and take the manual side of the jobs away, but it still left a lot of ships that had to be loaded and discharged manually and that's a skill in itself, make no mistake about it, to see some men actually load and discharge ships is something else.
So the men said yes, bring containerisation in, mechanisation etc. but then there's got to be a price of that, I mean if we're losing men, when I come on the dock I was on £11 1s 8d, and then obviously through negotiation we increased that because we'd always argue that there's a reduction in the manpower, and to introduce the technology there's got to be a price to pay, because less men are going to be working on them particular operations with the ships, so therefore it's only right and proper that we negotiate and strike a level that that's going to be compatible and acceptable to the men. And that's what we did and that's what we've always striven for. We've never had the Luddite attitude but we've never ever stood in the way of the technology that's come into the port. Some people were somewhat frightened of it, because it was a new entity and obviously we didn't know what it entailed. Now, when you look at the port you see that everything's run on mechanisation.
BH: So the ‘72-‘74 big movement on the docks, what were your feelings then..?
Kevin: Well, on the national situation because of the situation of us being an island it was imperative that we had to come together as groups of workers, because that was one of the things that we could actually use as a bargaining chip, is the fact of whether the dockers in Scotland, dockers in Liverpool or London, it was all about coming together to understand what we've got to do to improve our lot. And, it doesn't matter where the cargo goes. Dockers in Liverpool are the same as dockers in London or Scotland; they know how to load and discharge ships. That's one thing, and that applies right across the world. The changes that came into being were some good changes. I looked upon them as though it was a way forward, it was a way forward for us as shop stewards, it was a way forward to look into making the job more secure for the men, giving them decent wages, getting a decent wage, more important as well is getting the men to believe in their own respect and their own dignity in an industry that has been at the lower end of the spectrum in the job equation situation, because in Liverpool in particular, as a punishment if you were on the dole for too long, they used to send you on the docks as a punishment. And here we are now, everyone, the car factories that came in the 60s, everyone left the docks looking for somewhere to get a better quality of life, and then after '67 when we fought and got some quality of life and a little bit more stability in the industry, people started to want to come back into the docks, but then having said all that, the modernisation of the ports has been helpful in so much as that it's brought us a lot together, all the other ports, because with containerisation, ports have been tooled up now to operate them types of operations.
BH: But what about the men you lost?
Kevin: Yes, yes, don't forget we had people who were in their 70s who were still on the docks, even though the retirement age was 65, a lot of people because they fiddled their age, their date of birth in order to get a job. Also the fact that we had people who were in real dire straights healthwise, and they couldn't leave the docks because they had nothing, they had to still maintain a family and so through a form of negotiation, there was a mass exodus from the docks when the severance started to come out, because people were taking it and they were going to open this and open that, I mean people were going to open that many shops that Marks & Spencers were going to be out of business in no time, because a lot of people saw this was the way forward - take the money, get out of the docks, get out of the industry and set up something else.
But what we were saying to them then still applies today, there's nothing outside, no work available, and a lot of people have regretted leaving the docks, because the docks is something like an institution. The point is, that it becomes a way of life, of working together, and there’s camaraderie and the community; it's like a marriage in many different ways! You can't really explain to outside people what the industry is all about, it's a very difficult thing; there’s a loyalty to each other, even through the hard times.
BH: But now what about the 70s, and onward, with decline of the industry?
Kevin: Well as you know in Liverpool there was seven miles of docks on this side of the water, and they closed them right down, and they closed Birkenhead.
There was more at my wedding than there’s on the dock now, and that's simply because of the contraction of the industry itself. And yet, there's more deadweight tonnage going through the port than was going through the port in the 50s. And that is because of the mechanisation, containerisation - all the technologies that are included in that.
And, a lot of people have left the industry, for whatever reason, that's their personal choice whether they want to leave the industry.
The reason why they closed the docks down, as we always said, is capitalism. It just has no boundaries, it has no boundaries, and I'm sure we've experienced it many times in Liverpool,
They've taken ships away from this port to another port because they can do them for x amount of money less. Then Liverpool unions will go in and negotiate again, and then they'll bring them back here again, and that's the market forces being in operation now.
One of the flaws in the union itself, was the fact that it acted too much, or too little too late. We knew with this Conservative Government what the plans were going to be - they spelled it out.
They were going to abolish the National Dock Labour Board Scheme. Now they said that it was going to create more jobs and create more competition, but we knew the dock workers would be the losers.
What should have happened is that union leaderships should have been taking the lead like we were trying to do in Liverpool at the time.
We were taking days of action when the Bill was going through Parliament, when the readings were being taken, and the men were psyched up for that. They were wanting to have a go, because they know it's no use waiting to be punched on the chin, you've got to learn to protect yourself.
The way we've learned to protect ourselves is take necessary action, slowing the process down, taking the necessary action in the port, by going on strike.
But having said that, it should have been done right across the country. All the other ports should have been taking similar types of action but they were led into a corner by believing that they were going to be all right, and that they weren't going to suffer after the abolition of the scheme in 1989. And now we've seen what it was all about.
The unofficial National Port Stewards come into being to push the union.
It was always used as a pincer movement; it had people from all the different ports on it.
Basically that was to sort of keep the official union on its toes, and lots of the things that we discussed with the National Port Shop Stewards’ movement, actually came to fruition.
That was because we put the pressure on the T&G to say "look this is what we do", and, good enough, they sometimes listened, they had to give us the respect because they knew who we were, they knew the quality of people.
BH: The port committee was mainly Liverpool and London?
Kevin: And Southampton. There was also Scotland; they were on the National Port Shop Stewards. You did have a smattering from different ports, even Felixstowe used to send a representative. They were not registered but we always fought with a demand that all ports should have registered dock workers working in them.
They were never registered; never a registered port, and we always tried to sort of give them the assurance. I went to Conference many times to try and get them registered, to put them under the umbrella of the National Dock Labour Board Scheme.
BH: Were you a member of the national unofficial committee?
Kevin: Yes, yes, I was part of that. We used to have it in different ports; you know just to sort of give it credence.
BH: What about the run up to '89?
Kevin: We knew that we were going into the fight, and Liverpool was first out and last back.
We were psyched up, our men in Liverpool were really psyched up, but obviously Ron Todd and the union in general were saying "oh well let's try and do it this way and let's try and do it that way" and so it went on - we were being drip fed. We wanted to take the action in Liverpool and we did take the necessary action, but other ports wouldn't come along.
BH: Before we come to '89, I missed the '81 or '82, the steel strike. Now here there was quite an action by the dockers; was it Liverpool on its own?
Kevin: Yes, we were on our own at one period, because we made a conscious decision as Port Shop Stewards that we weren't going to handle any steel.
I can give you an example. I was checker and it was my job to receive consignments that came in the lorries and that they were in order and sign for them. On one particular occasion it was my job as a checker, I refused to sign for a consignment of fridges because it was fridges. The thing was that those particular fridges were made with steel. The people that were on strike were steel workers, and therefore as far as I was concerned I never put my name to the documents certifying the consignment was in order, because there was a steel strike happening in this country. And many times I wouldn't sign anything of that nature.
I got myself into a bit of trouble about it, but my principle was here was fellow workers, steel workers, trying to fight for their livelihood, and it's ok saying they've just been made in such a place a long time ago, but they were made of steel and therefore I was trying to stop the movement of those fridges and trying to cause some form of backlog in that way.
And when you look at the steel industry that's gone, the mining industry that's gone, those were the cornerstones of British industry like the docks, and we've supported those workers; in fact, it would be easier to say what struggles we never supported - I can't recollect one.
We supported the steel workers by refusing to work on a cargo of steel from Immingham, an east coast port.
And we supported the miners in refusing a cargo of coal. They tried to deem it illegal secondary action; but the point remains is that there was coal coming into a port, and whether you like it or not coal is coal, wherever it comes from.
When the ship came in, we refused to unload it because, what it meant, it was coal being brought through, breaking the strike.
I believe we've always taken a positive attitude; we take the action and take the consequences later.
A lot of us were travelling around the country. I know I stayed three days in Southampton, and that was simply in Southampton they were prepared to go back to work in the containerisation part of the dock. So we stayed there for 3 days.
And what the sadness for me was, some people were saying: "Well what can we do?"
In Southampton, I actually stood with the megaphone, and it's on television everywhere, and I was actually with the Operations Manager, I'm sure his name is Mr. Hall. He was actually standing on the dock gate as I was trying to dissuade people from going in. I'm from Liverpool, they're from Southampton and I'm dissuading them from going in to their own workplace. But it didn't matter, as I said earlier on we were all dock workers, we knew what the job was etc. etc. And as my words over the megaphone, "What are you going to tell your children? There's no future there for you. If you stay out and fight, then that's the way you'll gain your victories. By going in now, he's laughing, look he's laughing at you now, he's laughing, his lambs to the slaughter." It's all documented. "You're lambs to the slaughter." And they was, one particular guy was actually crying, he stayed with me for two days, and he actually cried, he was crying, he said, "I've never been in this predicament in my life, I've been in the army and everything." A man a lot older than me, and he was saying, because Noddy always called you "Mush" you know, "You'se have got so, you're so powerful in yourselves that you believe in so much." And he said, "Here it's all how much you've got, how much land you've got and how many cars you have, it's all materialistic stuff." And he said, "Well me personally I've got nothing, I've come in the world with nothing and I'll go out without, in the same way but at least I'll leave my mark behind somewhere," and things like that. It was upsetting to see men, grown men, upset, because they felt so helpless on what they could do. As small groups they were prepared to take the necessary action but they would have been ostracised and the fact that the stewards never even come out and spoke to us, the national officer and I went up to his office, I broke into the office in Transport House in Southampton, and I finally got hold of John Ashmond the Regional Secretary, and he had six or seven lads with him, and I told him in no uncertain terms what I thought of them, and I wanted all our train fare to go home. "If you're not going to give us the train fare you better do for plane, because there's no other way we're going back. These are men of calibre and they're not going to go back second rate to anything. Either put them on a plane or put them on a train and also I want some money for food for our people, because you're looking here at people that you'll never see in your life." And they're still here, a lot of them, Micky Tighe and all them, Micky Tighe and Tony Della and all them, they were with me, they can tell you. I said, "If you look at these people, because you'll never see men as good as these. They've come down, we've come 280-odd miles down to your port to help you, to help your industry and my industry and you haven't got the decency to authorise the shop stewards to come and speak to us, you haven't even come and spoke to us yourself. I've had to tell lies to the lady downstairs to break in to your office." I says, "You haven't even got the gumption, and you're telling me that the dispute's 'you can't win it'." I said, "Well you'll never win it when you've got people of your calibre leading it, because your job's safe. And sadly it's people like these, and myself, who've kept you in a job. And when push come to shove, you can't do it."
BH: Did you get the fare?
Kevin: Oh, and more, and more. He come in, the caretaker come in with an envelope like that, he was sitting here, this was in the boardroom and I was sat there and our lads, all dotted round, and he give me the money and he started counting and he said, "Oh don't bother" and he pushed it one side, and I pushed it off further. I said to the lads, "Don't get involved until we get the money, then we'll cut loose on him. Just play it my way, I'm not trying to be smart but I know how to deal with these, leave it with me." And that's what happened, we got the money and just passed on to, "Right, while we're here, where the fuck have you been?" And I went right into him. But we got £20 a man. We were £20 each, extra, over and above our fare, and food and everything like that. Because we didn't know, we knew we had a lot by the amount we seen there, there was a lot of money there, and he would have paid us £1,000 each to get us out of the office, but we made the point.
BH: Did you go to any of the other ports?
Kevin: Yeah, well I, obviously we went to London. It was far better there; it was far better there. They were putting up a fight. They were putting up a fight. Because they've got that relationship with us you know, with our history and you can't take that away, you know the Micky Fenn's of this world and people of that. You are what you are, and they were fighting on the same level as us, they were fighting on the same level as us, and they knew, they knew that it was either Liverpool or London that was going to get done. We knew that. And they took a calculated risk and minimised it by saying "If they do Liverpool, them creatures there, they'll bounce back. They won't go away. We can't do what we're going to do for London." And that's why they sent their contracts; well they sent the cards through the post, and the money as well.
BH: 16 or 17 the stewards.
Kevin: Yes, and all. We won the fight but lost the war, it cost two million pound, went through, but that's the way the law is, the law's there to make sure, that at one time if you were sacked indiscriminately you got your job back, but the Tories removed that and what they said is there's no guarantee you'll get your job back, that's what happened.
In the likes of Southampton. It was made clear to me that this was an official situation; there was nothing much you were going to be able to achieve from it, so, "You've got a job to go back to, so why don't you go back and leave things alone. It's not as bad as it's made out to be." That was what the officials of the union were saying.
Officials were saying, and, "It's not as bad as that, as much as we try to help you but you know, it's better to go back and try and change the system." Well anybody can say, "What can we do?" But I believe you're judged on what you don't do at times.
I believed that if you would have got the TUC to get off its backside and used the teeth it never started biting with it would have changed the situation and stopped one of the foundations of the working class that is being taken away from us. The right of all the little and big victories that we'd gained since 1967 was all going to get wiped away, was all eventually going to be taken away from us, and when you think about that it was just frightening. Because what it basically said was the fittest will survive, and Thatcher's game was the fat get fatter and the rest are just left one side.
And in Liverpool, and I believe in lots of other ports and lots of other industries, people want some security in the industry and they want to have a say in the industry that they belong to.
The dock industry in particular was a way of life, and if you were a worker in Liverpool - if you didn't know a dockworker - you'd know workers who had something to do with the docks - whether it was ship repairing, cartage on the docks etc etc. And if he or she wasn’t in connection that way then they would be intermarried to somebody who worked on the docks.
So everybody was the docks. And that is why now people are up in arms on Merseyside, because you know what the bad old days were like and they don't want to go back there any more and that's why we're striving to win this dispute, because of that.
The day that we went back, and incidentally a lot of us were reluctant to go back and we had no guarantee of having a job by the way when we did come back because people like myself had never signed any form of contract, never signed anything, I was given many options of where to go to work and I declined to sign anywhere because that was the part of the system that the Dock Company brought out. They give you a choice of areas that you could go to. Some people did sign for them, and some didn't. Even to this day, believe, to this day I never signed a contract to go back to work.
When we went back, we marched along the Dock Road and we went through the dock gates, and we had a piper who piped us back to work. When we got there we found that the stewards' office had all been locked up - new locks on, and the control.
So we were all just milling round, outside. And then we had a meeting, the stewards called a meeting of the men just to say what we think you should do and so on and so forth, and what happened…
BH: What did they say?
Kevin: Well what we were saying clearly is that obviously lads who haven't signed a contract, they're going to have to sign to say that they're going to work in General Cargo, and what you're going to have to do now is just report to the window, as we call it and they will tell you just exactly where to go. I mean obviously they were delegating men to go different areas in the port. I was quite happy to go work in General Cargo.
BH: Now you're in the place that's locked up?
Kevin: Yes, and we couldn't get into the stewards. We couldn't get even into our own office, the stewards. So men had to sort of book on if you like. By this time it must have been about 9, 9:30. And what happened, there was a lot of Mersey Docks and Harbour Company managers and supervisors milling round. There were some men actually in tears, some of our own men in tears. And of course as a shop steward what do you do? You can't, you're trying to keep control of the situation and control people, and people are saying things like, "Fuck this, I'm not having it, I'm going home," and all that, it was very very disturbing. Anyway I remember this particular manager who came up to me and said, "Kevin, you're going to have to come upstairs and sign the contract," and I told him where to go in no uncertain terms, I had better things to do. You know, "I don't want to sign any contract at the moment." So he was quite a decent guy, he said to me, "Kevin, I urge you to sign it because if you don't sign it, I have to sack you." So I said, "Well I'm not signing anything."
So he said, "Well fuck it, I'll sign it." And he signed my contract for me. He put my name on it. He scribbled my name on that contract, and that is to this day.
I never signed a contract to go back in 1989. And I appreciate what the man done for me, because he realised, and they're his words, "Don't let them sack you, you know you're worth more than that." And I can understand all that but, the way I was at the moment, that was the least I had on my mind.
Yeah, they left at the same time. Again for their own personal reasons. You're talking about; there must have been at least six or seven left. We had to reorganise, and I'll tell you what, it must have been certainly one of the most horrendous weeks of my life on the docks, going round controlling people, saying to them, "It can only get better, it can only get better" because the employer realised that he had the foot on their neck, and he was trying to humiliate people. He had men brushing up, brushing the sheds up, things like that, forcing people, by degrading them, hoping to force them to leave the industry.
People were coming to me and saying, "I'm not putting up with this Kevin, I'm not."
I was saying, "Look, don't worry about it, as long as you're getting paid. Don't let them wear you down; don't let them see that it's affecting you too much. This can only go on for a short time."
And, in the end, in a matter of days, I was actually arguing that we wanted boiler suits, we wanted bigger brushes, we wanted bigger shovels and we wanted washing facilities and all things like that.
So as much as that was a delaying process, because while I was arguing, the men weren't brushing and they were saying, "We’ve got no gear, I want gloves" and so on and so forth, like that.
I spent many many hours, and I'm proud to have done, with men in groups, or singly. Some were suicidal, because it's such a shock to the system that they couldn't come to terms with some of the things that we were being asked to do, and the way we were being treated by the management, in this cavaliering attitude that they had, total disrespect, "We'll tell you what you do." They were drunk with power at the time.
We were saying to some: "By all means if you want to take the money, but think about what is there outside? There's nothing. There's nowhere you can go. So you might as well stay in here, stay with your colleagues, stay with your mates, and we'll fight them. And we'll have another day, and this time round we won't make the same mistakes."
I was exhausted, mentally, not physically, but certainly mentally because you had to be around, people had to see you. You were trying to sort of bring people back to some remnants of life again because everything had been taken away from them, and it was a real shock.
But again, you know, a lot of us rallied each other round, and as I say, it was a job in itself to do. And I feel that there were certain managers, who didn't like what was going on, and they sympathised with us with what was happening, and they couldn't bring themselves to ask men. Sometimes they'd come to me and they'd say, "Kevin, I've been asked to ask the lads to do this, do that." Well of course I'd get into an arbitration with them right away. I'd be saying, "Well look when we've done that we're going home, is that ok?" So, I had to give the men a bit of an incentive. So, he'd say, "Look, I won't be looking for you, that's the end of it." Because what they were saying at the time is that, "Be there from 8 till 12 and from 1 to 5, and even if there's no work you don't go home, don't finish the job and go home." That's what they were indoctrinating. So it's a little bit of that, and once I got that and passed it on to the men, that rejuvenated them. It was all that type of stuff. We were always looking for a way of trying to get something to give a little bit of encouragement to the men. A lot of the men lost interest with their jobs and they were slow, they couldn't be bothered, and these were men who would fight each other in days gone by to make money on ships.
Their heart had been somewhat ripped out of them temporarily. But nevertheless we were slowly through a massive blood transfusion; we were trying to get back to that.
We did never get back to where we were pre '89, but one thing that we kept trying to instil into the men was, "Don't let them see that it's getting to you. You know you've got your dignity, you got your pride, you got your principles, you've got your family to think of, they're more important. You'll be here when they're gone. They're trying to get rid of us."
And I think we done a good job in that respect, because I always believe in them situations, and like in this situation now, who cares for the carers? Who helps the helpers? Because everyone sees that you must be strong, you must. But we're only human beings. I've had many many a sleepless night, like hundreds of other people, over wondering what's going to happen, are we going to invite that action, what happens if it goes wrong, and things of that nature. They were no different then after '89, but I'm glad to say if I was to talk to them now and say the men were, they'd just start laughing and say, "Yeah, it's going on again." You know I even brought a ball in where we used to play football. So you'd have grown men of 50 odd, 60 years of age, used to not playing but watching, but it was something to take their mind off what the employer was trying to do to them and all things like that. But it was very good.
I looked back on that, I learned a lot of things, I learned a hell of a lot about people and a lot of people who we thought were strong, really weren't as strong, and those who I least expected from, become very strong.
So it was like the phoenix from the ashes. And like in this dispute, never be surprised by some of the calibre and talent of the people that we have amongst our ranks. People in this dispute now who've never argued against the boss in their lives, if the boss said "two and two make five" there was five. And I spent many years, many many years trying to say, "Look this is what an employer does to you. He takes everything away." And they always argued, "Oh he'd never do that to me. He'd never do that to me. I'm a good worker and I never argue" and all that. But what has happened is that those people who had that conception, now believe that they have been the worst done to because they feel more bitter than someone like me. I always knew what an employer would do, given half the chance.
And when that happened to them, they felt so bitter that, "How dare they do this to me? After all what I've given, and he treated me like this!" And they've become stronger, and it's been an eye-opener for me. So that gives me a bit of, a lot of heart when I see all them many many hours I've spent trying to reason with them about what an employer's all about. It's finally took the employer of sacking them, to bring them to their, not senses, but the fact of that reality of what an employer will do to you.
BH: Now you’ve helped the Women of the Waterfront, and then there's the question of the police.
Kevin: It didn't set out as Women of the Waterfront, that's a name that's been developed and a good name. Like everything else, we discussed it at the shop stewards, and it was an idea that I'd always, in any struggle I believe that you've got to get as many people as you can on your side. And one of the things, you've got to understand that the docks is a male orientated industry, and this so-called word of macho and everything that goes with it. So therefore, there didn't seem to be much place for women. I looked upon it somewhat differently, you know lessons of the miners’ strike, and the miners, the very powerful role that the women played in that, and seen them in action.
And I thought, "Yes, we need something like that. We need our women to be on side," because women, they are, they can put pressure on and they can take pressure off.
That's exactly what it seemed to me they could do: take the pressure off their husbands and families. So I was given the job, and a pleasing job, to try and orchestrate that, which I did.
We called women to come to Transport House, and nearly 100 turned up. I started the meeting off by saying that I was only the messenger in this situation, and they must form your own committee with chair and secretary and so and you must start to come forward with some ideas of what type of role you can play, and by that I don't mean baking cakes to sell and stuff like that, but being positive and pro-active. And proudly, I attended their meetings and reported to the stewards. Going to Trevor Furlong's house, the Christmas carol singing, going to scabs houses, leafleting the road, confronting the scabs - the women argued with the women in the households, saying, “Look we're women like you, we're mothers like you, we have a house to run, we've children to bring up. Our husbands and our partners they've lost their jobs.”
They did a tremendous job, absolutely tremendous job. This is a group of women, that never met each other before, they didn't know each other. Because the ironical thing about the docks whereas you may in a factory, you may have a Christmas party or a summer outing, we never had that.
That was what type of employer that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company was, we were just a number and that was the end of it.
These women were brought together and they had a positive role to play.
So it gave them a great deal of confidence and they were encouraged to have confidence, be able to speak, to speak about their problems. As a mother, as a sacked dockworker’s partner, they knew how hard it was to bring your family up, what struggles you have. And the hardships, what it's done to your family life, what it's done to your home life, what it's done to your children, all these types of things that had never happened in your life before and there you was after 30, 40 years, you have a situation where there's no money just coming into the house.
And they went into other groups of workers and explain what it's all about, and no one can explain what hardship's about than a woman because not only is she, she's confronting the dispute but she's got to bring her family up on lesser money and trying to explain to the children that, "You can't have this, you can't have that, and you can't have the luxuries that you've been used to over the many many years."
Even the children come to meetings, they've been educated, they know what it's all about. They didn't know what a scab was prior to 15 months ago. They thought it was something that when you fell over and you had a crust on your knee, that was their form of a scab. But what they realised, they know what a scab is, it's somebody who does the job of someone else who's refused to do it and gone in dispute because of it. And they understand what not crossing a picket line means.
They've missed a lot of their childhood but it's something that will put them in great stead for the future, because when they look back, I know when my lads look back and they even say today, "Dad, where's it, where's it all going to end and where's it going to take us?"
But my lads can always say, "I took part in that with my Dad" and these children can have that luxury.
The scabs can't say that. And that's why I believe that the women played an absolutely tremendous role. Even through all the hardships that they've had to go through themselves, they've stood up.
I don't think anyone's got the resilience as a woman's got and they've shown it, they've shown whatever they've done they've done with dignity, they've done with pride, and most of all they've done it because they believe we're right and their fathers were right. Wherever they go, they give a rallying call which is second to none, and that is simply because they are women.
Some of them would never speak in a supermarket, and there they are getting up on platforms going round the world speaking and speaking like seasoned campaigners, and they certainly know, the women know what it's all about, and we're grateful for that.
The women will never go back to the way they were before, through this experience, so the men have got to also realise that, that things ain't going to be what they used to be, because they've been educated politically and they understand struggles more, and they understand the role of the media, they understand the role of what unions say one thing and do something completely different.
They understand when they see people like the shop stewards’ movement really working hard, and in a blink of an eye everything can be sort of dislodged away from us. They've also met comrades on the international front, and women's organisations who are proud of them because of what they've done. And so it's opened up many avenues for many of our women, and as I say I'm glad they're on our side and not fighting against the men.
BH: What did you think about the movement that came into being with the youth coming together to help the dockers' struggle, the Reclaim the Streets?
Kevin: As I said earlier on, you need as many people on your side as you possibly can. You know some of the young people that have come along, are people from all different walks of life. They've come along and they want to help, some of them are what I call "industrial virgins", they've never worked, some of them, since they've left school.
But they know that this is an injustice, what's happening to us, and they want to help in any way they possibly can.
It's really heart-warming to know that there's young people who still believe in that if you get off of your knees and get onto your feet, that you can do something about what’s wrong.
You've got young people learning off the experience that we've gained, and we'll willingly pass it on.
I've always, come through being involved in sport and coaching and things like that, I've always believed in young people, I still think I'm Peter Pan at times, but the thing is, they're our future, the youth are our future, they are our investment for tomorrow.
It's a pity that the employers don't look at it that way. But from a trade unionist, and a socialist view, I believe that we've to teach them what we can. Also, the lessons that we learn from them is important, because in a technological age that we live in, they're well ahead of us. Therefore, they can tell us the quick ways to do this and the quick ways to do that.
It’s the same with the people who came from Reclaim the Streets and the Green Party and Ecology Party. And all those types of people, most of whom have never been involved in any industrial struggle in their lives.
But they believe in human beings, and they believe in the quality of life, and the quality of life is what we make it, and that's taught me a lot, it's taught me what Reclaim the Streets mean, is that it's not a materialistic thing, it's giving you the freedom, it's giving you the understanding as a human being to understand each other. They may look rather strange to us, by their types of dress, but underneath that they're human beings and I look upon them as that, and it's a pity that other people don't look upon them, because these are the people who put themselves out on a limb, with no back up, while we have our union or our group of workers or whatever the case may be.
These are people who are standing out on their own, against the elements, and saying, "We don't want the trees, we don't want all the Green Belts taken away from us, we don't want everywhere where there's going to be a tarmac road" but they're saying, "We want somewhere to live."
BH: Now let's take that through to the police. Bill Morris, said about violence, He attacked you for linking with people and the violence.
Kevin: This was on the 30th of September.
It started on the 28th, 29th, 30th of September. It was a culmination of a mass demonstration at Seaforth, and he accused us of being linked up to anarchist groups and everything else. But what Bill forgot to report is that the same people in Hyde Park, who set up the big conference against racialism and to encourage youth, were the same people who came to Seaforth to support us.
He actually spoke at that rally and supported them and told them that they were admirable people. Now when you get him now, without even being there, without him even consulting us, he just carte blanche says: "You either disown them or we disown you."
Now what are you going to do? Are you going to disown people because they come along to demonstrate for your struggle? Now I haven't seen Bill Morris on the picket line with us here.
We're not in the ball game of disowning anybody, only the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. Everything that takes place, we as shop stewards, we control that situation to the best possible way that we can.
We invite all people who wish to support us. And when people come along from all over the country to show their loyalty to us for 12 months in struggle, I don't think we should be disowning them.
Morris’s statement was ill-founded in many ways, and after we spoke to him he realised that he'd made a blunder. He more or less said that on what he was told, he thought it was somebody and something else. But if he had spoken to us first then obviously he would have had the true picture.
There was no violence. The only violence there was from the police itself. I’ve nothing but admiration for our supporters.
They came up to support us, and as I said, their dress sense may not be the norm or anything like that, but you don't judge the book by the cover. And there you had the OSD - Operational Support Division - the bullies of the police force, more or less having open season with people like that.
And they picked their targets, they picked their targets. They knew exactly who they were going for. Because of the 41 people who were arrested that day, there was only four that were actually dock workers. Because they made a decision: "Don't try and pick the Liverpool people up. Let's try and discredit them. Let's try and assume to the outside world that they've got rent a mob and rent a yob and anything else in, and this is how low they've stooped now to sort of try and win the battle."
We soon put that right. The fact is that 41 people were arrested that day, and a lot were released afterwards. However, some of the people were badly beaten up.
My job throughout the last 15 months has been to act as the liaison between the police and our people and the stewards. And that has simply been to keep some form of dialogue going, so that you stop people being arrested for no apparent reason whatsoever.
That took a lot to do at times. You've got to try and keep your patience, and bite your lip, and you know quite well that the same people that were speaking to you and saying that they sympathise with your cause, are the same people who are instructing officers, to go and do what they have to do. We were saturated over the top with policing, and while all that's going on, you ask the question which I've been asking and I've asked the Police Authority committee meeting, the Chair of the Police Authority, Chief Constables, MPs, Commanders, you name it: With all the police coming down to the picket line and the dock gates, who’s looking after the rest of Merseyside? Who was looking after the areas that they should be looking after?
The cost now is somewhere in the region that it's cost £2million to police this last 12, 15 months. I believe you can add another £3million to that. And the reason is that because the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company have told the police, Merseyside Police, that they want a heavy presence there. Now this is a company that has its own police force, who are inactive, because they don't do nothing any more. Merseyside Police, us as taxpayers are paying the police that go round there.
The hardest thing that I've found throughout it all is that there are so many different senior police officers come there on different days, and I just find myself repeating and repeating and repeating, and I think it's a wearing down process that they're trying to do on me. They won't do it, but they've tried it. We've also had a situation where some complaints have been levelled against the police.
We've had people who've been arrested. Like myself, I was arrested a quarter of a mile away from the picket line, arrested, towed in the van, kicked around a bit, and arrested simply because I was going to my car.
I was arrested simply because I was me, not because I was anyone else. Now this happened at 12:30 outside the school where the children were playing in the schoolyard, and I was speaking to an older gentleman in the road.
The police just come up and grabbed me and threw me in the van. Now I can live with that type of thing, because you realise that you're never going to beat the police.
If you go into some battle with them, you'll get wiped out. But nevertheless, what they can't take away from us, and I keep saying to them at every meeting, that our argument is not with the police; our argument is with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. We don't have anywhere else to go, we can't go to another factory, we can't move further down the road. Those gates belong to us. And until they've got to understand that the scabs going in the port, the scabs that they are giving the security to, they're the ones that have got to be taken away, they're the ones that have got to be removed from the port and we'll get back into there.
The other thing we consistently say to the police is that you know, we've got men of 50, 60 years of age on the picket line, not capable of fighting.
Some of them can't even get their breath. And yet here you come with the OSD, using terrible terrible talk to them, "I've learned how to deal with you people when I was in Northern Ireland" and, "Who's shagging your wife while you're down here?" and, "Why don't you leave them alone, they're only going to work" or, "I'm on £21,000 a year, how much are you on?” All those types of things.
We don't need them, but, when I speak to the lads I always tell them "Ignore them, don't get involved with any dialogue with them," because their plan is: speak to the pickets, talk to them, try and win their confidence over and then that's when things start to slip out. So I try to encourage our lads to keep away from it, don't get involved, and then when they do arrest, when they do react, don't be surprised. But I'll say this. Prior to this dispute I would say about 85%, 80% of the people who have been sacked had a lot of admiration for the police. And I've never known it to be as low.
There's a total disbelief in the police on Merseyside, and the actions that they do, that they've done, and the motive behind a lot of the things they say and do, and so from that it doesn't give me any great joy in saying that, but that is some first hand experience of what the people are experiencing from them, they've lost all their confidence in them.
I mean you join the police force, you expect to sort of come into conflict with bad situations, people are dying etc., but that is one of the reasons that they joined the police force, they expect that. You go to a football match, you expect to watch a game of football, you don't expect to be carrying bodies and resuscitating people and so on, and yet there's the injustice of it all. Not that you want a confrontation, you'd rather that it never happened, the fact that people have been killed because of the total incompetence and lies of the police in West Yorkshire, and yet when the people after seven years are still trying to put their lives together, and yet police officers, they've been dealt big compensation amounts and yet here's people, have lost all - their sons, their husbands, their brothers, went to the match to watch a game of football, and never returned ever again. And that, just to me, epitomises the injustices that happen in this country.
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BH: How long you been on the dock?
Geoff: 27 years.
BH: So you started soon after the '67 strike.
Geoff: Yes. I think for a lot of us, apart from we're like a community, there's not that many of us left so most people know each other, so we are more than just colleagues, a lot of us are good friends, we've been together for such a long time. Apart from that, what do people do? People realise that the money aspect of it, if they were to take the money, where do they go? A lot of people do really want their jobs back, and if they leave and take the money, in a couple of years they'll have nothing, no job, no money, nothing at all. And there is this feeling of fighting for the younger lads, there's a lot of younger lads with us at the moment, and because of that family feeling between us all, nobody wants to be seen to be letting them down.
BH: You, were you ever a steward?
Geoff: No I wasn't.
BH: But always a strong trade unionist.
Geoff: Well I don't know about a strong, I've always, trade unionism, it's just, to me it's a way of being decent. I've never been that active on the docks, obviously any actions that have taken place I've been there and I've taken action with everybody else, but to me the trade union movement it's just standing up for your fellow man, as in life.
BH: What about the international campaign, what did you think of that?
Geoff: Well it's something I would never have thought about, it's been fantastic, looking back sometimes I think it's hard for the likes of us to realise how successful it's been, I think you perhaps have to be a bit detached from it looking from the outside in, because I think a lot of the things we tend now to take for granted, whereas if anybody had told me about it beforehand I could never have imagined this, what's happened happening, and it just goes from strength to strength, fortunately.
BH: Did you go on any of the delegations?
Geoff: No, Bill, no.
BH: Did you go in this country?
Geoff: No, not delegation-wise, no. I've been on different marches and things, rallies, but not on delegation work as such.
BH: Now what about the percentage of the 500 that come down here, what would you reckon?
Geoff: In what way, Bill?
BH: Well, come down.
Geoff: What percentage come? I would say 80 or 90%. Some people take a day off because they've got to go somewhere and those figures can add up, but yesterday, just at this gate, I was asking [about the numbers] because we have the register as you know, and there were about half a dozen who we never see, approximately half a dozen, and from this gate yesterday there were 21 missing in all. Now I can't speak for the other gates, I think the other gates are probably roughly the same, there's a few who we don't see at all and then you've got the ones who take the odd day off, but out of about 150 on this gate, thereabouts, there were only 21 missing yesterday and I'm assured that that's roughly the figure that's always about right. I don't know, we've never had to, we have picketed on the odd occasion, and you're asking me about these things, I've got a terrible memory but I know we have, I can remember doing it, over what and where and when I can't remember, but generally speaking we've never had to do it before because of course when we was in large numbers the whole place shut down and they couldn't bring 10 or 20,000 people in, going back a long time. But I don't know what it is, the figures just seem to be here, I think what it is to a great extent people realise that if they just sit at home especially after all this length of time, you'd go round the twist! You couldn't take it. You need that little bit of camaraderie, you need a little bit of banter, you need to find out what's going on. Ok, a lot of the time we come down and nothing's going on, or it appears as though nothing's going on, there's no news I should say, there's lots of things going on but there's no immediate news. But I think people need that, I do especially.
BH: And what do you think they feel that the meetings are solid?
BH: People who have opinions would express them there?
Geoff: I would say the majority of them; I can only say the majority, because a) you don't know what's going on in everybody's minds. But anybody who's been there will realise that they're not particularly hostile at all, so anybody who wants to stand up can stand up and at the end of the meeting there's a vote, and you could put your hand up quite easily and nobody would be…
BH: Well there's been one quite regular, and he's on the picket line…
Geoff: Yes, that's his opinion; he might think it's best to go in a different direction. I for one respect that, I mean I'd rather a man put his hand up and says he disagrees with it or he'd rather go in a different direction, or he would rather settle it, because it's no good people putting their hands up to fight on at the meeting and they don't come down to the picket line. But I think
generally speaking the fact that they're on the picket lines tells you that they're not being intimidated by the meetings, that they are putting their hand up honestly and voting to carry on.
BH: So that leads to the other, what do you think of the secret ballot?
Geoff: Well yeah I mean, the first one I didn't agree with. I don't agree with having another one because there's nothing to ballot on. You haven't got any more than one option; you should at least have two options.
BH: Like clapping with one hand.
Geoff: That's right, yeah. So I'm totally against it until they come up with something that's worth balloting on. Then I would say 'yes we have a secret ballot'. But as has been said before, if it was an offer that was thought to be worthy of a ballot, a ballot wouldn't be needed because it would be accepted by everybody anyway by a show of hands.
BH: Ok mate.
Geoff: So what are you asking me now, what conditions are like safety-wise, health and safety?
Geoff: Well as I say I've worked in the office most of my life on the docks, which is most of my working life anyway. I have worked on a job that we called 'the plans', but it wasn't a manual job, it was just really ensuring things went in the right place, or checking things off on the plan, or writing numbers down, so it was a clerical job on the ship.
But, I do know of several instances such as when the men would be working and lashing containers, now they would be right on the side of the ship, they could be up in the air and they would ask for safety harnesses and they were told 'no' they couldn't have safety harnesses because it would slow the working down.
It would slow the working of the ship down and they wouldn't get them. We asked for lights. One of the other jobs I would do, which was similar to the one we did on the ship, we'd go round the container park, checking numbers. Containers would come off the ship, be landed on the stow, on the park, and we would go round noting the location and container number, and that would be inputted into the computer in the office. Now those rows were very dark so we used to ask for lights on our helmets, a) so that we would be seen by the straddle carriers, carriers up and down the rows, and b) so we could see the numbers because you couldn't see most of them. I could be working in an area and I've known anything up to three, four, five, six carriers working in the same area, now you're talking about an area maybe the size of one or two football pitches, and you've got half a dozen carriers. You could have three gangs on the ship you see and two carriers, two straddle carriers from each gang working into the same area because the container park was that congested they had nowhere else to put them. Now we would be walking up and down those rows anyway. Now we would say to the management, "We can't work in those areas because of what's going on" and they would say, "Well just do your best, you'll have to do it" because of course containers coming off the ship would be required by lorries coming in for direct delivery, immediately. Now if we didn't locate them on the park, of course nobody knew where they were, so there was always the pressure for that.
BH: And you would inform the straddle?
Geoff: Well, they would know, they would be able to see us but not all the time of course because if we were walking up the aisles, I mean there'd been instances of people walking up the row and a carrier had come from one direction so he's walked down the other way and a carrier's come the other way and he'd had nowhere to go. Sometimes the containers, there might be a little gap between them and you could step into it because that's always a danger because if the carriers bang into the containers you could get crushed in between. And I would say every person that's done that job that I'm talking about has had a near miss. I myself was walking along the end of one row and if I'd have been another foot, another step further on I'd have been run over by a container. There was another instance; I'm talking about the little lights that you can get to put on a helmet, or your shoulders, little flashing lights. Now a friend of mine, he was standing on the deck of the ACL, on the ACL ships, and the gantry was loading a container. Now if he'd have had a little light on his head or his shoulder or something, little flashing light or something, because of course it could be very dark at night even with the lights on the ships and you had blind spots, and the gantry driver might not have lowered the container onto him and killed him. Now that was only a couple of years ago, probably 12 months or 18 months before this dispute started. Now if he'd have had a light on the top of his head, as I say, who knows, you can't know for sure but at least you could say well there was a chance that he might not have been crushed to death.
Since I've worked at the container base, I might be wrong and I should know really, this goes back to what I was saying about my memory! I know of three people who've been killed, and they were three people I've worked either directly or indirectly with, one was the person I was speaking about who was on the ship and they loaded a container onto him and crushed him.
Another person was a straddle carrier driver who had just very recently, as far as I can remember, passed out on the straddle carriers, and he was going round the corner, took it too fast, as I remember it, I might be wrong, went round the corner too fast with the container slightly too high, it toppled over and he was killed. Another one was a supervisor who was inside, on the gantry cranes, at the bottom there's like a, what we call the checker's hut, used to be where the checker used to sit in cold weather, bad weather, and it's like a tiny little hut attached to the gantry. He walked out of that, walked into the path of a straddle carrier and he went under the wheels, and he was crushed to death. There was another instance in which somebody was very seriously hurt, when, there's a video of this available, whether we've got a copy of it I've no idea, but by chance there was a river, one of the river ferries that take guided tours around the docks. I don't know whether you've ever heard of this but they take these guided tours around the dock and it just so happened that while it was in looking at the ship with somebody videoing the ship being worked, and bearing in mind that the gantries have a lifespan, I think something like 15 years, I'm not sure, and these are something like 25 years old. The end of the gantry broke off because in effect what had happened, the gantry itself had locked onto a box, a container on the deck of the ship, and was trying to lift it off. Now it hadn't been unlocked from the deck of the ship, so in effect he was trying to lift the ship out of the water, if you can follow my meaning. Now, there's a safety cut-out device on the crane so if that is lifting too heavy a weight, which it would be trying to lift the ship out of the water, it would cut out. Now this fail-safety device obviously didn't work, because the end of the gantry, the boom part broke away and the person who's operating it, his cab was on that part of the gantry. So he crashed to the deck of the ship, injured somebody or various people but at least I know of one person on the ship, and he will never work again, it's probably a miracle that he was never killed. The three people that I mentioned who were definitely killed. This person I was speaking about on the gantry, and a person on the deck. The driver of the gantry was very very badly injured, he'll never work again, he's got terrible injuries. The person on the ship, he was a supervisor and he carried on working but if you ever see him he walks with a limp, so he was obviously badly hurt but not to the same degree as the driver.
BH: Over how many years would you reckon, I'll try and check it up?
Geoff: The likes of the incidents that I've told you about. That could be maybe 13 years or so, maybe. But the one I mentioned regarding the supervisor, when he was killed, that probably is as long as 13 years ago or so. The other three are more recent, they would be within the last five years I would guess.
The gantry driver has a radio within his cab, it's hand operated. Now he's always using both his hands to operate the crane, and also the radio being hand operated, he has to stop operating the crane or let it operate itself for a few seconds, it might be lowering or lifting off the wire and he has to let go of that control for a few seconds whilst he operates the radio.
What I would do is I would, if I was loading the ship, I would have a set of plans in front of me so I would know what containers are going where, so I would send by radio contact the straddle carrier driver to go to a certain location on the container park so they can pick that container up. When he got to the container he would tell me he'd found it, and I would tell him which gantry to take it to at the ship. When it was loaded onto the quay at the ship, I would then by radio tell the gantry driver which container, if there was more than one, to lift up. When he'd lifted it up, I would then tell him where to put it.
BH: Now if it's dark, how's the straddle driver find the container?
Geoff: Well, if it's dark, there are lights on the container park but they are more than inadequate. Other than that the carriers do have lights fitted to them in various places, so one way or another he's able to see. If he has to move containers because the one he wants is on the floor and there's two on top of it, well he has to move the ones on top.
Geoff: Ok, they might say, well, because of the different angles you're coming at it from, it would blind him when they're driving, because you've got to remember people are driving, it's in effect driving, but there must be better lighting because that lighting would be what 30 years old, that's right.
X: They can do it for football matches.
Geoff: Well that's right.
X: They don't blind anyone then.
Geoff: No I don't suppose they do thinking about it. Oh the lighting was terrible.
BH: Now the other complaints were, even the gantries and the straddles, the general machinery was old.
Geoff: Everything was old, all the machinery was old, even within the offices everything was old, even the desks were old. If you wanted a chair they used to go somewhere else and pinch it from another department, we used to have a battle just for chairs. If you wanted a new desk you had to beg them for it and eventually you wouldn't get a new desk, you'd get an old one from an old office somewhere down the line of the docks. The same as with all the machinery, they would take parts, they would salvage parts off of all kinds of other machinery to keep the rest going. They would cannibalise everything. It was like a graveyard in there, it was really bad.
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BH: So, when did you come on the docks?
Ted: Well, I came on the dock 1966, I was a merchant seaman before that time, from 1955 to 1965, I just couldn't stand that kind of a job. Merchant seamen used to tell me: "Don't go on those docks, whatever you do don't go on the docks. If you go on those docks it's just like going back to sea." But then, I actually loved going to sea. I was an Able Seaman a deckhand, at sea, and because of my capabilities in that job, of course, I was a ready made deckhand on the docks.
I started on the docks three years before the 1967 strike happened. I was in Box 2, with Jimmy Nolan and we were very good friends. Jimmy Nolan only worried about Liverpool football team then. He didn't have an idea about trade unionism. I hope Jimmy doesn't mind me saying that. Jimmy and myself used to jump on a bus together at 7 o'clock at the morning, to go to work - it would take us almost an hour to get to work.
We were working 10 hours a day. It was compulsory in the fact that the wages were so low that if you finished at 5 o'clock you'd end up with a wage of something like £8 a week. You just couldn't survive on that even as a single man, because you still had to pay your Mam.
But by the time you travelled there and back, you're talking about 12 hours per day.
I must confess that we also had the Welt [the dividing of work between a gang of dockers]. But that itself was actually worked against us in a roundabout way, because the employer used that to keep the wages low. But at the same time it wasn't too bad for you. It wasn't good, but most people remembering their youth feel it was a good time, because you have some marvellous flashbacks of your youth - I think everybody has. Even so our youth was mainly a question of struggle. When I started on the dock I was still recovering from the reverberations of being a seaman. Even today I still look at myself as a seaman rather than a docker, and I've been 32 years on the dock. That comes from deep-seated feelings of the injustices in being a seaman and the kind of thing that an employer could do to a man when he's away at sea. A seaman then got no kind of protection from anybody.
1967 was a time of real change, time of the Wilson government, time when we ourselves were looking for a nationalised industry.
And Harold Wilson told us: "We can't have militants, or we can't have dockers holding the whole country to ransom." He said, "We can't go down that road so what we've got to do is try to find something which is fair to the employers as well as the employees."
The six week strike in '67 changed some of the conditions on the docks. It was a time when we thought we'd actually cracked it. At the time I myself thought: "We don't need a nationalised industry," Because of what we'd got. We'd got Jack Jones as a leader of the union was coming through. Jack Jones for me at that time was a revelation. I thought the world of this man at first, when I thought of Thomas Yates, who was the Seaman's president, and Hogarth who followed him.
In those days dockers were still smarting over Harold Wilson not allowing us to have a nationalised industry, and so there was still resentment.
You asked me the question of how did we do with shop stewards? Well shop stewards themselves were voted in freely by the men on the dockside, in the sheds, and, we did end up with some marvellous forward looking men, I mean, we had some marvellous fellas like Kelly for instance, like my friend Jimmy Nolan who I think the world of.
We were doing 100% better than what we ever done, and because we were doing ok people then started to turn on the shop stewards and say, "Well he's in the Communist Party, or he's in this Party, he's doing this, he's doing that." I always couldn't believe that people could turn on men and women whose whole life is surrounded by making life better for the people that they love. I could never see that.
BH: Politically, you supported the Labour Party, were you a Labour Party member?
Ted: I've always only ever voted for the Labour Party, but I've never been part of any party because I look at Parties and I don't see any real future for them. I see the divisiveness of the Left and I'm very sad over that. And I see where the Labour Party's taking us now, and I'm horrified over it.
BH: So, you come up to the 70s, '76, there were several strikes during that period, early 70s.
Ted: Even before containers became an issue, we were looking for to actually put ourselves on the map; so to speak, we needed to get rid of all kinds of different iniquities, such as the power of the boss. I could do everything that was there asking for me on the job. I could look down and see people, I could look on the top of a person's head and I'd know what he was thinking. It's unbelievable, an unbelievable situation. You could see people down below and the way he's looking at his mate or the way he's looking at the ladder, you even know what they're thinking and especially over a period of time, when you get to know them over a, it's a thing that's, because you're up there and you're isolated, and as you're isolated you can look down on people and almost from the top of their heads you can almost know what they're thinking.
So you're going from a position where I could see the boss come along deck with a tap on the shoulder, looking over the hatch, and people would be feverishly trying to look as if they're working hard. Now that was before the Scheme, and after the Scheme it become entirely different.
BH: You mean after '67?
Ted: After '67, no we're talking about after '64 when the Scheme came in. No the Scheme came in '66 I'm getting mixed up.
BH: No, it came in '47, the Dock Labour Scheme.
Ted: No I don't mean the Dock Labour Scheme, I mean that was the National Dock Labour Scheme; I'm not talking about that.
BH: You mean the Devlin propositions after the '67 strike?
Ted: What I'm actually talking about here, when we go from the tap on the shoulder in the pens which let you know whether you had a job that morning, to being actually employed by a company.
BH: That was '67.
Ted: Well when the boss come he meant nothing any more, he become, from a tap on the shoulder before '67 he became a man who just took your book off you, he could, of course, if you was off the job, he could clear you out, but all his power had actually gone because he wasn't going to be there after this ship finished to pick you up for the next ship and actually select you or not. So that was gone.
What we had in place was an undeniable fantastic system, where you'd be in the pen and then everybody would get his share of all the best work, we'd have a situation where you'd go up to the Base, you'd have six weeks at the Base, which would, three days on what we call Standby, if you was needed you'd go down the line, if you couldn't get a job on the containers, but you had three weeks work you couldn't be sent down the line at all, where you would actually be there for three weeks at a set wage. Now that was smashing. Now the same with the Grain, we had a situation where you was six weeks where you went up to the Grain, on the Grain of course you was there all the time, you never went down the line at all.
BH: There was this feeling after '67, now what happened 70s, 80s, up to the '89 strike. The employers began to get a bit back didn't they?
Ted: No not really, what they were actually doing, the only way they were actually getting anything back was, they brought out severance pay, so the severance meant is that the denuding of the manpower. Now it didn't really mean all that much really in the actual working practices that were going on. It didn't mean all that much really in the way that the men themselves viewed the bosses. I started off in a very small firm called Freight Conveyors and Mersey Ports. Now nobody knew who they were, but when I went in there it was the best time I ever had in my life, because what it was, it was made up of people that nobody wanted! Nobody wanted these characters, so we'd all end up with all the comedians, characters, all the drunks and all the foibles and all the fellas who wouldn't conform and oddly enough, it's funny about old men, old men don't like young men, so in my case I was a young man! I never ever done anything really wrong at all but I was a young man so nobody wanted me and there was quite a number of us young men who nobody wanted. So as young men, it was the best years, three fantastic years at the Freight Conveyors and Mersey Ports, which eventually went and ended up on the West side, now the West side meant the West Langton and the West Brocklebank, all those berths that face, adjacent to the river. And when we went in there, the fun was still there and so was the camaraderie because we still kept it going, but it wasn't the same, it wasn't the same as those three years.
BH: And then comes 1989.
Ted: Well 1989 was a time of fear. One thing I must say about Liverpool dockers, they're always the first to come out and they're always the last to go back in. And I'm very proud of that. I look at Liverpool dockers as being probably, because when you actually think about it, all of us are labourers; we've got the skills of the job that we do but we're not looked upon as skilled men. And the one disappointment that I've actually got is that people did sign the forms that selected them for various jobs, and what it's actually done, it's allowed, with the exclusion of six men, it's allowed the whole of the Grain for instance, keeping those jobs and going and scabbing it, going in the gate. Now if they hadn't signed the forms that wouldn't have happened. I'm glad to say that the majority of the Base of course, which is the most fundamental part of the operation, most of them have come out. But then again there's also a very important part of the Base, which is the Gantry drivers, who are mostly scabbing it in the gate.
BH: Are you saying at Seaforth?
Ted: That's at Seaforth, yes. But you know, everything since then, it's been 17 months now, from the first two weeks of the struggle not one man has gone back in those gates, not one man has even attempted to go back in those gates. And it's a fair old ding dong that Liverpool dockers are doing.
BH: The man who consistently votes against the resolution, he's on the picket line isn't he?
Ted: That man's a courageous man, that man himself for his own reasons doesn't want to be here, doesn't want to be doing what we're doing, he simply wants to go. And he's got the courage to get up and to put his hand up. That same man has been consistently there with us. He's got my respect, I don't know if he's got respect off everybody else, because I can't talk for everybody. But I say to myself if a man puts his hand up consistently well you've got to go by that man's view. And I hope that meself we're civilised enough to understand that man's point of view, even though you disagree with it.
I think everybody like meself, especially our age who've been through the lot, because he's been through the lot as well, he's obviously been from the tap on the shoulder in the pen before 1970, whatever. But there's men there who are trying to do us down behind our backs, they're the men I don't like.
BH: What do you think the reason is for the solidarity, because it's been remarkable hasn't it?
Ted: The point about it, see, the dock's got a magic of its own, and I felt it right from the first couple of weeks that I came on the docks, I felt the comradeship that was well built in, built in comradeship. It's a thing that we couldn't get at sea because for the simple reason, you was going from one ship to another, where like the building trade that goes from one job to another. But you see on the docks there was a permanent kind of solidarity and I think it's in-built, and oddly enough as we've come through it all and all that, even the young men who've got no father on the docks, they're also part of it, because it becomes like a form of opium if you see what I mean, it's a, you learn it, you don't even learn it, it becomes like a smell rather than you learn it.
BH: You imbibe it; you sniff it in do you?
Ted: It's like a smell rather than anything else. I think that's the best way I can describe it. That's why I've been on the docks so long. I find a home, I found a home which is unbelievable, there's all kinds of snarling going on and you think people are going to murder each other, and under that there's this kind of macho comradeship which is undeniable.
BH: Why do you say macho?
Ted: Well it is macho, it's a macho industry, there's absolutely no chance of any women getting on the docks I'm afraid, it is a man's job, I hope that it stays that way to be honest with you. I'm sorry about that. Sorry about that.
BH: What did you think about going international?
BH: No, about the dockers going international.
Ted: How can I describe it? The way I see it, our best authors couldn't write a book of fiction that was better than the actuality that happen with us when we went international. It was unbelievable. Take the three conferences that happened. The one I wasn't at was actually the one that pleases me as an individual most, and we don't know much about, and that's the one between the North and South Ireland, an all Ireland conference. In my mind’s eye I can see people from the North and South of Ireland shaking hands, and sitting down and talking about the different problems that they have, which Governments have been trying to do for the last 25 years and been unsuccessful, both Labour and Conservative, and the troops haven't been able to do it and neither has the B Specials or the military police that followed. I see it as more pleasing than most.
BH: When was that Conference?
Ted: That conference was between, you had one in Liverpool, one in Le Havre, the conference after that, I don't remember the date, it was after the Le Havre conference, they asked Jimmy Nolan to go over there and chair the meeting as an independent chairman, I'll have to tackle Jimmy over that because I haven't actually asked him about that. But to me that's something unbelievable. There's a group of workers, it could be any workers but workers themselves can get together where Governments can fail, that was fantastic.
BH: And what do you think about the present situation?
Ted: As we go forward now, I've been saying now myself for the last; since we came out the gate itself I've been saying that I do like the idea of a co-operative. But then again, it would have to be a proper co-operative. You couldn't have people from say over the water in competition with us, it would have to be a true co-operative where, a non-profit making, it seems to be the way forward. But then again, when I look at it I can't see the employer allowing us to do that. I mean it's not the employer by the way, the Government couldn't allow a form of socialism to actually succeed because it's against all the situations how they feel about things so I can't see it happening myself personally, but then again, if we could have a true co-operative like the old co-op shops where you had the divvie, and you'd pull the twine like that and you put your money in the little tub and it used to go to the cash office: ding ding, and it used to go.
BH: Vacuum thing.
Ted: And you used to get your divvie out, I mean that would be a marvellous kind of co-operative, but I can't see it happening. But there again, I can't see any way forward either. What's the way forward, that's your next question. The only answer I can give is that I think the only way forward for us now is just to hack on, hope for more, say to our international friends all over the world to keep with us, to bear with us, don't give up on us, we'll stay there as long as there's hope. We've got a lot of problems, we've got problems of people's houses being taken, people with mortgages being in problems with the mortgages, about 90 families in that situation and it's a very very worrying time, but I do believe it can be won. I'll tell you about the co-op again, that's a thing I really like but I can't see it actually happening. We also need all those workers from across the water on the Wirral in Birkenhead; we'd need them not to be there as well, so I can't actually see that happening. Then again it was a good tactic for the stewards to come forward and say there you are, we've made a statement, what you can pick up on if you actually want, and their answer's been negative, so the ball's now in their court as regards that. So as a tactic it was good, but as a way forward it was marvellous, but it's not going to happen.
Well the co-op itself has got to consist of all dock work, on both sides of the river, being taken over by the real dockers, that means to say the people out the gate, and be non-profitable as has been said. With the contacts that we've now got all over the world I think in that situation we can let it go forward. With the manning scales that we would need to get up and operate it, we would need to go to the dole and get people off the dole to be employed on the dock, so we're talking about more people being employed than less, because I've got a feeling myself that there's an awful lot of men, there's going to be a real haemorrhage of men leaving the docks once we get through those gates. And the problem then being is how big the haemorrhage of the skilled men are going to be. That's the real point.
BH: You've been through the tap on the shoulder.
Ted: We've been through the tap on the shoulder, which actually means the foreman who was employed by the individual employer, there's a big difference from the Employer, the Employer looks at it he's a large scale conglomerate, but in them days different stevedores had different... Tap on shoulder. Now that man himself, various foremen worked for various firms.
We come from a situation of the tap on the shoulder, to being employed in the pen with the Port Labour Officer, the man was called a Port Labour Officer, so we come through to a situation where we was through a tannoy system, which would come up on the book, you was on the book, it was like a rolling book, if you was in next for work, you'd then get the next job, which was a different system, best system altogether. So we then come from that situation where we go down the road with being employed in firms. Now firms themselves, that was, you had all kinds of different things there, it was unbelievable, I can remember a time when the man himself who's really at the heart of the dispute, Jack Dempsey, I can tell you because I was there at the time, Jack Dempsey wanted to have a situation where he himself, not him, but the employers wanted us who were on the West side, who worked for the Dock Board, all the other firms by the way were all independent firms at that time, but they wanted to take us from the Langton Base up to the Container Berth and put us there as a permanent workforce, but we refused that. People, of course there's always people looking for their own ends but I'm very proud to say again the dockers themselves who would have been all right for the rest of their life, in fact what they actually did was refuse to go, they said this port belongs to us, it belongs to all of us, it doesn't belong to just a few, and I've always been very proud of being part of that, and I can remember the time when they actually took that decision, it was in the North Langton shed, and the man who took the vote, he's off the dock now, he's had two bypasses, two heart bypasses, his name was Frank Conchi. I was proud at that time and I'm very proud of it now.
BH: When was that?
Ted: I can't exactly remember the year; it would be about '82.
BH: You went through the bloody lot, and you come to that, where did you end.
Ted: I can't remember what I said.
All our life, what we've been trying to do, we've been trying to get control of our own industry, and as we go through these stages of trying to get hold of our own industry, all these little manipulative things that we go through.
BH: As you go through this, you've been trying to get control of the industry. How?
Ted: We've been trying to get control of our industry all the years that I've been on the docks, and possibly well before I ever came on the docks. We're in a position now where, as we're outside the gate whereas we should be inside the gate, I don't see it as a defeat, I see the co-op as being a step forward, possibly getting control of our industry. Maybe in a manipulative way I don't know, but the point of the matter is, I think it's possible for us eventually to control our own destinies, through or possibly because of a co-operative. The reason being that we will be in control, we will be for the first time, men like meself, who are coming to the end of working life, for the first time there's the possibility we will be in control for the first time through a co-operative, of hiring our own people.
BH: You are saying a co-operative that determines the labour.
Ted: That's what we're looking for.
BH: It's a labour control, not for instance, like the Americans?
Ted: The Americans have got their labour halls, but they don't control the work. We're looking for a co-operative which controls the labour control, but also can put the work out, how can I put it? We will divide the work out. Divvie the work out, so we ourselves will be in position where we control the labour offices and we control who goes into that work at that time.
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