Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Letter from a Glasgow Docker (1947)

From the June 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since 1932, when the Glasgow dockers broke away from the Transport and General Workers’ Union and formed their present organisation, the Scottish T. & G. W. Union, they have opposed the English dockers’ struggles for decasualisation of dock labour. Recruitment to the Glasgow Union has (with one exception) been always based on the hereditary principle and restricted to docker’s sons.

Coincident with the forming of a Ministry of War Transport Dock-Labour Scheme in April, 1941, was the heavy bombardment of the main English ports which resulted in Glasgow becoming the busiest port in Britain. To meet with this situation, the Government transferred hundreds of dockers from London, Liverpool, Hull, etc., to Glasgow and allowed about 1,500 local men who could prove work at the port before September, 1939, to join the scheme. The English dockers (members of the T.G.W. union or “Bevin’s union, as it is dubbed) were treated in a disgusting manner by the Glasgow Union. Glasgow union members had priority for employment which meant that the most unpleasant, irksome and ill-paid jobs were the lot of the English dockers.

The 1,500 Glasgow men were not allowed to join the union and were prevented from joining any union or forming one.

With the end of hostilities, the English dockers were sent to their home ports, most of them with bitter feelings regarding the Glasgow Union.

When the National dock strike took place in October-November, 1945, the 1,500 Glasgow (non-union) dockers were the first in Scotland to join the national movement for 25s. a day, etc.

One outcome of the 1945 strike was the agreement to take joint action in any subsequent disputes, an agreement endorsed by the Glasgow union membership.

In January-May, 1946, the 1,500 Glasgow “non-union’’ men were dismissed without a word of protest from the local union, in fact the dismissals were approved of by the union. 

When the recent strike took place in Glasgow about the “redundancy” of 500 union members, the union coined the slogans “Square deal for the Clyde” and “Scottish cargoes for Glasgow."

Faced with the fact that in July the new, Government-approved, dock-labour scheme commences and its certainty of further redundancies in London, Liverpool and elsewhere, some of the dockers in London (not members of the T.G.W. Union) went on strike for a few days to demonstrate their solidarity with the Glasgow men.

The Glasgow men are now back at work on the agreement that an inquiry be made on the needs of the port of Glasgow.

The results of that inquiry won't be substantially different from the “Fact-finding” committee set up by the Government which recommended the dismissal of 800 men—watered down to 500.

The Glasgow men take a very narrow and insular view of T.U. activity, and are only militant on local, sectional questions.

The larger unions, whilst democratic in formal structure, are still dominated by rank and file apathy which permits the sway of the permanent officials.

The whole dock industrial scene is one of internecine intrigue and struggles between the smaller unions and the T.G.W. Union.

The unofficial “National Port-Workers Defence Committee’’ is, despite its naive trust in the Labour Government, probably the brightest development so far, from a class standpoint.

As certain as anything can be is national dock disputes after July of this year when the Government rationalises the dock industry.

These are, briefly, the facts. The whole dock union organisation throughout Great Britain is in ferment with the approach of entire Ministry of Labour control of the industry and strikes, disputes, and union wrangling will be accentuated.
T. A. Mulheron

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