DOCKERS AT 23 ports are to vote on their first national strike for 14 years.
The TGWU union confirmed the ballot at Associated British Ports (ABP) on Monday after workers rejected a paltry 2.9 percent offer by a margin of three to one.
ABP, operator of some of Britain’s largest ports, saw its profits rise to £74.5 million last year.“This has come from the sweat of the workforce,” says a Southampton docker.
“In 1989 Thatcher abolished the National Dock Labour Scheme, which protected our conditions. Since then we have seen pay and conditions go through the floor.
“It’s about time we got something back. But it’s going to take serious work rebuilding the union to get it.”
The TGWU organises a minority of the 3,000 dockers at ABP. But many non-members could be quickly won to joining the union and supporting a serious drive to recoup conditions and pay.
The union’s claim is for a minimum hourly rate of £7.50 an hour. Some workers are on as little as £4.81 an hour.
Tackling long hours is also at the centre of the campaign.
The dock industry is one of the sharpest examples of how the economic growth lauded by chancellor Gordon Brown has come at the expense of low wages, long hours and the chaos wrought by private companies.
ABP has tried to squeeze more out of fewer workers. Now some container ships are having to queue for days before landing.
Rather than invest in the workforce, the dock companies are demanding consolidation into a small number of “super-ports”, which will devastate the environment and be used to slash jobs at other ports.
The proposed expansion at Harwich shows what the port operators have in store. Local communities are campaigning against the environmental destruction it would cause.
Jobs would also be threatened, particularly at ports such as King’s Lynn, Lowestoft and Ipswich, which are run by a rival operator.
Two Harwich dockers are pursuing employment tribunals after they were sacked by operator Hutchison Whampoa, only then to find that the company was filling their posts through a labour agency.
The agency hires dockers from Poland as part of Hutchison’s strategy of cutting back to a core workforce backed up by temporary workers.
“It’s about returning to the days before the Second World War, where dock workers were employed casually and faced the humiliation of queuing up daily for work,” says John Tipple, who is pursuing the two sacked dockers’ tribunal case.
The 23 ports where the ballot is taking place are Southampton, Teignmouth, Plymouth, Newport, Barry, Cardiff, Port Talbot, Swansea, Garston (Merseyside), Fleetwood, Barrow, Silloth, Troon, Ayr, Whitby, Hull, Goole, Grimsby, Immingham, King’s Lynn, Lowestoft, Ipswich and Tilbury.