Socialist Worker

Dover dock strikers have bosses all at sea

by Esme Choonara reporting from the port of Dover
Issue No. 2128

Marching in Dover last Saturday: dockers from the port started a 48-hour strike this week (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Marching in Dover last Saturday: dockers from the port started a 48-hour strike this week (Pic: Socialist Worker)

'We're not just fighting for our jobs and pensions, but for everyone who works in the ports.

'Everyone knows if they get away with this here, it will spread.'

So says Graham Gladwin, one of more than a hundred workers at the Dover Harbour Board (DHB) who began a 48-hour strike on Tuesday of this week.

The workers, members of the Unite union, are taking action against plans by the harbour board to outsource around a third of the workforce to a private company.

Many fear that the move would mean worse pensions, conditions and possible job losses – as well as opening the door to further casualisation and privatisation in the industry.

Workers gathering at the picket line on Tuesday morning told Socialist Worker that they are determined to win the dispute.

'This action is just the beginning,' said Steve, one of the strikers. 'We're out on strike because our boss only cares about profit,' added fellow striker Simon.

DHB boss Bob Goldfield has made it clear that, despite the overwhelming opposition of the workforce, he intends to go ahead with the outsourcing.

Many strikers said they feel betrayed that after years of working long hours in tough conditions, the company announced that it would sell them off.

'We have worked very hard to help management – and this is how we are treated,' says Graham. 'I've worked for the port for 30 years. When I first started it felt like joining a family. That went, but it still felt like we were part of the company. Now it's clear the company is just Bob Goldfield.'

Pickets told Socialist Worker that, as well as roping in managers to try to break the strike, Goldfield was drafting in scab labour from around Kent.

However his attempts to use ex-Gurkhas backfired after local Labour MP Gwyn Prosser met with Gurkhas' representatives and persuaded them to support the strikers.

And, despite Goldfield's best efforts, the action has already had a big impact. There are signs that police may have to implement Operation Stack and queue lorries heading for Dover in a lane of the M20 motorway – an operation last mounted by police during a strike by French dockers earlier this year.

Strikers were buoyed by a demonstration in Dover last Saturday when over 500 people took to the streets in their support.

'The protest shows that anything that affects the port has an impact on the whole town,' says Graham, describing the march that saw impressive delegations from docks across south east England.

There were also cheers for a group of French dockers from the CGT union who crossed the Channel to march alongside delegations from British Waterways, Medway TUC and the Dover shipping branch of the RMT union.

Collective action

In Dover Andy Green, a senior steward at Tilbury docks, said that he would be visiting the picket lines during the week to offer solidarity.

'It's the principle of the thing,' he said. 'We have to fight outsourcing. We're showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Dover.

'Many of us have informed our employers that we won't be handling any vessels redirected from Dover. We can't rely on the law to help us out – it doesn't usually favour workers. We can only rely on collective action.'

Unite rep Paul Constable travelled to the protest with a group of workers from Thamesport in Rochester. He said, 'If they get away with this here, it'll be a blueprint for other ports. The fight isn't just for longstanding workers – if they get rid of the pensions it will affect the youngsters too.

'The way things are at the moment we're certainly not going to be able to rely on a decent state pension when we retire. With the recession I think we're going to see more attacks as employers turn nasty – we have no choice but to fight now.'

DHB claims that it is outsourcing jobs 'in the best interests of the ferry operators and the travelling public'.

Yet anyone who has ever travelled on a train or bus in Britain knows that privatisation does not improve transport – it simply improves profits for private companies.

As the protesters gathered on the Dover seafront for a rally, there were cheers for union officials and strikers who said that the dispute should not settle for anything less than an outright victory.

Email messages of support to [email protected] and protests to Bob Goldfield at [email protected]

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Article information

Tue 18 Nov 2008, 19:32 GMT
Issue No. 2128
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