The potential of solidarity to win crucial industrial disputes was seen in Dover on Thursday of last week.
A solid three-day strike by several hundred Dover port workers against plans to outsource 190 jobs to a private company was boosted by delegations of other workers.
The arrival of representatives from other docks in south east England as well as other Unite union members – including reps and officials who have been involved in the London bus workers’ campaign – boosted the pickets.
The solidarity created an electric atmosphere on the picket line. Strikers cheered as supporters marched down the street to join the picket line.
There were then skirmishes with the police as some workers tried to push into the road and halt the traffic. Some supporters slowed down traffic by repeatedly crossing the road.
There were cheers as the breakdown of a lorry at the entrance to the port caused yet more disruption.
With just a few more at the protest or a little more confidence, strikers could have shut down the dock. More of this kind of action could swing the dispute in the workers’ favour.
The strikes have been extremely well supported, and the strength of feeling among the port workers should not be underestimated.
But action so far has failed to seriously dent traffic through the port as Dover Harbour Board boss Bob Goldfield has organised a scabbing operation to keep it working.
Unite has called another three strikes starting at 3pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week. The strikes last until 7am the next day.
With time running short before the job transfers are to take place, many strikers believe that they should step up picketing tactics if they are to win.
One striker told Socialist Worker, “We have to use more militant tactics. If this was an oil refinery we’d have this place shut down by now.”
Solidarity for the strikers is crucial. The dispute touches on many issues of relevance to workers fighting over pensions, jobs and privatisation.
One worker summed up the feeling when he said, “I am one of many who have worked here for 30 years. After all that time, we expect to be treated with a bit more respect.
“We all know that this is the thin end of the wedge. These plans are about breaking up the workforce in the name of profit.”
This was the second strike by members of the Unite union at the port. The workers voted overwhelmingly for action and the turnout on every picket has shown their strength of feeling.
Yet the boss of Dover Harbour Board seems determined to press ahead with the privatisation in January.
Unite is now the biggest union in Britain. If it called a mass picket of 500 people it could shut down the docks.
This is a chance to strike a blow for everyone fighting bullying management and the logic of the free market.