By Nick Clark
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Dock strike in Liverpool fires first shots in port war

This article is over 1 years, 6 months old
Dockers in Liverpool are striking. They’ll soon by joined by workers at Felixstowe in Suffolk
Issue 2823
pickets outside the main gates, with red smoke and flags, illustrating a story about the dock strike in Liverpool

Liverpool dockers on the picket line (Picture: Neil Terry

Hundreds of dock ­workers in Liverpool began a two-week strike on Monday—marking the beginning of a flow of action that could shut two of Britain’s largest ports. Some 560 Unite union members—including port operatives and maintenance engineering workers— joined the strike, fighting after bosses offered them a pay increase of 7 percent. With inflation higher than 12 percent, that’s a real terms pay cut of more than 5 percent.

Strikers kicked off the first day of picketing on Tuesday with mass turnouts at the gates. Socialist Worker ­supporter Mark O’Brien reported, “They’re all out. There must be a couple of hundred of dockers ­picketing today and they’ve got all the gates covered. The mood is fantastic. They’re really happy to be out—really confident.”

The strike—­scheduled to last until Monday 3 October—overlaps with another one at Felixstowe, Suffolk, set to start on Tuesday of next week. Unite members there are also fighting for a proper pay rise. Each strike has the power to hit hard—and even more so together.

They are a decisive ­demonstration of the power of workers’ action. And they’re a reminder of who bosses rely on for profits.

Mersey Docks and Harbour Company, which owns the Liverpool site, made £30 ­million in profits in 2021 after workers kept it going during the pandemic. Its parent company Peel Group is based in the Isle of Man tax haven and owned by tycoon John Whittaker, who’s worth more than £1.4 billion. And the Felixstowe Docks made £61 million in profit in 2020—the height of the pandemic. Its parent company CK Hutchison Holding Ltd gave £99 million to shareholders.

The strikes’ impact reach far beyond their own bosses. In Liverpool, the docks facilitate big business’s trade around the world, with two container terminals. One, the Royal Seaforth Container Terminal, connects to Canada, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus and Turkey.

The other, Liverpool 2, is considered one of the most efficient and modern terminals in Northern Europe. Together, they handled more than half a million ­containers last year.

Unite stewards at Liverpool say more workers could soon join the action. The current strike involves dockers, and engineers responsible for safety on the cranes. But one steward reported that other sections of ­workers are now also considering balloting for action—and ­predicted that soon they’ll all be on strike. And bosses’ woes will only worsen once workers in Felixstowe join the action.

There, some 1,900 ­workers handle more than half of the container freight that enters Britain. A previous eight-day strike in August saw mass picket lines that brought the port to a standstill. The threat of united, ­sustained, port strikes should have every boss—and the Tories that back them—shaking, and every worker cheering. That’s why united action could be so powerful.

Mark reported that workers at the dock strike in Liverpool all knew about the coming action at Felixstowe. “They’re very much aware of it,” he said. “When Felixstowe goes out it will be massive and they’ve all been talking about it.” He added that strikers were excited about a solidarity visit to picket lines of ­dockers from Europe, organised by Unite. Workers in Liverpool and Felixstowe will also be out on Saturday 1 October, when rail and Royal Mail workers strike together. The dock strikes will be a powerful reminder of how to win.

They could build on the power of their action by ­visiting workers at other ports and encouraging them to come out too. And workers in other industries and trade unions—particularly those fighting over pay ­themselves—should ­organise delegations to join the picket lines.

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