By Sam Ord
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2797

P&O workers show they’re up for a real fight

Workers discuss militant action—while union leaders talk about the law
Issue 2797
RMT union members protest on College Green outside parliament. General secretary Mick Lynch stands alongside Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh

An uneasy mix – RMT union officials and Labour MPs with angry P&O workers on a protest outside parliament (picture: Guy Smallman)

A mood of militancy is present among sacked P&O workers with discussions of direct actions taking place.

On a march outside parliament on Monday, sacked P&O worker John told Socialist Worker, “There are plenty of opportunities to block ports and occupy ships. We call on P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite to resign, even P&O executives have said he’s out of his depth and incompetent.”

He described the situation as “terrible” adding, “It will set a dangerous precedent and has potential to change corporate relations in this country and across the world.”

Workers on the march were keen for militant tactics and industrial action. They were happy the sackings were being raised in parliament, but felt cut off from it. “We should be on the road, making noise so they can hear us,” said one worker. “If we stop traffic in the capital that will get them talking.”

Some RMT officials on the march hinted at direct action later in the week, but left the responsibility for delivering it with the sacked workers. That’s a lack of leadership. They should be openly encouraging militancy.

It came after P&O workers and their supporters marched in Dover, Hull, Liverpool and London last Friday—in some cases blocking the roads.

Up to 500 seafarers and their supporters protested in Dover where they heckled Tory Natalie Elphicke for joining the march. But RMT officials allowed her to the front.

More than 200 people protested in both Hull and Liverpool. Workers and supporters also rallied in Larne, Northern Ireland.

In Dover protesters assembled at their RMT union’s offices, then marched to block the port entrance. One worker in Dover, who had worked for P&O for 27 years, told Socialist Worker he wanted “strikes of other workers and agency workers because their terms and conditions are awful”.

In Liverpool Dave Lowe, chair of Wigan TUC, told Socialist Worker, “All trade unions need to mobilise around the 800 sacked workers. There need to be more protests and strikes—that’s the way forward.”

Dave added, “In this dispute foreign workers mustn’t be scapegoats. Racism will only weaken the fight. Workers of all nationalities must be brought into the fight.” Unity and militancy, not relying on the law, is how workers will win.


Bosses—not foreign workers —are the ones to blame

The money to save every P&O job is there. P&O’s owner, DP World had enough to hand £270 million in dividends to shareholders in 2020.

P&O Ferries also claimed almost £15 million from government grants in 2020, which included £10 million in furlough payments.

And P&O bosses are not suffering. Non-executive director Mark Russell is the vice-chair of UK Government Investments which advises on government corporate finance matters. He gets paid £145,000 each year for his role at DP World.

He also earns £150,000 a year for three days a week in a non-executive military procurement role as Defence Equipment & Support chairman. DP World also spent £147 million to sponsor the European Golf Tour and £30 million on a sponsorship deal with the Formula 1 racing team, Renault.

The greed of ultra‑wealthy capitalists is to blame for the P&O jobs massacre, not the exploited workers from India, who are paid just £1.81 an hour.

There is a huge danger that the P&O campaign goes down the road of xenophobia and racism. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch spoke of the plan to “sack UK seafarers and replace them with foreign labour”. Nautilus union general secretary Mark Dickinson spoke of a “betrayal of British workers”.

Foreign workers are not the enemy. They should be paid the same rate with the same conditions as workers now. The money to save every job at P&O is there. But it will take a united fight across ranks to win it.

Any sign of racist division will weaken that struggle.

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