Anger at P&O ferries’ sacking of 800 workers hit the streets of Dover, Hull, Liverpool and London on Friday.
Around 500 seafarers and their supporters protested in Dover after bosses sacked the whole workforce on Thursday to bring in agency staff on lower pay. more than 200 people protested in both Hull and Liverpool and 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 while a smaller group went to the P&O offices. Trade unionists from Unite, UVW, the FBU and many local trade unions councils came to show their solidarity. They chanted, “Seize the ships.”
Union leaders have to turn this slogan into a reality—and use workers’ anger and the wider solidarity to build support for militant action. The next step has to more action, not reliance on legal routes.
One P&O worker, who occupied the ship he was working on Thursday, told Socialist Worker, “I can’t believe it—it’s an absolute joke. We were told we were sacked with barely any notice, on an online meeting. My wife also worked for P&O and has been sacked.
“What were we supposed to do yesterday? We sat in and they had to get private security to take us off. They threatened to handcuff us and people were already really upset. Some people have been working on the ships for 30 years—it’s all they have.”
Local Tory MP Natalie Elphicke attempted to join the demonstration. But RMT members demanded she leave by chanting, “We hate Tories,” and, “You voted for fire and rehire.”
A sacked engine room worker told Socialist Worker, “Lads occupying the ship really went through it yesterday—I’m surprised to see some here today after that. It happened really suddenly, axing of almost every job was unexpected. P&O’s parent company handed out £220 million in bonuses and sponsor huge sporting events. All we want is our jobs back.”
This worker had been working for P&O for 27 years. “There’s no jobs in Dover outside the port, no opportunities,” he said. He wants to “build strikes of other worker and agency workers because their terms and conditions are awful”.
In Hull, workers and trade unionists marched to the P&O offices while chanting, “P&O—how low.”Martyn Gray is Executive Officer at Nautilus International, which represents the officers made redundant. He told Socialist Worker, “The government needs to step up and intervene.
“No one should be willing to do business with P&O until it’s put right. It’s all about the money. They are determined to use this as an opportunity to get rid of organised workers.”
In Liverpool protesters chanted, “The workers, united, will never be defeated.” Dave Lowe, the chair of Wigan TUC told Socialist Worker, “The trade union movement needs to mobilise around the 800 sacked workers. There needs to be more protests and strikes—that’s the way we’ll win.
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, solidarity among workers is key.”
Union leaders mustn’t let the anger dissipate or push it into a reliance on a legal strategy. There was a sign of this in the TUC union federation’s statement. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “If P&O breached the law they must suffer severe consequences—with ministers increasing the legal penalties if necessary. If one employer gets away with this, every worker is at risk.”
Some workers in Hull continue to occupy a ship. The captain of the Pride of Hull had “locked himself in his cabin”. And in a sign of solidarity, dockers are refusing to unmoor the vessel meaning it could be stuck in port for days. Sustained occupations across ships would have been the most powerful weapons in the hands of workers.
Unity, solidarity and militancy, not the legal system, is how workers will win their jobs back.
Tory ministers feigned outrage at the P&O sackings. Yet on the same day the government announced plans to fire at least 1,000 of its own workers in the civil service.
Bosses in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced plans on Thursday morning to close as many as 42 processing centres across Britain. The PCS union warns at least 1,000 jobs at 13 sites could be at risk, with no option to relocate or transfer the workers affected. Workers were only told of the plans in sudden meetings on Thursday morning.
Steve West, PCS group assistant secretary for the DWP, visited the office Bathgate, Scotland. He told Socialist Worker, “People were very taken aback. It was suddenly announced—they were stunned. Some people were very upset because they’ve worked there a very long time. I’ve told members they’ve been treated as numbers. They worked really hard during the pandemic when they handled an increase in Universal Credit claims. Now this is the way they’ve been treated. It’s like a slap in the face for people.”
Steve said there could be even more office closures to come if the Tories get away with this first round. “They’re considering every office in the DWP, with a decision by 2028. That seems like a long way in the future but they’re getting on with it now,” he said. “I’ve told people the union is going to fight this. We’re not going to let this go—there’s no reason why they have to close these offices. We can talk about what needs to be done to win this—and strikes are certainly the way.”
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