Another pay strike set to bring Liverpool docks to a standstill as Felixstowe threatens further walkouts
Dockworkers in Liverpool, northwest England, are set to extend their strikes in the UK’s second-largest port with another shutdown scheduled for October 11-17.
Dockworkers at the UK’s largest port, Felixstowe on the south east coast, are threatening to resume their shutdown. Felixstowe dockers previously walked off the job for eight days from September 27. This coincided for seven days with the 15-day strike by Liverpool dockers which ended on Monday.
Lead Control Room Operators and Liverpool Control Room Operators have voted to join 560 port operators and engineers, who initially quit on September 19 after rejecting a pay offer of between £7 and £8 .3%. Inflation is currently at 12.3%, but is expected to rise after the government’s mini-budget sparked a run on the pound, coupled with higher interest rates.
According to a September 29 statement from the Unite union, “Wharfmasters, crew chiefs and vessel traffic services officers at the port are also preparing to be called upon to vote for strike action. The combined impact of so many striking roles means that the whole port will become ‘literally unusable’”.
In addition to wages, the dispute relates to Mersey Docks and Harbor Company’s (MDHC) failure to honor a 2021 pay deal with Unite that was supposed to improve shift rotations and a promised pay review. The last salary review dates back to 1995.
Dockworkers who worked in appalling conditions as essential workers during the pandemic, risking their lives, face a pay cut against an employer who made more than £30million in profits in 2021.
A 21-year-old factory operator told WSWS reporters, “We are striking for better wages and conditions. Some of the guys work a five-day week on three days off, then a night week, on 12-hour shifts. It disrupts your biological clock. And that’s 60 hours a week. Before that, they worked six days on two days off, or 72 hours a week.
“My doctor didn’t believe it. He said, ‘It seems illegal and you’re still doing it at 60!’
“We brought in an occupational health adviser, she signed off about 40 sick men with high blood pressure. They were young men, in their thirties, suffering from high blood pressure, IBS, intestinal problems. It’s not true! It’s scandalous!”
Another veteran dock worker said: “The ground on the docks shouldn’t even be driven on for health and safety reasons. There are potholes everywhere, you have to drive over them for 12 hours. Bounce! Bounce! Bounce!
“You have no life, a 12 hour shift, climbing a 90 foot ladder in a glass box, and they are constantly throwing work at you. You are exhausted after two hours. My back went with it. I can’t take it anymore.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back was in February, in a freezing, freezing machine, I couldn’t even see out of the windows. I had chest pains and ended up in the hospital.
MDHC is part of Peel Ports, owned by the Peel Group based in the Isle of Man tax haven. Peel Ports is also the Port Authority for the Manchester Ship Canal, the River Medway, parts of the River Clyde, the 12 Birkenhead Docks and the Port of Heysham.
Peel Ports has paid around £300million in dividends over the past five years. In 2021, the company’s highest-paid director received £4.5million, up from £1.6million in 2020. Peel Group majority owner John Whittaker is worth £1.4billion .
On September 27, Liverpool dockworkers, cheered on by passers-by, marched to the venue for the Labor Party’s annual conference, which was being held in the city. They chanted, “United Dockers will never be defeated” and as they arrived, a striker shouted, “Where are you Starmer? Everything for the workers, right? Well, here we are.
Needless to say Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer refused to come out. Throughout the wave of summer strikes, Starmer banned shadow cabinet members from joining the picket lines.
Former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn greeted the pickets with words he has no intention of fighting for: “We need a fundamental approach, a fundamental redistribution of wealth.” As leader of the Labor Party, he refused to mobilize his thousands of supporters to oust the Blairites and paved the way for their return in the person of Starmer. Almost two years ago, Corbyn was kicked out of the Parliamentary Labor Party by Starmer, as part of the anti-Semitism witch hunt, and Corbyn still remains a member of that right-wing party.
Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union leader Mick Lynch said: ‘We need synchronized action, we need ordinary men and women of this country coming together, getting back to the values unions, with Unite, RMT, teachers, health service workers.
Labor struggles are growing, fueled by the crisis in the cost of living to pay for the war in Ukraine, and the bailouts of banks, energy and the pandemic – after decades of repression by the union bureaucracy. This was evident on Saturday, which saw joint strike action by 170,000 striking railway, postal and dockworkers.
Workers, however, will only suffer defeat led by the union bureaucracy and the declining Labor “left”. All are opposed to an indefinite general strike across all sectors, to mobilize the full force of the working class, as they seek to end ongoing disputes with rotten deals.
Liverpool and Felixstowe dockers together handle 60% of containerized freight in the UK and are therefore in a strong position alongside their international counterparts in the global supply chain. The union refuses to unite the strikes in Liverpool and Felixstowe. A representative of the Unite union in Felixstowe told WSWS reporters: “We would like to coordinate the action, but they are two separate disputes. We fully support our Liverpool comrades as they support us, but these strikes landed together by coincidence and not by planning.” [emphasis added]
While the management of Liverpool or Felixstowe have made no compromise, Unite sows the illusion that the companies which manage the ports can be made to act in the interest of the workers and not their profits. Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘MDHC must deliver on its previous pay promises and deliver an appropriate pay raise now.’
At Felixstowe, Graham is urging dockworkers to accept single-digit inflation, as opposed to the company’s offer of 7%. Felixstowe Dock and Railway is owned by Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd, with interests in 52 ports in 26 countries. Shareholders received £99m of profits from operations at Felixstowe last year.
Unite will not mobilize its thousands of other members in UK ports, a small part of its 1.4 million members in transport, logistics and warehousing, manufacturing and the oil industry, as this would involve challenging the soon to be tightened anti-strike laws, threatening the union. coffers that ensure a prosperous lifestyle at union tops.
Unleashing the enormous power of the working class requires new organizations, rank-and-file committees that unite workers, reaching across national borders in solidarity with workers who are also fighting against the same global corporations. These must be taken care of, on the basis of a socialist program and not on lucrative interests, and managed democratically by the working class.
The International Committee of the Fourth International has called for the formation of the InternationalWorkers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees. We encourage Liverpool and Felixstowe dockers to contact the WSWS to discuss how to take this fight forward.