The seamen's strike, Liverpool 1966 - Tony Wailey

Scab beaten up and thrown into sea during 1966 seamen's strike
Scab beaten up and thrown into sea during 1966 seamen's strike

A personal account of a striker's experiences; describing working conditions on ship, strikers' solidarity, the smear techniques of the press and government, the capitulation of the union leadership etc.

Submitted by Red Marriott on February 8, 2012

For analysis and context of the strike, see;

The Seamen's Strike, Liverpool 1966
by Tony Wailey

So you've come to stand on the stones of the dock road, the warehouses shimmering in the sunlight and throwing shadows across the water where the rubble of the Wirral rises out beyond the locks and you hold up the placard in your hand as an odd lorry goes by and kicks up the dust. And you look over at the ships all laid up in their berths and think of how dead they look, no more than iron hulks without the men. And the coppers watch you from their but as you stroll up and down and try to remember how it all started and it's funny that you can't, can't remember anything except walking up and down on the picket line each Friday as though you'd been doing it all your bloody life. Then you remember the song, the only bloody song he ever knew and you picture him that night with his hair blowing and his fists up and him saying don't let them fool you and the song of the 'Saints' going rolling around the deck and getting lost on the wind. And now it's a quiet afternoon in late May and no-one goes down to the ships any more and the strike is two weeks old and still the song keeps dancing in your head.

And you mind that time the year gone by, homeward bound and two weeks from Liverpool and the football on the wireless and the mess room below deck where the lads had gathered with their mugs of tea and tins of baccy and the smoke drifting up surrounding the bulwarks and being cut by the plum voice of the world news that tell you all seamen are to get a big rise within a few weeks. And Joe Conlan smiled that funny way he had of crinkling up his big face and turned to his donkeyman mate and you hear him say they'll want something back for that. And Wally Jolly nodded the way he did when he'd finished telling you anything important, like the way donkey men got their name from having to lug their own mattresses down to the ships in the old days, and nodded again. You look out beyond the deck and see the sun flitting across the crests as the after end dips and rises in the late afternoon and the masthead a moving shadow along the water and inside the swirl of voices and shouts as Liverpool go one up and you thought about the extra few bob and what Conlan meant about them wanting something back.

You soon found out. You had to work seven days a week now before overtime. Then the union bloke took some papers out of his briefcase and showed you what the agreement had been and a couple of lads told him that ever since they'd gone to bloody sea the story had been to fight for less hours not more and didn't they have us enough by the balls already? The union bloke shrugged and you got the feeling he wasn't so happy either but he didn't say anything. Mates and Masters could now turn you out any time they wanted to, weekends away were to be just the same as any other day, the big rise had taken care of that.

Months passed. Eddy Judge would sit in his cabin and stare at the radio that gleamed back at him from the small alcove. The radio with all its little buttons and switches and smell of leather meant more than anything when he was away. When his watch was finished he'd sit and fiddle with the dials, listening to the different bursts of music and snatches of foreign voices that kept him in touch somehow. The Yankee services station was the best when you touched the Caribbean. Eddy had a girl once in Granada who'd play the same tunes. She used to call for him on Sundays down at the Quay and off he'd go, showered and shoes shining, running down the plank and waving to those bastards spending their lives doing overtime out on the deck. Magic. The radio played on, Eddy wondered why she didn't come any more and why he had so little time free, he felt his hands go tense as he fiddled with the dials and music came roaring out. It wasn't enough for them to have you on their bloody ships all of your life, they wanted all your days to boot. He switched the set down and, suddenly still, thought about the little bit more they were chiselling out of him.

You'd sit there with Eddy and Sid Fletcher on cold nights when you were all on the same watch and listen to the wireless or when with a few bevvies you got Sid going and he'd tell you about times when he was a boxer and poor Sid you knew by the way his face would twitch that he'd been knocked around. Sometimes he'd bunch up his big hand until you saw the broken knuckles white against the skin and pound it down on the table so the whole cabin shook and only the radio would be playing soft and Eddy would say take it easy mate and Sid would just give a little shrug of the shoulders.

The big hours started the trouble. Bloody Sunday in Durban harbour where you can look over and see the waves crashing on the bluffs and people out on the beach surfing and having a good time and there's a shout from the far end of the companionway and you can see the mate and the skipper grabbing hold of Sid. Poor Sid with his shoulders giving that little twitch and a vacant look in his eyes you sometimes see in people that are deaf. And Paddy Hayes comes running from out of the galley and tells you he's just given the chief engineer a clout. And the firemen come up in their clean clothes saying the second had knocked them off for the afternoon but the chief had changed his mind. They were all off to the beach when he calls them back and tells them there's a job below. It was after that that Sid went up to see him and the engineer starts shouting about him being in the officers' mess and Sid starts twitching and it was all over in a couple of seconds.

And they put Sid in jail for that and kept him there a month until another homeward bounder could take him back to England and it wasn't worth the trouble by the time the skipper had logged him for every penny he was worth and blacked him down on the federation so that he couldn't sail again. The lads called a union meeting next day and you heard the chief steward had told his lads not to go and one of the pantry boys was going to be made into a rating next trip and the steward called him to one side and told him if he wanted the job he'd better not make that meeting; but they were all there when the time came.

The South African union bloke said there was nothing we could do. Sid had committed a mutinous offence and was in jail; the best we could claim for was to change him from the nigger to the white jail. And some of the lads thought that was terrible Sid being in jail with all the blacks but then Mattie Hynes got up and said what the fuck jail does it matter he's still in there. And you thought of the dockers, who were brought to the ports, digging in the waste bins for bits of scraps and bones covered with custard and tea leaves and alive with flies and you thought those bastards weren't having such a time of it either. Then Eddy gets up and starts on about them being able to make you work Saturdays and Sundays and what's happened with Sid was all because of that. And you wonder whether he was thinking of the woman when he goes on about how we're all wasting our lives in this bloody game and even Joe Conlan starts to nod, then a couple of lads tell him to calm down because all his shouting won't do Sid any good.

And you got wiser after what had happened and as the weekends came and went, you didn't expect any time off any more but the buggers weren't going to get any more out of you than you could help. The lads loaded up with rum from Barbados that next trip and Saturdays and Sundays you'd always have a few. And you'd put down your cloth or brush and roll a smoke and get your mate to keep nooky while you dipped down below for another wee glass and they couldn't touch you as long as you were there on the deck between the twine and the boom and the creaking winches.

Back at sea you took it easy and thought about what had happened to Sid and all the others and on the way home as you crossed into the Atlantic and the swell got bigger and the days turned grey you sat down in Eddy's cabin and talked about different things and the people you'd known, and listened to his radio as the wind blew outside. One time when he turned to the World Service you heard that the union weren't too-happy with the way we had to work weekends without overtime or any choice. And Joe Conlan shrugged and said if they felt like that why had the bastards agreed to it in the first place. And Eddy shook his head and got out the last of the bottle.

At home you got the drift of the way things were moving down in the union. And you heard that most of the Liverpool lads wanted to get back to the original demand of the forty-hour week and Conlan raised his face out from his glass and wiped the Guinness away from his whiskers and said they'd been talking about that since the time he was away. And you kept quiet, what with everything that had happened the last year and because you were still the youngest and knocked about when the others went home to their wives and you bore it in mind without really knowing what way you were thinking except that it didn't pay to crawl.

Then you were sailing wide down the Caribbean and the days passed in song and the nights a blurr of music and drink and you forgot about yourself and your thoughts and the skipper hadn't turned out so bad and Saint Lucia and Saint Kitts and Antigua and Barbados passed like a dream. Then into the blue harbour of Granada and Eddy's girlfriend came down one night in her car and took a crowd of you away up beyond the scrub, the water glistening below and you with your bottles of rum, dancing in the whirl of the clubs. And someone gave you something to smoke which make your head go light and you felt good by god and looked in the mirror to see if your face was twisting up the way it felt and you didn't want to know about anything except nights like these with dancers swirling in long dresses and flowers in their hair; and you got up and sang and did your little piece and people laughed, you saw their faces in the dark and Eddy's girl had her eyes closed and was dancing with him slowly and the rum kept flowing and you didn't know what you were smoking any more. And the next morning with your head like a bell and a stomach that seemed to stretch to your knees, Paddy Hayes calls you in for breakfast and as you tramp down the deck your little hat askew and sweat streaming everywhere he tells you the union have called a strike.

Homeward bound you hear that the Prime Minister is going to speak to all of you on the radio and you go down to the mess room with the crowd and sit next to Cavanagh and Hayes who's come from the galley and tells you that the officers' mess is full and every bugger there that a strike wouldn't affect anyway.

The voice, rich and deep, of the World Service man announces the broadcast and at that instant the room goes quiet and blokes pull up their chairs and some clear their throats as if they are going to do the talking and next thing you know Wilson's slow Yorkshire accent comes filtering out over the room in such a tone that you think the sea is going to turn back or something. And it goes on and on telling you what good fellows you all are and how the nation is in debt to you and at this time of crisis you are more than valuable. You can see some of the lads nodding and others just sitting there quiet and then the voice tells of the harm a strike could do and the margin of the balance of payments and that the seamen of this country don't want to hold the nation and a Labour Government to ransom by their action; and the voice trails on and on until it fills the room and seems to come out of every stitch of wood on the bulwarks and has everyone rooted until its presence slowly fades and there is a silence in the mess.

No-one said a word and blokes if they looked at you simply raised their eyes or give a little smile and it was hard to know what anyone was thinking. Some scraped their chairs against the deck and others started to roll smokes and one by one they started to drift away; you got the feeling somehow the message had sunk in and no-one knew what to do so they smiled or smoked to hide their silence.

Then a funny thing happened some days later; Eddy sang his song. There was a party for the pantryboy's birthday and everyone had brought their cases of ale until they spilled over and filled the deck of the spare cabin. Blokes were perched on the double bunks and others brought in stools and one, searching for an opener, pulled the locker doors ajar and there stood on the top shelf were half a dozen bottles of bacardi some bugger had filched away. Someone said it was a good omen and you sat there chasing the spirits with cans of Tennant's lager watching the smoke get thicker and the songs louder until the bosun came knocking that he can't get to sleep. Then someone has got hold of a box and fixed a brush pole to it with cord and is playing the bass and another's brought out the spoons and everyone breaks into `the sash' and you all go trooping down the alleyways, limping and laughing and blowing on imaginary flutes the way they do for the orange parade. And out on the after end with the wind blowing and clouds riding like mountains across the moon you start up again and the lads coming off watch join in and cabins are ransacked for any last drop. Then when the heads are rolling and the bass has gone quiet and the only sound is the ocean roaring down the runnels and the odd clink of the spoons, Eddy weaves himself up onto the hatch, his hair blowing wild and hands dangling by his side like you see in the movies, and he's mumbling something about all us poor bastards throwing our lives away and then starts singing the only rebel song he ever knew and his head's shaking as the 'Saints Go Marching' billows around the deck; and you're all up on your feet giving it the last turn and he's balled that big hand up into a fist before you and as the strains glide off into the night he's waving it above his head and shouting over the wind, don't let them fool you, don't let the bastards fool you.

The song kept dancing around in your head all the way home and come the middle of May, Liverpool had rolled in from where you anchored on the river and you could tell even in those early days there was a strike on by the way unloaded ships were being laid up in the berths. And after you'd come through the locks and been paid off you went up through the gates, your bags in hand and passed the lads on the picket with bloody stupid banners in their hands and you thought they wouldn't have you doing that; then you were up in the union a week later and they said they needed someone for the MacAndrews gates down in the south end and before you knew where you were you were standing with the board by the quiet dock; the coppers watching you from their but and the odd lorry passing and the driver sometimes waving as he kicked up the dust.

The days went by slowly broken up by returning ships and you'd meander along to see if you knew anyone paying off and maybe get a drink and a few smokes. And you knew the union was organised; every day they'd have a crowd up there and have them registered and have the pickets out and while you still had a few bob you'd hang around. And sometimes you'd cross Canning Place and have a drink in the 'Customs House' that Cavanagh's Auntie Nell used to run and when the money ran short she'd let you have a few and pay her when you could. And the days dragged by into weeks and you kept on doing your turn, stood down on the gates, watching the ships strung side by side across the water and you'd never seen so many in the docks before, it made you wonder how many blokes were just like you with the sun pouring down and the dust getting into your eyes as it blew the length of the miles from the north to the south end of the docks.

And you met Ronnie Ferguson one day and the two little kids he had with him were whining until you felt like kicking them and you bought them ice cream if only to keep the little buggers quiet and thought, pan lids, who'd have them. You went back with them for a cup of tea and as you walked in you knew something was up, the curtains drawn even as the sun was shining and three other children sitting in the gloom, the smallest on the wife's knee. The baby made little whimpering noises and her Title body seemed to shake all over, you looked at the woman's hand red and furrowed as she brushed her lank hair away from her face and saw her look quiet like as Ronnie went out to make the tea and called after him there was none, and no supplement till Thursday. He looks as if he's going to shout, you see the red come up in his face but then he drops his eyes and the wife turns away, tired and strokes the kids as another starts whining and Ronnie shoos them out onto the street.

You get the eldest to bring some tea from the corner shop and the wife takes a smoke and it's rising around the stinking room with the sun cracking the flags outside and she asks how long will it last and you say you don't know and Jesus you hadn't reckoned on anything like this, and look from the linseed cloth on the table to the worn lino and the fuggy smell of the bedrooms and the clothes the kids were wearing. You could imagine at night in this heat with the kids whimpering and moving and scratching on the mattresses and Ronnie next to his worn woman and her thinking what to feed them all with, the lousy few bob from the union and the odd shillings from the supplement. Him with his kids down on the picket, anything to get them from under her feet and it was bad enough when he was away but at least she had the nights to herself then. Ronnie with his brothers coming home drunk with a few groceries wrapped up in newspaper and Jesus she'd be better off dead than on strike. What would happen if women went on strike? You make your move and leave your fags and go through the door and take big breaths in the street with the houses knocked down both ends and the kids on the brickfield and you thought bugger that for a game, who'd have kids. You thought of a few other things as well.

One day you hear that there's an investigation been made about the seamen. And the papers are full of it and this Justice Pearson is doing such and such and the government shared his view yet the hours weren't going to drop much; and you read about the way seamen shouldn't be sent to prison for missing their ship any more and you remembered poor old Sid. And a few of the lads are saying they can put their reports where they like and Joe Kenny of the executive tells you the same when he comes down on the gates and you know he's all right and a few others join in. And up in the 'Woodhouse' you sit there and have the crack and get the feeling you're going somewhere and not let the bastards down on the pool forget it. Then Joe gets up and tells you we're going to win this one and they're not going to have us by the bollocks anymore and the 'hear hears' ring around the walls and some of the dockers out for their dinner-time pint stick a couple of quid down for the next round and a lad that's with Joe looks as pleased as punch and starts on about solidarity and all that crap and you think back to the Ferguson's house and how solid they were; so solid they were driving each other crazy and it made you wonder.

And another week went by and they still gave you a few free rides on the buses and some of the dockers that worked your berth might give you the entrance fee to the pub; and every now and then Nellie Flanagan would pull one for you and you thought this was going on all over the town and maybe on the docks all over the country and Jesus, wasn't that a game and you remembered the lad from the pub with his words of solidarity and you knew they were a lot of crap but it was funny the way they kept coming back.

That week you read in the papers that Secretary Hogarth has said that seamen could take jobs ashore while the strike was on. You went into the union and they said it was a tactic to hold out longer, many of the lads were on the bones of their arse now and if you could get a start bloody well take it. And Cavanagh said the funds couldn't last forever even though they were only giving us three quid a week strike money; Eddy's cousin was a gangerman for Lloyds and had got him and Hayes a start and Eddy says do you want to give it a whirl and you say dead right and that Monday you were winding your way out of town and passing bits and pieces of the countryside and seeing old churches standing in the villages beyond Sefton and Ormskirk and there was a hell of a difference between that and the quiet docks.

Each Friday you went down the union and signed the register and put your strike pay in the contributions box and you heard a lot of the lads did the same and the bloke behind the desk asked how it was going and you said not too bad and then you'd take your board and stand on the docks for the day. Come the Monday you'd be in the country again and change your board for a spade and the days passed slow and the sun shone and dinner times you'd sit and play cards in the hut or boot a ball about in massive football games on the back field and the lads when they found out you were a seaman wanted to know all about it and was it true what the papers were saying.

One pay day Eddy went around with a hat to take down to the union and a couple of the moaners wouldn't put anything in but the rest came good and there were a few quid by the time you took it down. And the union was fair pleased and you knew they were bloody organised the way they'd spread it about. And you'd go in for a pint before heading down the docks and maybe give some of the others a drink and many a time you saw Eddy slip a few bob and pay Nell something for the good turns. Those days were fine with something in your pocket and a bit of time at home and you didn't mind the sites too much and when the moaners started on about holding the country to ransom you just told them to stuff it.

Down on the docks one time a gang of engineers passed you and it must have been the chief or the second said something because all the others laughed, not real somehow but kind of sniggering the way crawlers always laugh with their hands up by their faces. And Eddy shouted something back about them being sorry one day and gave them a mouthful and the big fellow came over and said we'd never sail on their company and Eddy said you'd have no bloody company without us and a smile came over the big one's face and he said we'll see, we'll see and Eddy shouted it was hard luck on his mother as he walked away.

And the feeling was strong through those June days. Hardly any ships were docking now and there were hundreds more strung up side by side along the quays. And you thought they couldn't go anywhere without us. And the days passed by and the sun poured down and you were one of the lucky ones going home and having a hot tea every night and a few drinks with your mates and then on Fridays putting your good clothes on and strolling down to the union and clacking the paper against your leg onto the docks. And even the lads that weren't working, cheesed off and sick of it, you could see they weren't going to give way to those bastards on the 'pool'[1] either.

And the feeling stayed with you each time you walked down the stones and passed the quiet offices and the ships hovering above you, idle in the dock as much like iron ghosts with no men to work them, and passed the little clutches of lads on the gates; no creak of winches or derricks swinging to and fro to disturb the sun on the water or pull out cargo for the long sheds with their tarped roofs peeling in the heat.

And you rode in the works' bus each morning and watched as the town gave way to the fields and the villages and the kids playing; kids that spoke in funny ooh aye accents and you sat there and rolled your smoke and watched. And one day in late June you opened your paper and there on the banners ran the line 'Communists and Seamen' and underneath was what Wilson had said about a tightly knit group of politically motivated men playing with the country's fortune for their own ends. And you asked Eddy what the hell was going on and he shook his head and shrugged and Cavanagh said it was a load of shit but he said that about everything.

And you got to work and everyone was talking about it the moaners were going a mile a minute every break and even the good lads weren't speaking up. And the crawlers laughed about whip rounds just to support the commies and who wanted to have them buggers here; all they wanted was to wreck the country, holding their bloody meetings and screaming and bawling for all the workers to join together and all that nonsense when there'd be no work for any of us; and all day it was communist this and communist that. You looked over the but and Eddy had his face stuck in a newspaper and he still told them to get stuffed but his voice wasn't so big, so Cavanagh gets up and shouts the creeps down and Eddy looks up and laughs then one of the creeps turns quick and says why doesn't he go back to bloody Russia and there's damn near a fight and the ganger comes in and even if he's Eddy's cousin he's not looking too pleased. And its strange the way everything was all right up until Wilson made his comments.

And it's the same on the picket lines; people are shouting down at you from buses and you couldn't remember that before. And you swear you see and hear that bloody word communism more times in the next few days than you've ever done in your life. They've told Eddy to get back to Russia like he was a bloody tink himself; now they're on about it in the workshops and on the docks and it makes you wonder with Nelly giving you a drink now and then and a free bus ride off the lads if you're not all bloody communists.

You went down to the pub that last Friday and saw Joe Conlan and a couple of others. Eddy had his back to you but you could tell by the way his head was bobbing up and down he was all tensed up about something. Joe had that same crooked smile running down his face the way you see in people who never believe in anything and you heard him say they're all the same, the politicians, the union, the bloody lot of them. And there was Eddy shaking his head, bringing it backwards and forwards and scratching it and saying what about these communists then, when Conlan picks up his mug and starts slowly to talk about Wilson and his boys and how with time passing for the government and the bankers up in arms he'll do anything to get us back and wouldn't care what sort of shit he threw. Joe looked up into Eddy's eyes and shook his head; you don't have to be in this game all your life to know that.

And it was the same on the Sunday with the papers full of it and one even had a special couple of pages devoted to the strike with little pictures of the executive lined up side by side the way they photograph convicts and showed the ones who were supposed to be communists. There were even pictures of Secretary Hogarth but he wasn't saying anything the bastard and a couple of lads said he wanted us back after that Pearson report. And all that week Hogarth is on the telly and the wireless and you can see he isn't scared any more and everyone is nice and respectable to him and look like they even feel sorry for him having to deal with those other buggers in the union.

Then you were humping timber and having the joists laid out ready for the carpenters when one of the moaners passes by and he's laughing and makes a sign like to pick up your cards and shouts over that the strike has been called off. And you find the others and take an early bus home to catch the news and your old lady gives Eddy a drink of tea and your old man is sat in the chair and Hogarth comes on and he's looking serious with his little face and eyes peering over his glasses and a faint Scottish accent and says the executive have taken a decision to end the dispute. And no-one asks him what made the seamen change their minds so suddenly before the General Secretary drones on about the Prime Minister's speech and how talk of communism didn't affect the executive's decision and your old man starts to laugh. And you don't know what to think and sit looking at the bastard and wonder about all the good lads that have watched the days and weeks go by with fluff in their pockets and you look over at Eddy and he says nothing. Then your old man mutters that they're all the bloody same anyway.

So you went back and it was as simple as that. It had all happened so fast. You went down the union the next morning still not knowing what was going on and it didn't look like many others knew either, when you heard there was going to be a meeting down on the pier head. And you walked down the stones and saw the warehouses and the workshops all getting ready for the return and a queue of wagons stretched the length of the dock road. Skippers and mates were flooding back to the ships in taxis and suddenly you thought of Ronnie Ferguson's house and you thought of a few other things as you carried on down.

And it wasn't the same feller that you'd seen that time with Billy Cook laughing and talking and shaking hands down on the gates. He was quieter and his face looked under strain and he was telling you to go back lads, the union had decided. And Billy was now saying we'd always been solid and how our strike committee had been one of the best and the lads up there with him gave a few sad little smiles but we all had to go back now. He knew we hadn't got all we came out for but no-one was going to have to work nearly sixty hours a week any more and there was this Pearson report. And you remembered it was this same feller said the report wasn't worth a bag of crisps only a little while back and he'd let Wilson know when the union went to Downing Street. And even as he was telling you to return you knew he didn't mean it. He was only doing what Hogarth and those other bastards up there in London were telling him and Conlan's words came rushing back and you thought this bloke was just another one of them, but listening to the unsure ring of his words you didn't really believe that. He was only a feller doing what he could.

And oh, they were as nice as pie to you down on the 'pool'; mister this and mister that and would you like to come this way and you knew that would change soon enough when they'd all their ships away. And you felt lousy as you rode down on the bus with Eddy and Cavanagh to the Harrison yards and you thought, forget it, you'll be sailing out before the end of the week and so you tried not to bother.

Then that night after you'd signed on you went down the pub and drank pint after pint and Eddy started on again about his freedom and Hayes told him to give it a miss it was all over now wasn't it. And you bought more and more drink and took a taxi up to Nelly Flanagan's and gave her a few for all the good turns, and woman that she was she bought a few back off the top shelf and the rum and the whisky was going down. Then Nelly closed up and drew the curtains and you drank some more until there were only shillings left from the advance notes; and you were whirling down past the docks and even at this time ships were moving out through the locks and you could see the lights and hear the tugs on the water and you fell laughing up the gangplank and a mate looked down from the bridge and gave a sad little smile. And Hayes hammered his feet against the deck and roared up into the night and kicked a cardboard box that went spinning through the air and landed on the water below, the black water unruffled by any ship's passage these last six weeks.

And on the deck the middle of the morning, the sun prinkling on the water and glistening on the winches and twine and loading booms and the mates nice as pie and you standing there and not doing much and no-one seeming to care; the engineers coming up from below tell you how much they'd enjoyed the rest and the subsistence money and had we had a nice holiday and they stop smiling when they see Eddy's face. Then the third mate comes up and tells you a bit curt to do something and the chief sees him and weaves down the companionway and pulls him to one side and you can see he's putting a fly in his ear. The dockers are just coming back from their tea and there's a few lads hanging around the galley to see what's on for the dinner and the winches haven't started up yet and suddenly there's a moment of great quietness on the dock with the ships resting in the haze and a faint drone of sound from the city and the smell of tarpaulin and oil in the air.

And you hear Eddy's voice mumbling something and grow louder and you look up and see him there with the hair falling down his face and he flings aside his painting rag and puts his hand up to his head and your mind goes racing back to the time when he sang the 'Saints' out on the deck so long ago. And he's cursing the mates and the engineers and the owners and every bastard, on again about freedom and wasted lives and what it's doing to us; and a couple of the lads start smiling and this sets him off worse and you stand there looking at him and feel his eyes on you calling you up and you think of all the times you've spent together, the drinking and the laughter and the waiting down on the docks, the work and the whip-rounds and poor Sid Fletcher and then the union's sad voice telling us to go back.

Well we are back; back in the same old game and sailing out on the night tide and it rises up inside you until you feel you're going to choke and Eddy's working his tongue around communism and roaring it out till it rings down the stones and people are looking now. The moment of quietness has passed and Eddy stands within it his hands balled up and the words, torrents of them, floating down the docks and people aren't laughing any more and the bosun comes up to get a grip of him but he's having none of it. Then suddenly you're with him and the pair of you are shouting and carrying on and you can see the skipper peering down from the bridge and you don't care because no bastards can sail the ships without us and you stand there and curse and shout communist right back in their faces and watch them blink; and it's a sunny morning in Liverpool and the strike is finished but the voice is yours and you know things can never be the same; and when you've said your piece the two of you make a smoke and go back to work and no-one says a word and Joe Conlan looks over and smiles that smile of his and shakes his head as if you'll never learn.

[1] The Merchant Navy Shipping Establishment, home of the Federation of ship owners has always been referred to as the pool. It is from there that ships are allocated to seamen.

Source; History Workshop Journal No. 5, Spring 1978



11 years 11 months ago

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Submitted by Uncreative on April 25, 2012

I think this is brilliant, cheers for putting it up.