Leaflet produced for the 1989 Tillbury strike of dockers in defence of conditions codified in the Dock Labour Scheme. This struggle was ultimately defeated.
The struggle in the ports over the Dock Labour Scheme obviously raises important questions for any workers who want to fight back against the bosses. The fact that the scrapping of the DLS was announced without warning in parliament shows that this measure is an attack by the state which has been planned in advance. The dockers are then obviously in a similar situation to the miners in ‘84 or the News International printers in ‘86. They face an enemy which has knowingly provoked a strike having planned carefully for victory.
In this situation, even the most "militant" union leaders have a "good" argument for sabotaging strike action. Any call for a return to work can be justified as not "playing into the tories’ hands". This is because any trade union style strike (i.e. a strike by one isolated group of workers, within the law, led by the union) is bound to fail for two reasons. The first is that the tory employment legislation makes all effective action (secondary picketing, instantaneous walkouts without waiting days or weeks for a ballot etc.) illegal. The second is that the forward planning for the strike by the government means that if strike action is limited to the ports, then victory is very unlikely.
If the strike is to be won then we must learn the lessons of past failure.
Before ‘84 the miners were revered throughout the working class as the most militant and best organised of any industry. The bitter lesson of the miners strike is that no sector of workers can win on their own.
The News International and P&O disputes confirm this lesson. The only way for workers to win major struggles is to unite across all the artificial barriers of category, industry, employer and trade union. We can see the truth of this when we look at the strike movement of last February. At that time there was strike action on the ferries, in the NHS, at Ford and Vauxhall, at the Post Office and at many other places. There was only a beginning to unity between the different groups at this time, mainly sympathy strikes in support of the nurses. But with all these strikes raging at the same time the government and the bosses felt the need to give some concessions to prevent the struggles either from encouraging other workers or from unifying. Ford workers were given a pay rise and the nurses were promised full funding for their pay rises (the concessions to the nurses were withdrawn months later, after the strike movement had been buried). It is a very important point that although there were sympathy strikes and cases of workers joining fellow workers’ demos and pickets, not one of the dozens of unions "representing" workers in struggle called for the unification of the strikes. The unions were an important factor in keeping the different workers divided. The unions can correctly argue that such calls for unity would result in sequestrations and fines. Despite this we cannot afford to ignore the fact that the unions (by keeping workers divided, by calling off strikes in order to hold a ballot, by insisting that workers operate within the law, and by other means) are always a major reason for the defeat of our struggles. No amount of "pressuring the leadership" can change this.
The urgent question is of course how can we win? In recent weeks there has been strike action or unrest on the Underground and at the power stations. And despite having their struggles stitched up by the unions, there is continuing militancy in the post office and the NHS. Militant dockers who care more about defending their jobs and their class than "their" union should organise mass pickets to all these sectors and argue that they should strike now in unison. This is in addition to picketing all the other ports (whether scheme ports or not ) and any other workers who might strike. Mass meetings of strikers should be called to discuss the strike, and to organise it. Where possible we should put forward demands that are applicable to workers in different jobs e.g. "£20 and no changes to working conditions". If such a movement develops we must fight against any attempt by the unions to negotiate on behalf of their members. When they have done this in the past (such as last February), it has meant that the strongest groups of workers have been given concessions and then sent back to work so that the movement as a whole can be defeated.
Thames Valley Class Struggle Group (London)
London Branch of the Anarchist Communist Federation
Taken from the Antagonism website.