Interview: Bob Ritchie, former Liverpool dockworker - Black Flag

At the recent Social Justice March in London, we took the opportunity to talk to Bob Ritchie, former Liverpool dockworker, about the War on the Wharfies and any lessons to be drawn from it.

From Black Flag #214 1998.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

The Liverpool dockers coined the term "the world is our picket line!" and survived as long as you did by tremendous international support. What have you been able to do to help the wharfies?

There were Liverpool dockers out there before the attack on the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). What's happened there is a carbon copy of what happened to us in 1989, deregulation. The same thing is happening in Japan. The ship owners and stevedoring companies are looking to Australia as part of a move for a global attack on dock industries.

I was in japan to hear Jane Kelsey, a professor from New Zealand, talk about what had happened with trade union laws there. It was if the UK trade union laws had been exported.

Capitalism is global, and there's no reason why workers can't be global. The problem with many Trade Unions is that the bureaucrats at the top aren't prepared to fight. As one of our lads said at a meeting recently, there's a cancer slowly spreading over the world, and the only thing we have to fight with is each other.

What's your opinion of the MUA?

They've been absolutely superb, and even the ITF (International Transport Federation which groups transport unions internationally) in the Pacific Rim have been good, though we couldn't get that kind of response from them for us in Europe. Another thing is that the MUA haven't risen to the intimidation, neither did we. When you see how prepared the police are, like in the recent Reclaim the Streets in Birmingham, you see how one sided a picket line could be.

The MUA has been taken to court over the boycotts happening internationally. What's your opinion of this?

It's nothing to do with the MUA, I would have thought if there was a legal case it would be against he American unions showing solidarity. It's an out and out attack to smash a well organised union by any means.

Could the ITF be attacked?

The ITF should be leading the way. If they had been taken to court here, their head office is in London. They could have moved it to a country not covered by English law. They could move every week if needs be. They need to show more backbone, if you look what happened to the shipping industry, where thousands of jobs were lost.

Do you think it's likely that anti-boycott and secondary action clauses will be put into world trade agreements?

They will possibly use these, we can be sure they'll attack in any way they can. They are out to smash organised workers in any way they can. The whole system is against the working class.

I think the days of mass picketing are over - different ways and directions need to be found, such as what we did in targeting directors homes and trying to shame them. We need to keep control ourselves - all the while our dispute was unofficial we were OK. If it had been official Morris would probably have forced a deal on us within a few weeks. What we need is officials who are elected, not appointed. They should be accountable, and only paid an average wage, it's disgraceful that they're on £40,000 plus a year.

Will the wharfies win?

Yes. It will be very difficult, but they have the will to win and the international support.

What can anyone reading this do?

Anything! The world is our oyster, and if there's a will anything can be done, though at times it may not look that way. Each individual can change things and collectively we can do more.