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Dock Strikes

Volume 415: debated on Tuesday 30 October 1945

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:I have to put a Question to the Minister of Labour, of which I have given Private Notice. May I say that at the request of the Minister of Labour I have put this Question off from day to day for some time, but I gather that now it is not inopportune for* me to put the Question to the right hon. Gentleman. Has the Minister of Labour any statement to make with regard to the position at the docks?

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for having postponed this Question for a few days.

There is little material change to report on the situation this morning. Reports from the various localities indicate that there is a growing desire amongst the men for a resumption of work. This is an unofficial strike. It is in breach of agreements and of a constitution which has brought great benefits in the past, and will, I am confident, be of inestimable value in the future. The negotiations on the trade union claim for improved wages and conditions are being held up. The only reason for this delay is of the men's own making. Under the constitution negotiations cannot be resumed until work is resumed.

To avoid any misunderstanding I feel it necessary to make the Government's position clear. Certainprinciples are involved, the preservation of which is of vital importance, not only to industry but to the trade union, movement generally. The Government policy is to do nothing that will injure the constitutional machinery set up by collective bargaining. Any Government intervention at the present stage would be contrary to this policy and it would be harmful to the whole system of collective bargaining. If there is any expectation that the Government will change this view, I must make it clear that it will not do so. I can, however, give an assurance that negotiations can be resumed within 24 hours of a resumption of work, and that when negotiations are resumed under constitutional procedure, the Government will keep in close touch with the proceedings.The parties have assured me that negotiations will proceed with all possible speed, and they have undertaken to keep me informed of all developments.

In the meantime the Government are taking all necessary steps to deal with cargoes required for vital purposes. On this understanding I trust the trouble will be ended and normal procedure become operative.

How can the Minister say that the Government are taking all necessary steps to deal with vital cargoes in view of the statement of the Ministerof Education that the hold-up of food supplies is endangering the bread ration; and can he explain why sufficient numbers of the Forces are not being used, if they are available, to see that the necessary supplies are unloaded?

The question ofthe use of the military in this dispute rests upon the Minister of Labour—that is, whether they shall be used or not. Once their use has been approved then they are allocated to various duties by the Ministry of War Transport. It is true that in some circumstances apparently some ships are left unloaded, but in the light of the conditions prevailing priorities have to be given to certain ships, leaving others standing for the time being. I can assure the House that every possible step is being taken to give priority in the use of this labour where it is most necessary.

:As the Member for the constituency which includes Tilbury Docks and Tilbury and who has had some contact with the Tilbury dock strikers, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in addition to his statement that negotiations will be resumed within 24 hours of a return to work, a statement which I think will meet with great satisfaction among the dock strikers, he would also assure them that the Government will send an observer, with some sort of official status, to the negotiations, because I feel that if that were done it might assist the proceedings?

Government intervention will be made use of when the normal procedure has been exhausted.

Will the Minister give a direct assurance that sufficient military labour will be used to prevent bread rationing?

I am happy to have the authority of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Food to say that there is no intention to ration bread.

:I desire to give the right hon. Gentleman notice that, having regard to a precedent set by the Undersecretary of State for India when he attacked me for a speech which I made as a member of the Cabinet, I propose to raise on the Adjournment aspeech made by the Minister of Education which is in direct conflict with the statement just made.

:Will the Minister of Labour not reconsider the decision he has made that the Government will not make any approach to the strikers? The workers are out on strike all over the place; they are striking all over the country simultaneously. There is something seriously wrong, and I want to appeal to the Minister of Labour—and he is not the first Labour Minister that I have appealed to—and tell him that if he himself goes and speaks to the strikers in London the strike will be finished. [Interruption.] Why should not Ministers come off their pedestals when it is a question of dealing with the working class? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] This has been the lot of the workers right down the ages. Why cannot he do this thing? [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, I would like a reply from the Minister. I am sorry to put him up against it, and I know that he is up against it, but I am making my suggestion for the benefit of the whole of the country. All I ask the Government—[Hon. Members: "Order."] What are you rowing at me for? You do not know what it is to be out on strike but I do.

Are we right in assuming that all necessary military labour will be used to avert a food catastrophe through the non-arrival of essential and perishable supplies?

I think all I need do is to to repeat one sentence from the statement I made, which I think answers the right hon. Gentleman:

"In the meantime the Government are taking all necessary steps to deal with cargoes required for vital purposes."