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Dock Strike

Volume 415: debated on Friday 2 November 1945

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4.13 p.m.

May I first thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the Government Whips, for giving me this opportunity of making a statement on the question of the settlement, at any rate for the time being, of the dock strike? I think this House ought to know the proceedings that have led up to this matter, because this is not an end of the strike; it is simply a suspension of the strike for 30 days. On Sunday night last week the position was completely at a deadlock, and the Labour Members for Liverpool were petitioned by the Strike Committee to take some action in the matter, and to intervene because nobody else seemed able to do anything about it. I was given the responsibility of dealing with the matter, and I saw the Minister of Labour at 8 o'clock on Monday night. After some discussion, the guarantee that he gave to this House was reiterated, but that was the only guarantee he was prepared to give—that if the men returned to work, negotiations would be commenced within 24 hours. With that guarantee, I met on Wednesday morning, the Liverpool Strike Committee, and after two hours' discussion found that they were prepared to consider the position. The meeting was adjourned until the full National Strike Committee was called in the afternoon. We met that Committee at 4 o'clock, and we were able to get some agreement as to the terms on which the men were prepared to return to work. I was asked particularly this morning to receive a letter from that Committee stating how they would return to work, and this statement of mine now is the order for the men to resume work on Monday morning at 8 o'clock.

I am glad to have this opportunity, because difficulties might have been created, if I had not been able to make a statement. The questions arising from the strike are something which I do not want to discuss here but I do want to say this: that I hope the Government, and particularly the Ministry of Labour, will watch very carefully within the next 30 days the negotiations as they take place. Here let me say that I have never, in all my industrial and political career, found such perfect organisation as the dock strikers have at the moment. They are able to contact anybody they want in any part of the ports of this country at any time they desire. I hope the Gov- ernment will watch the position carefully because I am certain that men who have put in so much work during the war, who have worked under such tremendous difficulties in the ports during the blitzes, would not remain unofficially on strike for five weeks unless there was something fundamentally wrong with their conditions of labour and the position as it exists at the docks today. Having made that statement, which will give the dockers of this country the opportunity of knowing that the matter has been dealt with, and that I have been able to make a statement on their behalf—I am speaking now for the whole of the dockers in this country—I hope that before the end of the 30 days some very definite agreement will have been made in reference to their conditions of labour.

I am sure many hon. Members would wish to join in congratulating the hon. Lady who has just spoken on what is really, I think, a historic speech. I think it is historic, and perhaps unprecedented, that a speech in this House should be, so to speak, the actual operative order in a dispute of this kind. I am sure we are all extremely thankful that, temporarily at any rate, the matter is progressing satisfactorily. I would therefore like to congratulate the hon. Lady—and say, with the greatest possible friendliness, that I would always much rather be on her side than against her in any dispute or negotiations.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen Minutes past Four o'Clock, till Monday next.