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Strike, London Docks

Volume 466: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1949

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(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement about the unofficial strike in the Port of London involving over 2,000 men.

Yes, Sir. At the Surrey Docks some 950 stevedores are on strike causing 11 ships to be idle. At the Royal Docks approximately 2,850 dockers and stevedores are on strike causing 19 vessels to be idle of which 11 are food ships. I very much regret that this trouble has broken out again. Last week, when there was a strike of stevedores, the Executive of the Stevedores Union decided, with a full knowledge of the facts, to advise their members to work all ships. This decision was re-affirmed on Thursday. Normal working was resumed on Friday morning last and continued over the weekend, but on Monday morning stevedores in the Surrey Docks stopped work again. In the course of the day the stoppage spread to the Royal Docks, involving dockers as well as stevedores.

I have been informed today that the Stevedores Union will reiterate their decision that all ships will be worked. A small number of members of the Transport and General Workers' Union are also involved, but the Executive have assured me that they are taking all possible steps to ensure that there is no extension of the stoppage so far as their members are concerned.

Apparently a fresh dispute broke out during the week-end between members of the Canadian Seamen's Union in London and the Canadian Shipowners, this time it seems over the interpretation of an agreement governing the re-engagement of the crew of one of the Canadian ships, the other Canadian ship having been sold to new owners and no question of re-engagement arising.

I am sure the House will agree that we in this country are not concerned with the merits of this fresh dispute and that it is intolerable that our trade and our recovery should be interfered with in this way. It is abundantly clear that the Communists, in their support of the Canadian Seamen's Union, are completely indifferent to the loss and hardship that may be occasioned to our dockers and their families and the rest of the community. These disruptive elements represent only a small minority of the men and the men must realise that unless they assert themselves in loyalty to their own Union, they are betraying the interests of the vast majority of their fellow trade unionists. They should resume full normal working without delay.

If I heard the right hon. Gentleman aright, among these ships held up there are 11 food ships. If that is so, can he tell us whether there is any danger of perishable foodstuffs having, in consequence, to be destroyed or becoming unusable and whether the Government propose to take any steps to avoid such an occurrence?

I am advised that there is no danger as yet to the food in these ships. Secondly, strenuous efforts are being made by the Stevedores' Union to get their men to resume work. Thirdly, the Government will not permit this food to be wasted.

Is not the Minister fully aware of the fact that one of the most valiant traditions of the British working-class movement is that British workers have always been prepared to stand by their comrades from other countries? Is this not an exhibition of working-class loyalty on the part of the dockers? I am asking the Minister whether he agrees that that is right or not. Is it not an exhibition of loyalty on the part of the dockers towards their working-class comrades from Canada? Why does the right hon Gentleman keep repeating this childish plea about Communism? If we could stop the docks in London why do we not stop the docks all over the country?

The hon. Member has made a speech about loyalty. I assert here, without any hesitation, that if the trade union movement is to maintain the confidence of the people the loyalty of the members of the union is to their own trade union and not to a lot of imported agitators whose only purpose in this particular case is not to win a strike in Canada, but to disturb the flow of merchandise in our ports.

Is not my right hon. Friend ashamed that he should allow his position to be used to disrupt the solidarity of the British dockers?

The hon. Gentleman asks me if I am not ashamed. The hon. Gentleman, who represents a working-class constituency in London, ought to be ashamed of the lead he has given to cause the trouble and confusion which is being caused.

Is the right hon. Gentleman convinced that he is obtaining better results by appealing to the men on strike to be loyal to their trade union—with which I agree—rather than appealing to them to be loyal to the nation?

The hon. and learned Gentleman did not hear my statement aright. My appeal was not only for loyalty to the trade union but for loyalty to the community. The question I was asked was about trade union loyalty, and trade union loyalty should be to those whom the men have elected.