vs. Goliath at Dublin Port
Workers Support Group organiser Joe Mooney gives his view of the
lessons learnt in the Docks Strike, which over its seven month duration
saw communities mobilised behind the workers but had a disappointing
The scene: A
small fishing boat containing strikers and supporters, one standing
with placard held aloft, is thrown perilously about, as a monstrous
ferry looms above them. It was a dramatic image, classic David versus
Goliath stuff, and one symbolic of the greater struggle that it
featured in. As it was in 1913, it would be again almost a century
later – workers in Dublin Port going head to head with ruthless,
better resourced employers.
at Marine Terminals LTD (owned by the UK’s Peel Port group)
had begun over forced redundancies and major changes in working
conditions. It was to last 230 days, and end unsatisfactorily.
On our side we had the greatest weapons of all – the tradition
of working class solidarity, militant action and our determination
to win. Support from the Port communities was inspiring, and grew
rapidly to involve other workers, trade unions and political groups.
The picketing workers were visited by well wishers on a daily basis.
Simultaneous marches took place from North and south of the River,
joining together on the Bridge to march united to the gates of MTL.
And on one occasion through them, as a mass trespass took place,
calling for “Scabs out, Dockers in”. There was also
the launch of our own “Irish citizen Navy” which attracted
national and international media attention.
picketing by SIPTU being illegal, the Dublin Port Workers Support
Group took the initiative to “broaden the battlefield”.
Deutsche Bank (part owner of Peel Ports) was regularly picketed
in the IFSC and internationally. A Dublin Castle dinner, hosted
by the Tanaiste, for business leaders, including a Deutsche bank
managing director, was gate crashed. Dunnes stores was targeted
for protests, to great public support, for selling goods handled
by MTL scabs. Even Celtic FC, with a director linked to Peel, could
not escape, with the club bombarded with an e-mail campaign, and
aware of the threat of protest action. The Scottish media was surprisingly
sympathetic to the Irish workers. There was always a great turnout
at the many court appearances the workers had to endure. Dublin
City Council unanimously passed a motion supporting the workers,
and called on the state owned Dublin Port Company to intervene.
all over the world, affiliated to the International Transport Workers
Federation (ITF), Joined forces to actively support the strikers.
This international dimension, with a threat to their business activity
across the globe, was the greatest nightmare the company could imagine.
A visit to Dublin by Australian, British and U.S. supporters was
a huge morale boost.
The Peel group is worth£6 billion. £2 million sterling
was allocated to break this strike. Scabs were imported from Scotland
and Belfast to supplement the native species. A “security
company”, founded by ex-S.A.S. members was hired. Having previously
operated in Iraq, Afghanistan and South America, the presence of
this “private army” didn’t interest the usual
media “security correspondents”.
There was also
the bosses greatest friend- the law. Workers were injuncted from
effective picketing, and an attempt was made to jail people for
alleged breaches of the injunction. A bizarre legal action was taken
to prevent the MTL scabs being described as scabs! The company tried
to use their vast wealth to buy control of the English language.
They had a partial victory, with the naming of individual MTL scabs
now subject to injunction.
international solidarity was putting real pressure on the company.
However, the workers representatives SIPTU were ultimately responsible
for how the strike proceeded. Weaknesses in current union strategies
became evident during the dispute. Once the strike began, it was
left to drift for a period. The inability to close down Dublin Port,
even for a limited period was a sign of weakness. The aim for the
union became “ending the dispute”, with the possibility
of an actual victory slipping off the agenda. A blinkered faith
in “industrial relation structures” has become a strait
jacket. Without the involvement of the ITF this dispute was heading
towards a defeat of one variety or another.
ended after 230 days, with 11 of the strikers keeping their jobs.
Their return to work was staggered over 3 months. In their workplace
they will be outnumbered by the scabs, who have been allowed to
maintain their union membership. A number of workers, including
very committed strikers, were excluded from the return. While the
saving of these jobs is welcome, this is not the victory that many
had hoped and fought for.
and determination of the workers, in a very harsh climate, must
be applauded. The strength of support, the rallying of the communities,
the imagination and variety of actions and the international solidarity
are all positives we can take from this 7 month dispute.
the trade union approach must be addressed. The state’s industrial
relations structures may have some role to play, but they are not
the be all and end all. While the workers side is subservient to
these institutions, the employers can cherry pick their involvement
and choose to ignore it when it suits them. This often leaves nothing
but a cap in hand approach and a vague appeal for “fair play”.
Whether one chooses to judge it good, bad or indifferent the partnership
era is over.
The union leadership is acting like a jilted lover, hoping that
this is just a trial separation, and not a full scale divorce. Our
class enemies are acting accordingly and have moved on, antagonistic