National Dock Labour Scheme

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telstarbox

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Iain Dale said:
In September 1987 I was on holiday in Michigan when I decided to buy a copy of The Times. I had just finished a two year stint as a researcher in the House of Commons and needed to find a new job. Quick. I saw an advert for the position as Public Affairs Manager for the British Ports Association & National Association of Port Employers. In those days, lobbying was in its infancy and to be honest I wasn’t sure what the job would really entail. Anyway, I spent an hour in the University of Michigan library in Ann Arbor (which remains one of my favourite towns in the world) touching up my CV and constructing a letter of application.

A month later, I had beaten 200 other applicants for the job and started work in a rather dingy office in New Oxford Street. While preparing for interviews, virtually everyone I spoke to said, “ah, you’ll be trying to persuade the government to get rid of the Dock Labour Scheme”. Dock Labour Scheme? What the hell was that? It certainly didn’t sound very exciting. I started researching it and was horrified by what I found. It was a piece of employment legislation which gave registered dock workers privileges other workers could only dream of. They had a guaranteed job for life, it was impossible to sack them, when they retired their jobs automatically passed to their sons and they were paid at rates other workers (and indeed dock workers in non scheme ports) could only dream of. Spanish practices were rife and if a port closed down, dockers were transferred to the nearest port even if it was run by a different company and there was no need for them.
http://iaindale.com/posts/2016/04/0...s-abolished-and-here-s-how-i-helped-it-happen

Interesting post above. If what Iain says is true, how did the docks come to have such generous working conditions compared to, say, the railways which were still nationalised at the same time?
 
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jopsuk

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My belief in the claims of a Tory about the details of a unionised workforce in the 80s is low.
 

JohnR

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The scheme was introduced at a time when casualisation was rife in the Docks - Men would queue up at the gates each morning, waiting to see if they had work that day, and if not, their family would go hungry (this was before the welfare state, and as casual workers they wernt entitled to unemployment benefits). This was not a situation pertaining to the Railways, hence why they didnt get this solution.

So the thinking was to give Dockers permanent jobs, and guarantees of work. Yes, there were abuses and practises which had built up over time became engrained as part of the contract. And instead of managing the system, and perhaps looking for changes and improvements to be made, managers always called for it to be scrapped in its entirety. Which, of course was anathema to the Dockers, who would go out on strike, and hence resisted by Government. So the bad practices continued, even when it Was starting to affect British Docks competitiveness from the early 70s onwards.

Not sure what he is talking about when he says Dockers couldnt even be made redundant and had to be employed even at a non-scheme port. Very few dockers moved from Docklands, East London to Tilbury, for instance.
 

coppercapped

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The scheme was introduced at a time when casualisation was rife in the Docks - Men would queue up at the gates each morning, waiting to see if they had work that day, and if not, their family would go hungry (this was before the welfare state, and as casual workers they wernt entitled to unemployment benefits). This was not a situation pertaining to the Railways, hence why they didnt get this solution.

So the thinking was to give Dockers permanent jobs, and guarantees of work. Yes, there were abuses and practises which had built up over time became engrained as part of the contract. And instead of managing the system, and perhaps looking for changes and improvements to be made, managers always called for it to be scrapped in its entirety. Which, of course was anathema to the Dockers, who would go out on strike, and hence resisted by Government. So the bad practices continued, even when it Was starting to affect British Docks competitiveness from the early 70s onwards.

Not sure what he is talking about when he says Dockers couldnt even be made redundant and had to be employed even at a non-scheme port. Very few dockers moved from Docklands, East London to Tilbury, for instance.

Just to add a bit more background - from Wikipedia and other sources including Andrew Marr's 'History of Modern Britain':

The "Dock Workers’ (Regulation of Employment) Scheme" was introduced in 1947 by the Labour government in response to the Dock Strike of October and November 1945. The strike was a rank-and-file protest for an increase in basic pay, and was not officially supported by the Transport and General Workers Union. The strikers were condemned as 'unpatriotic' by Arthur Deakin, General Secretary of the T&G. The government used troops to keep the ports open, and the strike ended after six weeks when the striking dockers accepted an assurance from the T&G leaders that they would negotiate a 'Docker's Charter' with the government.

There was continuing unrest in the docks and the Devlin Committee was appointed by the Ministry of Labour in October 1964 at the start of Harold Wilson's Government (who won the October 1964 General Election) to look into disputes, decasualisation and dissension in that industry. It reported in July 1965 and found that between 1960 and when the committee was set up, there had been 421 strikes in the docks, of these 410 were unofficial.
 

Busaholic

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Growing up in the Woolwich area of London in the 1950s, and developing an interest in the trolleybuses which operated on both sides of the Thames, I used to walk the Foot Tunnel (or take the Free Ferry) over to North Woolwich after school to get my fix. The trolleybus routes in that area were primarily provided for dock workers in e.g. West India Dock, Silvertown Basin, the Victoria and Albert Docks and the non-trolleybus- served Royal Albert Dock, and at the time I was there hundreds of workers would descend from the buses and trolleybuses to cross the river. The RAD had a notorious swing bridge, which meant that the 101 bus, on a 1-2 minute headway in the peaks, would get delayed. On one memorable (to me!) occasion eleven buses arrived nose to tail, and all but the last two or three disgorged a full load of passengers. That would have been 1959, yet within less than a decade virtually all those jobs would be gone. Progress? A matter of opinion.

The news print trade was also organised along the same lines, with whole (male) families being engaged, sometimes under fictitious names with 'casual' labour. It was Rupert Murdoch who, after many battles, smashed the system, which historically is the reason he is hated by many on the Left in politics. Personally, I wouldn't defend the many 'Spanish practices' but I believe we've gone too far the other way in defenestrating the unions.
 

furnessvale

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Personally, I wouldn't defend the many 'Spanish practices' but I believe we've gone too far the other way in defenestrating the unions.

You only need to look at old newsreels of the docks to see some practices.

I have several scenes in DVDs where one man is operating the crane, one is slinging at each end, and five are lined up on the ship watching life go by.
 

Harpers Tate

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In the fullness of time, this scheme, and the highly militant manner in which the port workers defended their "right" to huge pay rates for doing precious little, was the root cause of the decimation of port activity in almost every port in the country. Container traffic? Nope - not unless we still have the same number of dockers handling it as if we were emptying it and refilling it.

Except Felixstowe which wasn't in the scheme; this port became the UK's biggest by a massive margin as the others dwindled.

And so it was that, eventually, the militancy actually oversaw the massive reduction in workforce that it purported to avoid. As, indeed, it often does.
 

Busaholic

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You only need to look at old newsreels of the docks to see some practices.

I have several scenes in DVDs where one man is operating the crane, one is slinging at each end, and five are lined up on the ship watching life go by.

I Believe the GWR was organised on much the same lines!
 
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