Saturday, February 20, 2010

1951 - When Dockers' Went To Jail For the Right To Strike

When they’re in the Dock,
We’re out of the Dock”

In 1951 the Labour Government was faced with huge insurmountable problems, the US Government had effectively forced Britain to join them in an Arms race against the Soviet Union, forcing Britain into huge debts.

The Government tried to hold down the increasing demand for higher wages, faced an unofficial wages strike by Dockers in a number of Ports (primarily London and Liverpool), it sought to use War time regulations to smash the strike and work to rule. The Attorney general Sir Hartley Shawcross decided to charge the unofficial Dockers leaders with conspiracy to incite dockers to take part in strike in contravention of the employment and national arbitration order 1305.

Seven ring leaders were identified, These were Harry Constable, Albert Timothy, Joe Cowley and Ted Dickens from London. Bob Crosby from Liverpool and J “Nudger” Harrison and Bill Johnson from Birkenhead.

On 9th February 195, Police raided the White Hart public house, Ratcliffe Highway, Stepney, East London, where a meeting of the Unofficial Port Workers Committee was meeting Jack Dash takes up the story “suddenly the doors of the committee room burst open and in stepped five hefty six-footers, up spoke the chairman Wally Jones “I don’t know what sector you’re from, but I’ve never seen you on the committee, who are you ?. “We are the Law” said one of them “and it’s a pinch” “A pinch” said Wally Jones the Chairman “What on earth are you talking about? We are a strike committee!” “That’s it, said the spokesman “We are arresting seven of your members under Order 1305, strikes and lockouts are illegal and you have contravened the Law”.

In response 7,000 Dockers stopped work in London and 11,000 on Merseyside. On the Docker’s first day in court 17,000 dock workers struck, after that London Dockers came out seven times on 24 hour protest strikes, under the slogan “When they’re in the Dock, we’re out of the Dock”. Solidarity action took place in Ports across the country, London, Liverpool, Hull and Manchester and elsewhere.

Dockers turned up to support the men throughout the trial, Vic Marney Secretary of the Unofficial Liaison Committee was arrested for obstruction.

Finally, 8,000 men turned up to support the men on the day the verdict was to be announced, singing Land of Home and Glory, Rule Britannia, Sons of the Sea and a moving rendition of Kevin Barry by some Irishmen present. The seven they were duly acquitted on all counts and were carried shoulder high through police lines, leading to the “hostile” Police organising a mounted charge “Cossacks” on the Dockers.

As they returned to their respective ports they were meet as hero’s once again and Order 1305 was duly consigned to the bin of history



Jack Dash

Born in Southwark, South London in 1906, Jack Dash was an orphan, who left school at 14, becoming a builder, a fire-fighter and then a docker. Inspired by the novels of American author Jack London and after hearing Pat Devine and Nat Cohen speak on the Republican cause in Spain, Dash joined the Communist Party in 1936 (Stepney Communist Party meet on Wednesdays in Eric Street, Stepney).


Jack became effectively the unofficial leader of London dockers and, through that, a significant figure in the national Port Workers Liaison Committee.

He became relatively well-known as a household name by the 1960s as one of the most powerful of the Communist rank-and-file trade union leaders arising from his role as chair of the port shop stewards in the London docks. Due to the 18-year ban on Communists holding office in the Transport and General Workers Union, which lasted virtually until his retirement.

Having been involved in every London dock strike from 1945 to 1969, he was vilified by the reactionary press in much the same way as others who followed him were. The media could not accept the simple fact that it was the fear of casualisation returning, which fuelled the readiness of dockers to act in their self-defence. In response, Jack far-sightedly repeatedly warned that it was the short-sightedness of the employers that would lead to the demise of London as a major port.

In retirement, Dash became an official London tourist guide in the 1970s and an advocate for pensioners’ rights. He also spent some of his time quite successfully painting and sculpting, being commemorated in 1990 by the naming of “Jack Dash House”, a municipal office building on the Isle of Dogs, which holds regular exhibitions of contemporary art from Britain and all over the world. Jack published his autobiography, Good Morning, Brothers!, in 1969; the title referring to his invariable opening of mass meetings, often captured by television news. He died in London at the age of 82 on 8 June 1989.

In his autobiography, he said that the only epitaph he wanted on his tombstone was:

Here lies Jack Dash

All he wanted was

To separate them from their cash




Jack Dash

Leader of the London Dockers

(1907—1989)

Good Morning Brothers


I was just coming to the end of my autobiography when I was asked by a producer of the B.B.C. Television Studio at Shepherds Bush, London, if I would be prepared to take part in a new satirical programme called The Eleventh Hour. The idea was for me to read my own Obituary—written by myself. It was a new experience for me, and I rather fancied the oddity of sitting on a “live” programme and reading about my “dead” self. Here is what Isaid:



“Mr Jack Dash, who died last week when trying to pacify a mob of re-deployed port employers, was the first Communist Minister of Labour in the Bertrand Russell Coalition Government of 1971. His term of office was marked by the implementation of the Harold Wilson-Ray Gunter Award scheme for the most promising ex-company-director recruited to the shop floor in memory of two of the most militant employers’ leaders. He also launched the ‘Free Sea Travel for Dockers’ system.

“Mr Dash became politically active at an early age, and in 1936 he joined the Communist Party and remained a member until his death. In 1937, he was awarded the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Medal for trade union recruiting. In 1945, Mr Dash decided to become a docker, and he was accordingly recommended to a place in the industry by the Port Employers’ Federation. It is understood that a number of the Federation’s members decided later that this may have been a mistake. From the start of his working life, Jack Dash was an industrial militant, and he once said that the only epitaph he wanted was:

Here lies Jack Dash

All he wanted was

To separate them from their cash


(This is thought to have been one of his frequent friendly references to the dock employers, with whom he had a close, lifelong relationship based on a warm mutual dislike.) For a number of reasons, the employers considered that Mr Dash was a bad influence on the dock industry, and they alleged that he had led a number of unofficial strikes which had a disastrous effect on their profits. When Mr Dash pointed out that these strikes had helped to raise the minimum wages in the docks from £9 in 1959 to £17 in 1967 and £30 in 1972, the employers replied that this was exactly what they were complaining about.

“Long before he joined the Government, Jack Dash was a public figure. For this he had to thank the national newspapers, and throughout his life he felt a proper sense of gratitude to Fleet Street for the painstaking and sympathetic approach which marked all their dealings with him. Mr Dash particularly appreciated the Press Council’s censure of the Daily Express, printed by that paper after the Devlin Report in 1965, and the annual series of apologies printed in the Daily Telegraph after every third story they wrote about him. However, Mr Dash’s favourite newspaper, after the Morning Star, was the Daily Mirror. The Mirror could always be relied on to maintain his position as a controversial figure and keep his post-bag full of rather short anonymous

letters. The Mirror was also remarkable for its scrupulous use of its uniquely influential position and its respect for Mr Dash’s private life. It is thought that when he described the Daily Mirror as ‘the navvies’ comic’ Mr Dash was being humorous.”

I thank you dear reader, if you have read so far, for your interest and patience. May I offer a bit of advice, especially to the young? Read and learn the history of the British labour movement, the working class, its struggles and development, its twin creations, the trade unions and the Co-operative Movement, from which has developed the finest principle of humanism, international brotherhood. And let us continue the struggle of the pioneers of our great movement for a socialist Britain where the people will be the rightful owners of the land and the means of production; for the ending of class privilege; for equal opportunities for education, leisure, social services free to all regardless of race, religion or colour. For human dignity, the right of every single being.

GOOD MORNING, BROTHERS!

Ah Love! could thou and I with fate conspire

To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,

Would we not shatter it to bits—and then

Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!


Wally Jones

Chairman of the Unofficial Port Workers Committee

He grew up in Stepney, roaming the back streets and alleys of Wapping, finally securing work London docker at Royal Docks, he became the Chairman of London Liaison committee of Dockers

Jones was at the forefront of the campaign to defend the Regulation 1305 seven (imprisoned) in 1951 for an unofficial strike. It was Joes who secured the services of Jack Gaster as the lawyer for the London men and Sydney Silverman for the northern men.

A thorough and conscientious worker, he died in a work accident when an error by a hatchmen lead to him falling to the bottom of the ships hold and was killed.

Immediately the men on Docks stopped work out of respect and went home. On the day of his funeral special permission was given for the cortege to pass in and out of the Royal Group main gates, famous veterans Albert Timothy and Ted Dickens paid their respect along with thousands of Dockers lined the route and hundreds of cranes stood still and silent, in upright salute. It was left to another veteran of the 1308 imprisonment, Joe Cowley to place a wreath on the coffin in the shape of a cargo boat.

Wally Jones died 1958