Over 400 workers massed outside the Port of Liverpool entrance in Seaforth on Friday 18th March, just 24hours after P&O ferries shamefully sacked 800 workers and looked to replace them with cheaper labour. Similar demonstrations took place in Dover and Hull.
The demonstration in Liverpool was addressed by speakers from RMT and Nautilus as well as the CWU General Secretary, Dave Ward and local Labour MPs. The Mayors of Merseyside and Greater Manchester were also in attendance.
With only 24 hours notice the large crowd that gathered at the Port of Liverpool entrance saw trade unionists from PCS, FBU,CWU, Unite, GMB,NEU Prospect and Unison demonstrating their support for the sacked RMT and Nautilus members.
The disgraceful scenes of workers being led of ships by balaclava clad private security staff having been summarily dismissed has provoked anger and condemnation from trade unionists and politicians. P&O are owned by Dubai based DP World. DP World and P&O are currently embroiled in a controversy over a £146 million deficit in the industry wide seafarers pension fund. P&O were the beneficiaries of over £10 million under the government’s furlough scheme during the pandemic lockdown.
The crocodile tears of Tory ministers comes only months after the government blocked a bill by a Labour MP to outlaw fire and rehire practices. In this case the mass dismissals were made to fire workers and to replace them with workers from some of the poorest countries in the world who will be paid less and employed on inferior terms and conditions.
Such actions cannot be allowed to go unchallenged by the labour movement. The observation that an attack on one is an attack on all has never been more resonant. Undoubtedly other employers will be looking at the outcome of P&Os actions and with a pro-business and anti-trade union government in power there is little chance of the Tories doing anything to outlaw such practices.
RMT have made four immediate demands:
• The government to demand P&O reverse its decision and hold negotiations with the unions so that jobs and services can be reinstated – If this does not happen the government should use powers to take over the P&O vessels.
• Remove any government support for P&O owners DP World, including future contracts, including Freeports, and directly support the retention of P&O jobs instead.
• A widespread public and commercial boycott of P&O – “we won’t go with P&O” until the jobs are reinstated.
• New Legislation to ensure this can never happen to other UK workers and new laws to protect the long-term future of workers in the UK maritime industry
The call for new legislation will no doubt be ignored by the Tories but must form a key objective for the labour movement. However legislation alone will not prevent employers attacking workers. Indeed the actions of P&O are most likely unlawful but with the consequences of breaking the law being little more than an irritant to employers the law is no deterrent.
PCS members have a proud record of supporting workers in other industries and the Left Unity led PCS NEC will no doubt respond positively to the call for support of the sacked workers. We should support protests and action taken by sea or dockers workers unions if they refuse to work with P&O vessels to resist these attacks.
The draconian actions of P&O will rightly be condemned and trade unionists must articulate the case for positive employee rights for workers as well as outlining the Socialist alternative to what the RMT General Secretary rightly describes as gangster capitalism.