HC Deb 20 April 1950 vol 474 cc330-3

Mr. Churchill (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Labour whether he has any statement to make on the strike position in the London Docks.

Mr. Isaacs

Normal working was proceeding this morning in all areas except the Royal and West India Docks and a part of the Pool area, where a proportion of the men are out. Taking the Port as a whole, out of 27,514 registered dock workers the number of men on strike is estimated to be about 6,000. This includes a number of members of the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers.

The stoppage is connected solely with the decision of the Transport and General Workers' Union to expel three members on account of their activities in the course of the Communist directed strike that occurred in the London Docks in the summer of last year, their refusal to observe the rules and constitution of the union and to give undertakings as to their future conduct. It has nothing whatever to do with certain proposals of Messrs. Shaw, Savill and Albion, in regard to which I am still awaiting a reply from the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers.

The House will be aware, from the White Paper issued just before Christmas last, that the strike last summer resulted from the deliberate planning of Communist agitators in another country, supported by Communist sympathisers in this country. The cases of the three men expelled, one of whom is a well-known Communist, were dealt with as a domestic matter within the union and under its constitutional rules that govern such proceedings. Appeals were heard and the expulsion confirmed by a duly constituted committee consisting entirely of rank and file members of the union. The present stoppage is clearly Communist inspired and is nothing else than an attack on the democratic and constitutional rules of the Transport and General Workers' Union. It is significant that the leader of this attack is a member of another union.

This stoppage, which, as I have said, is in no way connected with any dispute with the employers regarding rates and conditions of employment, shows once again the lengths to which the Communists are prepared to go in their attempt—and I am glad to say in their losing attempt—to gain control of the trade union movement. No consideration of hardship to the workpeople or their families, or the country generally, is allowed to interfere with their plans. The men are breaking their contractual obligations and the Government recognise the need to support constitutional procedure.

We are also determined that the vital interests of the nation must be safeguarded. The men who allow themselves to be misled into taking part in this stoppage have no shadow of excuse for their action. It is a blow directed especially against their fellow workers and trade unionists. The vast majority of the members of the union employed in the port are showing their loyalty to their trade unions. The rest should do likewise. The attack against their union will then immediately fail.

Mr. Churchill

May I be permitted to express, I think on behalf of the whole House, our support to the right hon. Gentleman on the course he is taking and our thanks to him for the extremely lucid and full statement he has made?

Mr. Maclay

Will it be certain that the real reasons of this strike are given full publicity in all parts of the docks where men might become involved, so that there is no possible shadow of doubt that people will know why they are being asked to come out?

Mr. Isaacs

The trade union have informed me that they have circulated a full statement of the circumstances to every member in the port area.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Can my right hon. Friend say whether it was a term of the original settlement that there should be no victimisation of anyone concerned, and is he satisfied that the expulsion of these three men is consistent with that undertaking?

Mr. Isaacs

I am not sure whether there was any such undertaking, but I want to assert, as an old trade union official, that if a man will not play the game in a union he had better be outside.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In view of the Minister's reference to the Shaw, Savill and Albion scheme, can he say whether work under that scheme has yet started?

Mr. Isaacs

No, Sir. Under that scheme, after conferences had been convened, it was suggested to both parties that they should let the matter be adjudicated upon by their national council procedure. The employers have given their willingness to do that and the union were to meet last night to reach a decision, but because they were unable to get a hall they will be meeting tonight. Unfortunately, these two things have come together and are likely to be mixed up.

Mr. Silverman

While not dissenting about the duties and loyalties of members of a trade union, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that if an undertaking was given it should be honoured. and on that view of the matter is he satisfied that the undertaking is being honoured?

Mr. Isaacs

I have no knowledge whether such an undertaking was given or not. If it was given by the union, it would be for them to deal with it. I assume that the rank and file meeting would have considered it.

Sir Herbert Williams

Is this strike in breach of the law?

Mr. Isaacs

That is a matter on which I shall have to be guided by the Law Officers of the Crown.

Sir H. Williams

Will the right hon. Gentleman do so?

Mr. Mellish

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that if the members of this union are dissatisfied with the action taken by their own organisation, they have the full machinery within their organisation to deal with it, and that it is not necessary for action of this kind to be outside the realm of the union itself?