The P&O dispute has brought in to sharp relief an economy rigged in favour of bosses class… 50 years of Neo-Liberalism and a decade or so of Conservative government have convinced P&O and its representatives that the law does not apply to them.Idris Williamson
By Idris Williamson, RMT activist
The P&O dispute has brought in to sharp relief an economy rigged in favour of bosses class. The very fact that CEO Peter Hebblethwaite can appear before a parliamentary committee and admit in public that the broke the law intentionally (and therefore presumable factored this in to their industrial strategy and costs) should be evidence of this. His appearance in parliament and candid admission provides us with another fact, neither P&O nor its individual managing directors, expect to be punished for this blatant violation of both the law and ethics. 50 years of Neo-Liberalism and a decade or so of Conservative government have convinced this company and its representatives that the law does not apply to them. It is instead for the little people, the 800 or so sailors who led a sit-in protest against this violation of their rights led off in handcuffs by the companies private security, and the union that represents them.
Those seafarers involved responded first with anger, and who can blame them. They were told, over a pre-recorded video message and in some cases via text, that their jobs were ceasing as of that day. Their initial lawful sit in protest and anger was met with private security with handcuffs employed three days before (in a clear strategic approach by the company) to lead them off ship clasped as criminals. This security was armed with the names of individual seafarers and threats that resistance to this breach of contract would be met with their redundancy payments being rescinded. That their anger has continued unabated is also unsurprising – personal effects not stolen by the agency replacement scab crew were jettisoned in to the rubbish instead of being returned to them. What a way to treat a loyal force of essential workers who stood by the company during the last 3 difficult years of pandemic?
Despite this their have been glimmers of hope, the mass support the seafarers have received amongst the general public have forced this Conservative government to issue statements of regret and anger, and even to haul the CEO of P&O in front of the parliamentary committee. Whilst this week has seemed to show the Tories crocodile tears to be nothing but rhetoric it is nonetheless a mark of the strength of the outcry that they feel the need to comment sympathetically at all.
Of greater importance are the stories of agency workers for Clyde marine walking off the job upon finding out they were being used as scab labour, and of Dutch and French dock workers promising to refuse to load or discharge scab ships. As has been candidly pointed out by Karl Turner MP, such secondary action would be illegal in the UK and result in the unions representing dockers having their funds sequestrated and representatives jailed. This further demonstrates the rigging of the odds in favour of the bosses. If we are to have any hope of reversing the P&O jobs massacre and preventing it in the future, we must have trade unions who are free to act. Perhaps this moment will serve as a springboard for the TUC to commit itself (given the immense public support) to the repeal of the anti-trade union acts in this country.
Of course there is also a political dimension to this. It should be obvious that the current system of flags of convivence needs to be done away with. Why is it an acceptable situation that a ship that operates entirely between France and the UK’s coasts should be flagged to Cyprus, all so a company can claim to operate outside of regulations and taxes? Legislation to end this situation has been long overdue, and would be easily implemented on these strategic ferry routes.
On top of that, as a strategic Ferry bringing 70% or so of the goods into the UK we have to ask a question: is it viable to leave this service in the hands of oligarchs based in Oman or anywhere else? The answer, surely, must be no. The UK tax payer has all but nationalised the wage bill of the strategic ferry for the last 3 years of pandemic. We are entitled to demand that the service and skilled jobs on board be maintained. A strident opposition should be arguing for the nationalisation of it on these grounds. Given the clear public support, the Labour Party would be remiss to refuse to chart this course. Repeal the anti-union laws, end flags of convivence, nationalise the strategic ferries!