London dockers

Issue section: 

I agree with Sabby Sagall’s sentiment that the “greater the confidence among workers, the greater the potential for unity against racism” (July/August SR). But his account of the highs and lows of London dockers is wrong in important respects.

As Fred Lindop has clearly shown (in a 2001 article), the main concern of those dockers who demonstrated their racist sentiments in April 1968 was over housing, not employment opportunities (the left has missed a trick in not organising more around housing).

Regarding the events of 1972, five dockers were jailed for contempt of court but they did not apply to the Court of Appeal, as Sabby suggests. They refused to “purge” their contempt and were released after some nifty footwork by the Law Lords (now the Supreme Court). See the account in Glorious Summer by Ralph Darlington and me.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), aware of these legal manoeuvres, had called for “affiliated unions to organise a one-day stoppage of work and demonstrations”. But it was the growing unofficial strike movement (including the shutdown of all national newspapers) in support of the “Pentonville Five”, and not the TUC’s belated call, that had forced the judges’ hand.

Dave Lyddon