On 21 August, over 1,900 dock workers, including crane drivers, tug boat operatives and stevedores, began eight days of strikes at Felixstowe port to demand a wage rise in line with inflation.
After last year’s miserly pay rise of just 1.8 percent, workers are outraged at the employers’ current offer of 7 percent, just as inflation hits double figures. Offering a token one-off cash bribe of £500 only adds insult to injury.
The company claims that it “cannot afford” to pay the dockers a proper wage, yet since 2017 it has managed to shell out over £198m in dividends, the bulk of which have gone to swell the coffers of Hong Kong-based parent company CK Hutchinson Holdings Ltd. (Unite calls out ‘crocodile tears’ of Felixstowe employers claiming they can’t afford to pay workers wage rise, Unite the Union, 21 August 2022)
The dockers have it within their power to bring Felixstowe to a halt by withdrawing their labour. Felixstowe controls 40 percent of the UK’s container trade, handling some four million containers a year.
It is estimated that the strike could imperil $800m worth of trade, especially clothing and electronics, as a result of just one week of strike action. Already, the second-largest container shipping group in the world, Maersk, has been forced to divert three ships to other ports and is monitoring another 11, putting pressure on port capacity elsewhere. (Strike at UK’s biggest port threatens supply chain disruption by Philip Georgiadis, Financial Times, 21 August 2022)
A squeeze on one part of the complex supply chain has a knock-on effect throughout the network. Were the docks strike at Felixstowe to spread to other ports, and were these strikes to be coordinated with industrial action currently being taken by British rail workers, the wider working class would soon remember the awesome power that is possessed by labour when it chooses to organise itself in defence of its class.