In 2015 the number of people on zero hour contracts make up 2.4% of the UK workforce of 31 million people. (Office of National Statistics). And where are those contracts? Well in the work places you might expect such as hospitality and leisure but also increasingly in health, the care industry and universities all of whom increasingly rely on zero hour workers.
Workers on zero hour contracts earn less per hour than staff in similar roles and are denied benefits such as sick pay. They have no security at work and are difficult to organise into trade unions to fight for real not zero hour contracts.
How did we get to this situation in Britain? The Liverpool Dockers Lockout of 1995-1998 signalled a major shift backwards in the way some people worked. As Ken Loach says in the foreword to this book; “What was at stake was the nature of work itself”. He believes that the attack on organised labour started with the election of the Tories in 1979 who brought in anti-trade union laws whilst at the same time closing down factories and industries and throwing millions of people on the dole. The rest as they say is history,
But the Liverpool Dockers were not prepared to accept the clock being turned back to a time when men were reduced to being day labourers with no permanent contract, dependant on being “chosen to work” on a daily basis.
Dockers is the photographic story of a historic fight of a group of workers and their defence of their jobs and way of life. It began with the employers picking off smaller ports and employing non-union casual labour. But when it came to Liverpool the dockers refused to accept these new working conditions and were locked out and agency workers were brought in to do their jobs.
Dave Sinclair started recording the lockout on Wednesday 27 September 1995. The dispute had started two days earlier when a small dock supply company, Torside Limited, had dismissed its entire workforce of eighty young dockers. Most of these young dockers had fathers working for the Port Authority, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. The next day the young dockers picketed the gates of the Seaforth Docks and the dockers refused to cross the picket line and all 500 dockers were sacked. It was not a strike, it was a lockout.
Dockers is a fascinating record of a dispute that has been largely forgotten by the labour movement: a dispute that has had major consequences for the trade union movement in terms of increasing insecurity of work, of low wages and the increased casualisation of work throughout the labour force.
I went on several of the demos in Liverpool, heard the emotional appeals of the women and their Women on the Waterfront campaign and sadly watched as their union, Unite, and the Labour Party refused to support them. But these photographs also show the incredible support that the dockers had from all parts of the community in this country, well beyond the Liverpool docks. It is an important reminder of the solidarity shown by groups as diverse as Reclaim the Streets, Turkish/Kurdish supporters from London, and Asian women from the Hillingdon Hospital dispute.
Dockers is a reminder of how important it is for the people involved in making working class history to record their own stories. Luckily the Liverpool dockers and their families had Dave Sinclair to do it for them. But looking at the photographs made me want to know what were the individual stories behind the organisation of the strike, the personal stories behind the heroic and heartfelt images of the dispute over the years 95-98. Britain in 2015 is not Liverpool in 1995 but I think we can all learn a great deal from a group of workers and their community who stood up and defended their right, not just to a job, but to living a decent and dignified life.
Buy it from see
Watch Ken Loach’s documentary about the Lockout The Flickering Flame see
Watch Jimmy McGovern’s drama about the Lockout Dockers see
Listen to Chumbawamba’s song about the dispute; One by One