struck side-by-side and without strike pay. With nothing but wartime rations to feed their families, they stayed out on strike for six weeks.Their action was condemned by Bevin and the TGWU as unpatriotic; an accusationmurmured too by the Communist Party, which still regarded convoy supplies to the USSR asan essential proletarian duty. This was despite the fact that under Arthur Deakin’s leadershipof the TGWU proscribed Communist Party members from holding office at any level in theunion – a proscription upheld too by Bevin when he had been TGWU general secretary.Clement Attlee’s Labour government took no time in calling troops into the docks to off-loadships and effectively act as uniformed strikebreakers. And although the officials of the NASDsupported the strike throughout, their negotiating officials eventually succumbed to combinedpressure from the Labour government and the TGWU. It recommended a return to workdespite the strike holding solid.Yet although a defeat, the terms on which a settlement was reached was by no meansunfavourable regarding the opportunities for further unofficial strike action in the years toimmediately follow. In an urgent bid to get the docks back to normal working, the governmentstrongarmed ports employers into accepting discussion of demands set out in the DockersCharter – many of which (such as an end to the casual labour system) were to be eventuallyincorporated into 1947 docks legislation.
The National Dock Labour Board of 1947
In 1946 the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act was brought in, supplemented in1947 with the National Dock Labour Scheme. This required compulsory registration of allport operators and all dock workers in all “scheduled” ports. A guaranteed weekly minimumwage would be paid to every dock worker reporting for work. A National Dock Labour Board was set up with an executive board comprising four employers and four union officials. At the national level these positions would be byministerial appointment. NDLB local boards were set up to cover all major ports and groupsof smaller registered ports and wharfs. The local boards were to effectively operate as localdock labour exchanges in order to ensure the most economic and effective deployment of labour on a wherever needed basis. The overall scheme covered over 60 UK ports and thelocal boards were charged with “disciplinary power over men and masters alike”.In reality the NDLB provided the TGWU with a “bureaucratic closed shop”. TGWU officialsinvariably sat on disciplinary panels and it was not unknown for a reinstatement to besecured by a kick-back payment referred to coyly but knowingly as an “overhead charge”.This charge was usually exchanged with a receipt in the form of the accused leaving with awhite TGWU membership card despite the fact he may also hold a blue card as a member of the NASD. This practice prompted one NASD steward to taunt the TGWU officials as “havingno power other than to deprive men of their livelihood”.
The 1950s: brothers in arms
At dock-side level the continued offensive of the TGWU machine against the NASD often ledto bitter “demarcation” disputes between members of the rival unions. Despite the continuedhostility of the TGWU the smaller dockers’ union had been admitted to the TUC on the