The Lizard’s Trail on the Liverpool Docks

Jack Heyman addressing a 1997 rally in Liverpool with Mike Carden and Jimmy Nolan.

In 1913, in the midst of what would be a momentous four-year long railway strike on the Illinois Central and Harriman lines, the secretary of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), Carl E. Person, was attacked by a strikebreaker. He killed his assailant and was subsequently brought to trial, acquitted of all charges on the grounds that he acted in self-defense. As the trade union tops wound down the walk-out, Person was expelled from the IAM, whose strike bulletins he dutifully wrote and distributed during the epic conflict. Escaping the noose of bourgeois justice, the young militant, who would go on to attend law school and become an attorney, found it more difficult to thwart the vindictive actions of a union officialdom bent on cleansing labor’s ranks of the likes of Person.

Person’s crime was his outspoken attacks on those he called the “labor lizards.” These leaders, as Person detailed in a 1918 book, The Lizard’s Trail: A Story from the Illinois Central and Harriman Lines Strike of 1911 to 1915 Inclusive, turned traitorous against their striking ranks, eventually “preaching peace at any price.” They exhibited an “autocracy” that Person insisted rivalled anything to be seen in capitalist society, their use and abuse of constitutional union procedures a dictatorial machine that “robbed the labor movement of everything that was fundamental.” As Person and the strikers stood firm, espousing a federation of crafts against the rail barons, they “put up a fight for … principles that commanded respect.” They voted to strike and then they voted again to continue their job action, but democratically-arrived at decisions were discounted and over-ruled by “Grande Lodge officers [who] made a joke of the entire labor movement.” As the strike was derailed by its leadership, the “scabs who … helped the railroad company to defeat the men … were solicited to become Union men for the price of a dollar and half.”

Person wrote in the aftermath of the capitulation of the trade union leadership of 1915, not to repudiate class struggle, but to revive it. He wanted to prod future militants to keep alive the promise of trade unionism. “If the fight we put up for Federation is worth anything to those whose fortune or misfortune it shall be to stand guard over its principles in the long drive on the tomorrows,” he concluded, “do not permit the lizards outside or inside of the labor movement to rob it of the things that we fought to give it.” A revived trade unionism, Person knew all too well, demanded not only a confrontational opposition to capital and the state. Labor’s future also necessitated difficult stands against its own misleaders, “men without vision – without conscience, and without sincerity, [who] have bankrupted the choicest hopes and ideals of the movement and brought despair and tragedy to the suffering Solidarity of Democracy.” The path to class victories was a tortuous one, tangled up in the lizard’s trails that so often blocked or sidetracked the inevitable, if not always onward, mobilization of labor’s ranks.

Eighty years after the Illinois Central and Harriman Lines workers battled a pugnacious employer only to have their strike scuttled by bureaucratic union bosses, the Liverpool docks would be the site of yet another Homeric working-class confrontation. Labor in the port of Liverpool constituted part of a 100-year long history, reaching back to (and before) the great London-based dock workers strike of 1889. These pioneers of a new unionism among workers considered “unskilled,” denigrated as little more than unthinking beasts of burden, charted a historic breakthrough. As the new unionism solidified in the 20th century, it became the Liverpool working class’s basic defense mechanism. Offering no absolute guarantees, trade union organization nonetheless managed to win wage advances and job protections; the newly enlarged labor movement was judged as good a means of securing such necessities as anything else on offer. This translated, as well, into enhancing, even creating, a sense of self-worth and dignity among waterfront workers so often stripped of these attributes by callous and condescending employers.

Sustained in part by the internationalism of port labor, leavened by the fissiparous politics of a contentious and variegated revolutionary left, this culture of unionism was passed on generationally, as fathers worked ship cargoes with sons. Liverpool was proudly referred to in working-class circles as a “Red” bastion. If syndicalists and communists, ‘scouse’ Trotskyists and Merseyside anarchists, not to mention Labour Party activists, crossed verbal swords on the Liverpool docks, in their neighborhoods, and through informal and formal gatherings that took place in pubs or at election times, these weapons of a politically charged environment of tough-minded and physically-challenging masculine labor seldom cut into the foundational premise of trade union solidarity. A resolute sense that “an injury to one is an injury to all” prevailed. Liverpool dockers, like the advocates of the federated Illinois Central and Harriman railway workers, were defiant in their bottom line that a picket line was not to be crossed.

It was adherence to this maxim that precipitated Liverpool’s dockside labor, affiliated with the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU), into a roughly 30-month long struggle with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC) and a lesser corporate entity, Torside Limited, a local subcontracting storage and warehousing enterprise. The background to this imbroglio, lasting from 1995-1998, was the neoliberal assault of the 1970s and 1980s, in which Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government used its legislative powers to hammer trade unions into submission.

Shipping companies throughout the United Kingdom waged relentless resistance to union power on the docks over the course of these years. With the abolition of the National Dock Labour Scheme, a program that protected somewhat organized labor’s job control mechanisms in United Kingdom ports, capital and the neoliberal state largely succeeded in breaking the backbone of unionized job sites. Non-union workers were employed at virtually all registered ports by 1989, when a disastrous national strike ended with the TGWU flying the white flag of surrender. The state and the employers now held the upper hand. Only where dockers exercised sufficient strength to negotiate locally to keep union recognition and the closed shop in place could the casualization of contracts and hiring be averted.

 “Red” Liverpool was a militant stronghold, wresting from MDHC a commitment to abide by union hiring rules. This corporate pledge, however, was easily skirted as Mersey Docks management siphoned off union work to small, non-union stevedoring outfits, many of them actually owned or managed by MDHC directors. One component of casualization was overtime pay, which warehousing companies like Torside often balked at recognizing. Embroiled in a dispute over this supplement to the regular wage, five dockers at Torside were dismissed.

The dominoes then began to fall. The sacked Torside workers set up a picket line which their fellow workers refused to cross, resulting in 80 dockers, in total, being fired. When Mersey Docks workers also refused to cross picket lines, hundreds of Liverpool dockers were dismissed for breach of contract. They had in effect defied relatively-recently passed Conservative government neoliberal legislation. Like the infamous post-World War II American Taft-Hartley statute, the Thatcherite Employment Act of 1990 banned sympathetic strikes and prohibited workers from taking part in so-called secondary actions that involved companies with which they were not directly employed.

This restrictive labor legislation struck a blow at what workers long considered sacred acts of solidarity. The Liverpool job actions in defiance of the state’s employment regulations took place without any strike ballot or official TGWU involvement. Union officials, if not all members and shop stewards, adopted the position that workers’ decisions to honor picket lines and the subsequent dismissals constituted an unofficial dispute. As such, the trade union hierarchy used the Tory government’s anti-labor legislation as a shield, behind which it could distance itself from the messy Liverpool situation. Claims were constantly made that if the TGWU was involved in organizing secondary picket lines it could be hauled before the courts, crippled by hefty fines imposed on the union as a whole.  “An injury to one” proved not to be an injury to all that demanded solidarity, and the bureaucratic mindset of an ensconced labor officialdom privileged the union treasury above all else.

Then began the marathon: a local, worker-initiated, ostensibly ‘wildcat’, strike that was technically a lockout. The dispute’s longevity, which ultimately exceeded in duration the miners’ strike of 1984-1985, was never far-removed from the TGWU’s public ambivalence, which masked the organization’s behind-the-scenes sabotage.

To be sure, TGWU General Secretary, Bill Morris, claimed, especially in the early days of the dispute, to be standing with the Liverpool dockers, and he funneled hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Hardship Fund helping the picketing unionists survive. With upwards of 500 dockers out-of-work, however, this was a fraction of the strike pay the union would have been shelling out had it recognized the struggle as a legitimate, official, labor action. This it resolutely refused to do. Morris and the TGWU thus walked a difficult tightrope, contributing money to the dismissed dockers and offering  pronouncements of support, at the same time that they insisted the dispute was “unofficial” and beyond their capacity to endorse.

Behind the scenes, the TGWU leadership did what it could to weaken, even stifle, the Liverpool struggle. Eventually, in 1998, Morris would issue an international circular to trade unions to stop supporting Liverpool dockers in any way. The disingenuousness of Morris and other leading officials of the TGWU became a constant with which the dismissed workers and their shop stewards, who of course divided in what was becoming an intra-union melee, were always necessarily grappling, awkwardly at first and ultimately confrontationally.

Fixated on the lack of a recognized, constitutional vote on the refusal to cross a picket line, Morris insisted on the dockers being balloted, only to deny and arbitrarily override the result of a union-orchestrated tally when it was confirmed at an official TGWU assembly. Pressed to a vote, 70 percent of the men expressed their desire to continue the struggle. When another union offered the dockers an interest-free loan of £250,000 Morris scotched the offer of solidarity and material support. Most critically, Morris was adamant that the dismissed Liverpool workers’ efforts to build an international campaign of solidarity, drawing on the willingness of dock, longshore, and wharf workers from Montreal to Melbourne, Sweden to South Africa, was a blow to TGWU authority.

The TGWU did what it could to block longshore and dock unions in other nations from refusing to unload ships containing cargo worked by the scab labor of Mersey Docks. Morris harrangued these upstart advocates of international labor solidarity with pompous missives that the Liverpool dispute did not have the backing of the TGWU. The sympathetic job actions of thousands of dockers world-wide nonetheless revealed that workers themselves were not to be put off their willingness to sacrifice pay and perhaps their job security over what they considered a fundamental matter of principle, defending their dismissed union comrades in Liverpool and their principled stand in refusing to cross a picket line.

On the Californian coast, Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) led the way in drumming up support for their Liverpool counterparts. Jack Heyman, who represented the ILWU during the campaign, coined the rallying cry that would echo across Liverpool during the countless protests, rallies, pickets, and demonstrations of 1995-1998: “Dockers In! Scabs Out!”

 As the Labour Party tut-tutted, with Tony Blair wringing his manicured hands over the plight of the rebellious dockers at the same time as he questioned their incautious and precipitous refusal to cross a picket line, hopes that an ostensibly worker-friendly, social democratic government would get behind the Liverpool militants faded. Appeals to the Labour Party, which had a significant 14 percent share in Mersey Docks, to pressure the company to reinstate its sacked workforce came to naught. Leftists in the Party like John McConnell, Jeremy Corbyn, and Tony Benn supported the class struggle unfolding on Liverpool’s docks, but they were a distinct minority. Revolutionary organizations likewise rallied to the cause as did environmental and social justice movements such as Reclaim the Streets. To Morris and the TGWU executive, these were unwanted interlopers.

So, too, were the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of Women of the Waterfront (WOW), who formed a dynamic support group for the dismissed dockers. They were led by the feisty Doreen McNally, wife of dismissed worker, whose willingness to go nose-to-nose with Bill Morris helped push the Liverpool struggle into a national and international limelight. The intrepid Women of the Waterfront stepped outside of the confines of domesticity, the industrial conflict precipitating them into public activities often at odds with conventional gender roles: they shamed police at demonstrations, grew adept at speaking before crowds and challenging opponents, and traveled abroad to spread the word of international labor solidarity. They were constantly struck by the high regard in which the Liverpool dockers were held in labor circles around the world.

The TGWU leadership was particularly miffed that the dockers became something of a cultural phenomenon. Filmmakers, soccer stars, left-wing journalists, musicians, comedians, and celebrities of all kinds offered support. Figures as divergent as the American anarchist and distinguished linguist, Noam Chomsky, the flamboyant British comic, Russell Brand, and Liverpool’s Premier League soccer sensation, Robbie Fowler, canonized the struggle. Ken Loach’s documentary, The Flickering Flame (1996), its script written by dismissed dockers with the aid of Trainspotting author, Irvine Welsh, and Liverpool screenwriter and producer Jimmy McGovern, best known for the drama series Crackers (1993-1995), was a particularly hard-hitting exposé of Morris’s maneuvering. Billy Bragg, whose concerts benefitted the Liverpool struggle, wrote and performed “Never Cross a Picket Line” to honor those who lived by this axiom.

When the anarchist pop group, Chumbawama, was featured at the 1998 Brit Awards, the band ad libbed a line into their song, ‘Tubthumping’, chastising the Blairites: “New Labour sold out the dockers; just like they’ll sell out the rest of us.” One of the band members later dumped a bucket of ice-water over Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who was attending the popular music industry’s annual celebrations, sitting contentedly at a high-priced table no doubt charged to the Labour Party’s tab. The frigid douche was an inhospitable reminder that even attendance at an expensive arts event gala was no safe haven when Liverpool wharfmen remained out of work. Chumbawama reserved its artistic vitriol for Bill Morris, likening him to Pontius Pilot in their number, “One by One”: “Leader of the union/All of our questions he ignored/He washed his hands and he/dreamed of his reward/A seat in the House of Lords.”

Co-founder of CounterPunch, Alexander Cockburn, attended and spoke at rallies defending Oakland’s Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The United States dockers faced a legal assault launched by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), angered that a container ship, the Neptune Jade, chartered by a Korean company, had been thwarted in its attempt unload at Oakland’s piers. Local 10 militants, aware that the Neptune Jade was carrying cargo handled by Mersey Docks’ workers at Thamesport, worked with other left-wing and labor activists affiliated with various social movements and unions. They established a “community picket line” that ILWU members honored, declining to work the Neptune Jade. This mirrored protests of the 1980s, when Local 10 members voted not to handle South African cargo, engage in an “illegal “ solidarity strike against capital profiting from apartheid, defy Taft-Hartley strictures, and buck their own international union leadership. Nelson Mandela later insisted that this act of international labor solidarity proved crucial in reigniting the anti-apartheid campaign in the United States.

Unable to find a West Coast United States port that would work its cargo, the Neptune Jade was forced to sail north to Vancouver, where it met with the same unwavering blockade from Canadian ILWU members, who were strong supporters of the Liverpool dockers. From there the ship re-routed itself west, across the Pacific, corporate thinking no doubt confident that Japanese dockers were unlikely to be irksomely informed about the MDHC-loaded containers. No such luck. At Yokohama and then again at the port of Kobe, servicing the industrial area of Hanshin, waterfront workers exercised their contractual right to refuse to work a ship for whatever reason as long as they provided notice to their employers, which they did.

Cockburn bent his prolific pen in defense of the transnational campaign to boycott hot cargo from Liverpool and other MDHC wharves, writing on “The Fate of the Neptune Jade” in a March 1998 issue of The Nation. The ship was eventually off-loaded in Kioasiung, Taiwan, but its tortuous trans-oceanic transit left it a marked vessel. Ship owners renamed it in an effort to escape further problems.

The unionized refusal to work cargo considered unfairly handled by scab labor resulted in Mersey Docks suffering a 23 percent reduction in the number of ships using Liverpool’s port facilities in the 1995-1998 years. The company lost millions, its profitability significantly eroded. International labor solidarity struck a decisive blow against capital’s crusade to weaken trade union organization and demonstrated that against neoliberal states intent on crippling workers’ organizations it was possible to fight back and be victorious.

TWGU officials didn’t get it. They could apparently neither fathom nor appreciate, let alone get behind, the international campaign to support the Liverpool dockers.  Opting for rebuke, rather than embracing an opportunity to build and extend a labor-led internationalism, the reptilian ranks of the dockers’ trade union hierarchy scurried into lairs of localized power, adopting an increasingly defiant, defensive, and defeatist resistance to the orchestration of transnational opposition. Business unionists were not in the business of building cross-border, transoceanic collectivities of resistance to capital, even as it became increasingly and aggressively global.

All of this and so much more has now been addressed in an amazingly and lovingly detailed account by a worker-intellectual, Mike Carden.  Fleeing 19th-century famine in Ireland, generations of Carden men worked the Liverpool docks, and Mike Carden’s grandfather was killed on the quayside. Carden himself was a Liverpool docker with more than a quarter century of working time under his belt. For much of this 25-year stretch, he was a union shop steward.

Carden’s Liverpool Dockers: A History of Rebellion and Betrayal is a self-published account of an epic struggle and its legacy. That legacy includes the establishment of a socialistically-run nightclub and community resource facility, the Community Advice Services Association (CASA), whose Initiative Factory houses a dockers’ archive. The 1995-1998 dockers’ dispute also brought into being the International Dockers’ Council (IDC). At its height under the leadership of Jordi Aragunde Miguens of Barcelona, this international body boasted a membership of 130,000. IDC strength lay in the historic centers of support for the Liverpool struggle – the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Japan. As it grew, the IDC exercised a growing influence in African ports and in Latin American countries like Chile and Argentina. Recent developments, however, including a split in the organization giving rise to the European Dockers’ Council (EDC), reveal troubling signs of backtracking on questions of principle and union democracy.

For all that the dismissed dockers revived a laboring culture that some saw grinding to a modernist denouement by mid-century, their struggle was not destined to end well. As they mapped strategic internationalist sensibilities in the cartography of harsh and debilitating disciplines imposed on workers by states hostile to class organization and capitalists whose sense of borders and boundaries, be they national or social, were now infinitely permeable, the Mereyside port workers fought an uphill battle. That it had to be, in part, waged against their own ossified leadership, is testimony to the tortured lizard’s trails workers have long been required to negotiate.

The contemporary trade union tops, like those at the helm of the TGWU, are too often captive of a hard-won but now waning legalism. The very forces – capital and the state – whose hegemonic arms were twisted by labor insurgency to accept trade union entitlements in the short-lived era of free collective bargaining reaching from the post-World War II era into the 1970s, now regard such concessions as an unduly constraining encumbrance. Digging in their anti-labor heels in the era of neoliberalism, employers and governments have waged a successful class war from above that has disabled much of the labor movement and clawed back from workers gains that were fought for over centuries of bitter class conflict. For decades the heralded achievement of a labor movement that revived in the Great Depression and fought to realize what came to be designated industrial pluralism, has been under neoliberal siege. Today working-class advances achieved in the mid-20th century have been overwhelmed by an array of challenges. Many are simply eviscerated.

And yet union officialdoms refuse to recognize just how fast they are forced to peddle backwards. Having won legal battles in the class struggles of the 1930s and 1940s, trade union leaders now adhere to laws that are in actuality dismantling previous attainments, codified in collective bargaining regimes now under assault. Clinging to the notion that state-orchestrated industrial relations harbor the possibilities of advance and protections for workers, as they did in a previous era, too many contemporary labor leaders fail to grasp two essential points. First, labor victories achieved in earlier times were almost always the product of defiance of bourgeois law, rather than prostration before it.  Second, the achievements of the 1930s and 1940s, wrung from capital and the state in struggle after bloody struggle, are now targeted for demolition. Much of that wrecking job has already run its destructive course.  In this context, claims that the law currently constitutes a sacrosanct structure within which trade union activities must confine themselves is defeatist at best, capitulationist at worse. As Marx wrote in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, “The tradition of all the dead generations weights like a nightmare on the brain of the living.”

The Liverpool dockers fought their fight within this nightmare that is our class struggle present. As they battled to resist the forceful tide of retrenchment unleashed by capital and the state, their leadership remained trapped in muddied eddies of antiquated allegiances. The 1990s history that Carden details was thus one of rebellion and betrayal, a contrast of workers struggling valiantly only to find their forward march halted, in part, by a trade union bureaucracy intent on following rules laid down by capital and the state that were increasingly jettisoned by those very same powerful adversaries of the working class. The tragedy of the dockers’ defeat had as much to do with the subjective failure of leadership as it did with an abstract historical necessity: the lizard trails to defeat constructed by their own TGWU leadership constituted a labyrinth in which it was all too easy to lose perspective and class struggle bearings.

From the beginning of the Liverpool dispute, there was always on offer a settlement on the part of capital, one that provided a buy-out for some of the dismissed workers. But what the MDHC put on the table was never enough, materially or ethically, to adequately compensate or satisfy all of those sacked. The company, while willing to settle, was intransigent in its insistence that a goodly number of the men it locked out necessarily had to go and could be offered compensation rather than rights to work. Militants were convinced that this determined anti-labor stand was rooted in capital’s need to rid itself of a layer of experienced and dedicated unionists who were a perennial oppositional thorn in MDHC’s profit-driven side.

The dismissed workers were understandably reluctant to allow this to happen. If the Mersey Docks’ settlement payment were accepted, the inevitable consequence was rightly perceived to be a shattering of the solidarity that animated the walkouts of 1995 in the first place and sustained the struggle through many hard months. The settlement proposed by MDHC would have left workers willing to retire and be pensioned off broken away from those demanding the right to work under reasonable conditions. Many of the latter simply would not be accommodated. The dispute had always rightly and resolutely turned on the necessity of all dismissed workers being reinstated. This accomplished, work guaranteed to everyone who stood the test of a basic union principle, compensation issues could then be worked out, pensions and severance negotiated. This the MDHC, backed by anti-union state legislation, was never willing to concede.

  After two years and a number of months without work and wages, the beleaguered dockers, many threatened with losing their homes and any possible severance package, well aware that the older among them were not getting younger (some died during the dispute), and that their union officialdom was pressuring them with ultimatums, voted in late January 1998 to end the conflict. Complicated negotiations ensued, which included a business plan outlining how a docker-run labor supply company, involving 227 of the sacked MDHC/Torside workers registering their intention to return to port work, might be established.  The pitch for a labor co-operative, germinating throughout the long struggle, was always a contentious issue, and was ultimately dropped.

Co-operation with those workers who would not honor picket lines was, however, demanded by the MDHC. Ironically, if predictably, the scabs who took the dismissed dockers’ jobs wanted into the union. They learned, soon enough, that the company was just as interested in wringing out of them whatever it could as it had been dedicated to maximizing its take from the earlier unionized workforce.  Eventually, after the passage of a number of years, these strikebreakers would come to be represented in a united union by two stalwarts of the 1990s Liverpool struggle, Tony Nelson and Terry Teague.

 Mike Carden, whose leadership of the dockers struggle is, if anything, understated in his book, resigned from the TGWU’s General Executive Council in 1999, the subject of vilification by a domesticated “broad left” within the leadership ranks loyal to Morris, in which some Communist Party members figured prominently. Morris himself, the first black leader of a major British union, went on to a distinguished career in the service of the state: awarded the Order of Jamaica in 2002, knighted in the 2003 Queen’s Birthday Honours, he was gazetted as Baron Morris of Handsworth in 2006, taking a seat in the House of Lords, serving on a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, weighing in against Scottish independence in 2014.  This highlights how the lizard’s trails that came to wend their way through the Liverpool conflict had substance for the powerful, with material benefit to those who did their bidding. Those refusing to trod such trails often found themselves on the wrong end of a material beating as, in the end, did many of the Liverpool dockers.

An exemplary source for both activists and academic research into the history of workers’ struggles, Carden’s detailed account will inevitably raise questions about why the Liverpool struggle ended as it did. For all of its many strengths, Liverpool Dockers perhaps shies away from a rigorous and clearly-posed analysis of what went right and what went wrong within the lengthy conflict. As exhilarating as was the international campaign, could more have been done to nurture solidarity and support among unions in the United Kingdom?  What stands were taken by various revolutionary and ostensibly revolutionary currents represented among the dismissed dockers and within the workers’ movement in general? How can one sustain battles that challenge not only employers and states, but ossified union officialdoms as well?

Carden’s treatment brings such questions into consideration, but his interest, perhaps animated by an anarcho-syndicalist narrowing of concern to the particularities and everyday development of a righteous struggle, lies elsewhere. As a worker-intellectual directly involved in the unfolding epic confrontation, Carden was first and foremost committed to getting on to his over 700 published pages what he considers the facts of the conflict. They are many, and they need to be considered and reflected upon. This is precisely why the book’s lack of an index that would allow readers access to the voluminous, at times overwhelming, detail of this rich, but at times unwieldy, account, is a shortcoming.

These facts, finally, cry out for a political interrogation, one that confronts not just the heroism of the dockers’ struggle, but its failure. In any such assessment, it may well be critically important to address what Carden’s book sidesteps, and what Lenin suggested in a 1906 comment on the experience of Russian soviets: “How inadequate a temporary nonpartisan organization is, which at best may supplement a stable and durable militant organization of a party, but can never replace it.”

These critical caveats notwithstanding, Carden’s meticulous reconstruction of the day-to-day unfolding of the Liverpool dockers’ struggle is a major achievement. Tony Benn regarded the Liverpool events of 1995-1998 as a momentous battle of immense significance in the history of the labor movement. It ranked “on the same scale and with the same honour” as milestones in working-class experience such as the struggle for agricultural unionism waged by the early 19th-century Tolpuddle Martyrs and the bitterly-fought 1984-1985 miners’ strike.

Carden’s compendium of the conflict takes the reader into the daily conversations and calculations, undertakings large and small —  the minutiae and momentum of a major class struggle mobilization. Hanging over this bold campaign, like the proverbial Sword of Damocles, hovers the disturbing disingenuousness of the trade union leadership’s betrayal. This inevitably left its calamitous mark on Liverpool’s long 1990s battle. In the process, however, the international community of waterfront workers was precipitated into class struggle prominence, a vanguard of contemporary resistance to casualization and automation of the world’s ports, which service an increasingly global capitalism.

As I write these closing lines in mid-October 2022, Liverpool’s dockers embarked on a week-long strike, closing the docks that handle more United States shipping than any other port in the United Kingdom. The strike was joined by representatives of both the EDC and the IDC in a show of international labor solidarity. Now led by Unite the Union, the workers are committed to bringing their pay in line with inflation, which is officially pegged at a debilitating 12 percent.

The strikers won’t likely be carrying Mike Carden’s hefty volume in their back pockets, but reading it will happen. Workers will seek out this book, and benefit from Carden’s labors. As its pages are poured over to find out what happened in Liverpool and around the world in the mid-to-late 1990s, workers will get a sense of why it is that dock workers are destined to play a pivotal role in any class struggle upsurge of our troubled times. They will glimpse a preview of and think through how that prominence will be realized, and what might be done to both fight strong and win big.

 Labor’s building of new and principled paths into a better future world will necessarily have to be undertaken with an informed sense of the lizard’s trails that divert class struggles into accommodation and worse. Carden’s history of working-class rebellion and betrayal in the not-so-distant past is a resolute reminder of this elementary lesson. In the dynamics of the adversarial relations of labor and capital, this has long been a pedagogy of the exploited that, as Person’s earlier book demonstrates, must be retaught time and time again.