Coal without Dole

Andy Croll tells how the stringent welfare policies introduced in response to the South Wales coal strike of 1898 had a long-term impact on the radicalisation of the miners.

In January 1998, Liverpool dockers voted to end an industrial dispute that had lasted for almost two years and four months. In 1995, eighty workers had been sacked after going on strike to protest against attempts to introduce more ‘flexible’ working practices into the port. When a further 329 dockers refused to cross picket lines as a sign of support for their former colleagues, they were locked-out by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company. In addition to attracting some high-profile supporters including footballers, rock musicians and comedians, the dispute also generated remarkable solidarity among the ranks of the dockers themselves. But when the end came, it came relatively rapidly. The final offer from the employers included a pay-off for each worker in the region of some £28,000, and a promise that the dockers would be considered for any future job vacancies at the port. It was accepted by a margin of four to one, yet, only three months earlier, the workers had refused to consider a very similar offer. Commentators interpreted the decision in January as a climb-down, and it certainly marked a retreat from the strikers’ long-held insistence that nothing less than reinstatement of the original eighty men would be acceptable. Reports circulated that one of the major reasons for the change of heart lay in pressure that the company was exerting on the dockers’ pension arrangements.

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