MTL dock strike ends – workforce let down by union leaders

The strike by workers in Dublin port against their bosses in Marine Terminal Limited (MTL) has come to an end after 110 days of industrial action.

The dispute broke out after the company sought to implement forced redundancies and “take it or leave it contracts”.

In essence MTL was mimicking the same union busting measures used by its parent company, the Peel Group, in ports in Britain and Belfast. The Peel Group is a profitable with assets worth over £4.5 billion. The workers took an important and courageous stand against a company that has set a dangerous precedent in its brutal treatment of workers that could not go unchallenged. Added to this was the fact that they slapped down an injunction on the second day of the dispute which meant that the workers could have been imprisoned for engaging in effective industrial action by blocking cargo into the MTL site on the docks.

Last week MTL agreed to a Labour Court proposal which means that any redundancies would initially be voluntary and outstanding issues relating to the terms and conditions of the workers and the number of redundancies would settled through a process of binding arbitration.

The industrial action of the workers has meant that MTL has not been successful in its attempt in to break the union as it has done elsewhere nor has it been able to railroad through all of its anti-worker agenda.

The Socialist Party applauds the action of the MTL dock workers in the firm stand that they took which received tremendous support from the working class communities of East Wall and Ringsend.

The strikers’ determination stood in stark contrast to the inaction and conservatism of the SIPTU leadership and officials. From the outset of this dispute the Socialist Party argued that SIPTU and ICTU should call an all out picket on Dublin port. This would mean that pilots in Dublin Port would refuse to bring in MTL ships into port and that all of its cargo would be blacked. The unions could have also mobilised their membership in mass pickets in order to stop the scabs from breaking the strike.

Throughout the dispute SIPTU officials argued that was little they could do because of legal restrictions imposed on them. The unions should not have allowed any injunctions or the 1991 Industrial Relations Act from stopping them engaging in necessary action, actions that could have brought the company to its knees by shutting down its business on the docks. As Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins pointed in the recent edition of the Socialist “the workers movement only made progress in the past by challenging and breaking laws that were deployed against them”.

MTL will succeed in implementing parts of its agenda due to the SIPTU leadership’s failure to engage in a full-scale battle and we will have to wait to see what the outcome of the binding arbitration will mean for the SIPTU members still working at the company.