The Liverpool dockers put their case

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The Liverpool dockers put their case

Review by Allen Myers

Dockers: Writing the Wrongs and Dockers
ABC-TV, Wednesday, December 1, 8.30 and 9.30pm

The story of the Liverpool dockers' heroic two-and-a-half-year struggle to regain their jobs — and to maintain the principle of worker solidarity — will be well known to most readers. Dockers presents their story as a semi-fictionalised drama — and a powerful one it is.

Dockers centres on the experiences of a single family involved in the dispute. Tommy, 47, has spent all his working life on the docks. His son Andy is one of the five dockers whose sacking in an overtime disagreement begins the battle.

The struggle changes everything for the entire family, and Dockers portrays this movingly and dramatically, while remaining faithful to the real events.

Jean, Tommy's wife, as one of the Women of the Waterfront, discovers she has abilities she never realised, but as she begins to exercise them, it strains their relationship.

Macca, Tommy's best friend on the wharves, becomes a scab; his attempts to justify his betrayal provide some of the most dramatic moments of the film.

The strength of Dockers lies also in its confrontation with the broader political realities: the betrayal of the workers by their own union and by Tony Blair's Labour Party.

Equally gripping in a quite different way is Dockers: Writing the Wrongs. This is not the standard "story behind the making of" that is often spun off from Hollywood films and feature TV programs. In it, we meet dockers who were involved in the struggle and who collaborated to write Dockers.

The moving force here was dramatist Jimmy McGovern. After the strike ended, McGovern and writer Irvine Welsh started a writing workshop for a number of the now unemployed dockers. Dockers: Writing the Wrongs is the story of how the workshop, over the course of more than a year, produced the script of Dockers.

It's an inspiring experience to see these people coming to grips not only with their own experiences, but also with how to convey what they have learned to an audience. Is it possible, for example, to portray a scab sympathetically without betraying their own principles?

Together, these two programs are two and a half hours of the most rewarding television viewing you're likely to find for many a week to come.