Scabs out, dockers in!


What's Up Dockers?
SBS TV, Sunday, August 31
8.30pm (8 in SA)
Edited by Channel 4

Strike, the Flickering Flame — A Story of Contemporary Morality
Directed by Ken Loach
SBS TV, Sunday September 7

8.30pm (8 in SA)

Review by James Vassilopoulos

These two documentaries, in different ways, take up the cause of the Liverpool dock workers. The dockers have been fighting for their jobs, their dignity and their children's future for a Herculean two years.

What's up Dockers? is introduced by the camp, anti-Thatcherite Julian Clary who says, "If this is all news to you don't worry about it, because it has been the best kept secret since the recipe for Aqua Libra".

It contains footage, edited by Channel 4, of a comedy night held at the London Palladium in solidarity with the dockers. The pick of the comedians are Eddie Izzard, doing his what-it-would-be-like-being-a-feathered-bird-passenger-in-an-aeroplane routine and Jo Brand making fun of herself.

Interspersed with the comedy, Clary interviews women from Women of the Waterfront, a group organising support for the dockers. One of the by-products of the dispute is that men now have to learn how to use a washing machine and cook as the women take off on ambitious speaking tours or sing Christmas carols in front of the homes of the company managers.

In one scene three generations of women are interviewed, with the older woman just waiting to say: "We will win".

Strike the Flickering Flame — A Story of Contemporary Morality is a masterful, politically astute documentary by Ken Loach. It doesn't just look at the history of the dispute, but goes back to the days of casual labour and "pens" when workers where herded like pigs into pens so the foreman could decide who would work.

If you didn't work, your family starved. If you were lucky, you'd work in atrocious conditions — in hulls of ships, holding a candle, cleaning up the worst of muck and facing your own psychological bogie man.

The dockers' dispute is about more than just that age-old war between workers and bosses because the trade union leadership and Labour MPs are on wrong side.

Humanity oozes out of this documentary. Is it fair that dock workers get £4 an hour, yet the manager gets £316,000 per year?

Other workers' solidarity with the dockers is great to see. One French docker from Toulon bottles wine with a Liverpool dockers label to raise money. Recently, Marvin Mfundisi from the South African Transport and General Workers Union announced that the union will boycott ships heading for Liverpool. The first victim will be the fruit exporter Outspan and its international arm Capespan.

A highlight of the Loach documentary is the footage of Women of the Waterfront grilling some of the bad guys — a Labour "double-speaking" MP and Bill "You-may-starve-but-you-can-not-break-our-spirit" Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. Morris is doing little for the dockers and, as a trade union bureaucrat, won't starve. As one of the woman says: "It's not just about the dockers, it's happening everywhere". This doco shouldn't be missed.