Your Saturday Listen: The world’s longest picket line

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What could be better than a weekend of full frontal solidarity? This week’s Saturday Morning Listen is just that — the sights and sounds of the ITF in Canada as it marks the 20th anniversary of the Liverpool dockers dispute — and the role that Vancouver played in supporting the 500 longshoremen sacked for refusing to cross a picket line.

Yesterday, we noted that Peter Lahay, the ITF’s Canadian coordinator, took part this week  in an ILWU youth conference aimed at helping the next generation of union activists step out loudly and proudly into the labour community. Peter spent some time passing along a piece of the history of community activism in Vancouver — specifically, the role local folks played in driving away the Neptune Jade, an infamous scab ship that tried to discharge cargo in Vancouver that had been loaded by scab labour in England after the dockers there were sacked. Vancouver was part of what became known as “the world’s longest picket line” and the community was saluted in a song by Billy Bragg, which we’ve linked to the bottom of this post.

Today, for your listening pleasure, we’ve got a colourful podcast that offers up the unvarnished details of the Neptune Jade. It features Peter in conversation with Mike, Mike and Dan at The Docker Podcast. The trio were part of this week’s youth conference and we’re incredibly proud to say they represent the kind of sharp, committed and hard-working young members that have joined the ranks of Canadian maritime workers willing to step up for working people everywhere.

We hope the podcast whets your appetite for more details of the dockers dispute.

The Liverpool Echo is running some great material this week for the Sept. 26 anniversary of the day the dispute kicked off.  There’s some  coverage here and here, and an interactive timeline that lays the whole thing out here.

In particular, we urge you to read this article from the Liverpool Echo; it recalls some of the star power that supported the dockers — footballers like Robbie Fowler, Duncan Ferguson and especially Stig Inge Bjornebye, who was a regular down on the picket like. There was massive support from recording artists like  Oasis, Billy Bragg and many others who produced the CD Rock the Docks and gave all proceeds to the Solidarity Fund. Politicians stuck a hand in too — Tony Benn and new Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who supported the dockers, and others who did not, like Tony Blair and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who enjoyed an “ice bucket challenge” at the Brit Awards after Chumbawamba finished performing their No. 1 hit, I Get Knocked Down. Leaving the stage, band member Danbert Nobacon picked up an ice bucket meant for cooling champagne at the table of the deputy PM and dumped the freezing water over his head, proclaiming “This is for the Liverpool dockers.”

It seemed everyone was supporting the dockers, who had themselves supported so many causes. They even got a letter of support from Nelson Mandela.

We’re also including a great short video interview with one of the many dedicated women who were community activists in Liverpool during the dispute. It has some brilliant lessons for anyone wondering how that kind of solidarity works, or how much it matters. You can watch it here:

We’ve got a good bit on famed Liverpool football striker Robbie Fowler and his equally famed international moment of support for dockers. (That’s Fowler in the image at the top of the post.  Knowing he was on national television after scoring a goal in a UEFA cup match, he lifted his team jersey to reveal a dockers support T-shirt. That writing in the middle of the shirt is a brilliant knock-off of a Calvin Klein design, which gives you some idea of how sophisticated their campaign was.)

And you can listen to Billy Bragg’s Never Cross A Picket Line, his salute to the dockers, via the next link. You’ll hear him sing about Vancouver and its role in chasing away the Neptune Jade — a song that made local headlines in Vancouver at the time. The video combines the song about Liverpool with images of the British miners strike of the 1980s — and we kind of like how the two fit together. Our common struggles go on around the world, and solidarity is the answer, everywhere and always, right?

Finally, if you want more on Bragg, he did an interesting interview about the Liverpool dispute you can find here.

Happy listening. We’ll close with some images from this week’s youth conference. The enthusiasm and understanding and determination to carry the cause forward  was more than encouraging. It was inspiring.

salute

Canadian, Australian and American delegates to the ILWU youth conference, Sept. 2015, vow to remember the lessons learned from the Liverpool dockers struggle. — photo by Mike Parent, ILWU 514

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delegates collected food donations for needy families.

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Canadian delegates practice some political messaging for the country’s election period.

families

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The Docker Podcast team salute Steve Nasby (centre) from Local 514. Steve is second vice-president of ILWU Canada, responsible for education, and played host for the youth conference.

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Mark Leier, labour historian and professor of working-class and leftwing history at Simon Fraser University, presented a well-received, interactive multi-media session on the social history of people’s movements and how working people can build an activist society. It had everything from folksongs to film and workshop sessions.

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