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The dynamics of labour relations at the port of Liverpool, 1967-1989

Taylor, Greig (2012) The dynamics of labour relations at the port of Liverpool, 1967-1989. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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In the second half of the twentieth century, significant advances in pay, working conditions and labour organisation were achieved by dock workers who had historically comprised one of the most exploited, least powerful sectors of the British working-class. State-sponsored regulation of the industry ushered in a complete change in the system of employment, the dynamics of workplace bargaining and irrevocably altered the relationship between port workers and their employers. However, despite considerable research into different aspects of labour organisation, state regulation and the system of employment on the docks, very few studies have explored labour relations at a specific port in order to focus on local variation and the nature of local workplace relationships. This thesis has sought to redress this imbalance in the existing historiography by undertaking a detailed exploration of labour relations at the port of Liverpool between 1967 and 1989. The research offers an empirical analysis and interpretation of events and disputes at the port of Liverpool during this period. This time-frame is chosen because 1967 heralded state-sponsored total decasualisation of the industry, introducing an official shop steward movement and signifying a watershed for labour relations and the modernisation of Britain’s ports. 1989 witnessed the end of an era for the dock industry and those employed within. The abolition of the National Dock Labour Scheme after a decade of Conservative government ended the unique statutory protection dockers had enjoyed for many years. This thesis concludes that labour relations on the Liverpool waterfront between 1967 and 1989 were considerably more complex than previous industry-wide studies have suggested. While certain factors are inherent to the national dock industry, there is considerable variation in the organisational character and experiences of dock workers in different ports. Liverpool developed its own brand of labour relations that was historically shaped. Local idiosyncrasies are central to a proper evaluation of labour relations and workplace relationships at the port. After 1972, the growth of clerical organisation further complicated already-nuanced workplace relationships by introducing another participant to industrial bargaining. Locality is central to understanding the intricate and composite nature of modern industrial relations at Liverpool in the decades between 1967 and 1989.

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