the dockers had begun to go out just a week before. As nearly as I could figure out from the papers, the men were striking because a few workers in Lower Oliver’s Wharf had been employed as “listed” men and the dockers thought the jobs should be done only by “registered” workers. The representatives of the Transport and General Workers Union on the London Dock Board had voted to approve the employment of the “listed” men, and the union was trying to get the men back to work. The men were not only striking against their union; it seemed to me, in view of the mounting evidence that shippers were permanently taking their business away from the Port of London because of the series of strikes over the past few years, the men were also striking against their own best interests. From what I could tell, the game wasn’t worth the candle; they should sort out their problems inside the union, so that the union became their effective instrument of battle. But by the Monday, 15,000 men were out solid. I knew that didn’t happen without a good cause, and I wanted to find out what the hell that cause was.
Andy, a taxi-driver and member of the T & GW, who was with me, had a kind of proprietorial interest: I used to be a full-time trade union official, so I had a kind of professional one. On Tuesday, May 2, we went down to the docks. There was no meeting at Tower Hill that morning: the local cop shop was no help. We were just about to give up, when we came across a Labour Party office with a couple of T & GW handbills. plastered on the notice board. We pushed through the door and rang the enquiry bell. The window opened and a man with glasses looked out.
“Do you know where the dockers are meeting today?” Andy asked.
Inside, past the window, I could see three or four men. The tall one came out into the hallway and, standing in front of us, asked, “What’s your interest in the strike?”
“Well, I’m an American trade unionist,” I said, “and since you can’t get a straight story in the papers, I wanted to find out direct what it’s all about.”
“What union are you a member of?”
“I used to be a member of —”