Britain's ports were halted on Thursday (16 July) by a dock strike affecting most of the country's 47,000 dock workers.
Britain's ports were halted on Thursday (16 July) by a dock strike affecting most of the country's 47,000 dock workers. During the day, members of Prime Minister Heath's Cabinet met to discuss the situation. In the afternoon, the Queen arrived in London at the end of the Royal Tour of Canada and she later issued a proclamation declaring a State of Emergency because of the strike, opening the way for troops to be used to unload ships.
The strike, the nation's first complete dock stoppage since the General Strike of 1926, started on Wednesday (15th July) when the dock workers walked off their jobs following a meeting of union delegates which rejected a pay offer by the employers.
The dockers want an increase in their basic rate--- the figure upon which overtime and piecework earnings are based. While the dockers insist the port owners can afford the union demands,the employers say they cannot and that they will not negotiate as long as there is a strike.
During the Cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister's residence, Home Secretary Reginald Maudling, who is chairman of the Government's emergency committee, discussed the possible use of troops. With the State of Emergency proclamation the Conservative Government is given wide powers to offset the effects of the strike. The Home Secretary said in Parliament later that troops might be used if it was necessary to maintain essential services.
The Cabinet also heard from the Minister of Employment and Productivity, Mr. Robert Carr, who has been directly involved in the docks pay negotiations. He has announced he will set up a court of inquiry into the strike.
Within minutes of her return from Canada, The Queen conferred with top political leaders on the dock strike crisis. Following the meetings at Buckingham Palace, she approved the declaration of a State of Emergency.
Observers have said the dock strike could last for as long as five weeks. A long stoppage could seriously hurt the economy and put a severe strain on the supply of many imported food supplies and raw materials. One problem already at hand is the perishable foods aboard ships in British ports which cannot now be unloaded because of the strike. It has been reported that troops might be used to clear the ships of such supplies.