I set out to post about some floating cranes and found I couldn't get there without going through another country …. the past …... please forgive or ignore the following ramble.
When I was a lad back in 1973 with the port in some decline, I got a job with the dock board (The Mersey Docks & Harbour Board) in it's Cargo Handling section. That got me out and about on the docks and around the shipping line's offices too. That was when I first realised that the river was right at the heart of the city and the city's architecture was locked firmly into the river and trade. Prior to that (mid sixties) it was only something to be crossed on the ferry, with pop and sandwiches for a day out at New Brighton or at Liscard, and once we walked across to Hilbre Island. The river had been a sparkly summer thing for children to enjoy. It was also something to sing about with local songs or with Gerry and the Pacemakers 'Ferry Cross The Mersey' 1964 (I'm still very attached to that song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loyRYFUYg9g the video was made on the ferry too). The point is I had never understood what the river was really about – individually men's hearts and identity, or collectively Trade, Labour & Exploitation. Though there had been many strikes The Docker's strike (sacked men so a lock out) was yet to come 1995-98. see
or a simple human image that says it all for me is 'Gordon: Alex Dock Gate 1995' see http://www.flickr.com/photos/dave_sinclair_liverpool_photos/543852504/in/set-72157604184970480
The other Docker's strike image that stays with me is that of Robbie Fowler (God love him). After scoring against Brann Bergen, in a European game in March 1997, he lifted his shirt to reveal a mock Calvin Klein T-shirt set out in support of the dockers. There was murder about it and Uefa fined Fowler £900 but his action meant a lot to people here, reds and blues alike.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_O3DWOqYRiw see 1m 22secs to 45secs still images
Here's how a couple of dockers remember that moment years later
So it was back in the seventies was when I began to learn of the indignity previously suffered by dockers under the Pen system …...........
For the docker, the ritual was unrelenting: you went to the waterfront before dawn where you were
put in a pen and waited for a man in a bowler hat to pick you out. ‘You’d be fighting and climbing
over each other’s backs to get the boss to take your book and hire you,’ one remembers. If you
were picked, you worked that day for a pittance. If not, your family went hungry. Exclusion was
often due to age or religion, or a reluctance to endanger your life or grease the boss’s palm. Men
worked from seven in the morning often until ten at night, and in all weathers; many slept on the
docks rather than miss ‘getting first on the stand’ (John Pilger, The Guardian, 23 November 1996).I found this in https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/management/media/carter_et_al-IRJ-polyphonic_spree.pdf
When you take these things to heart as a lad (and I really did) it stays with you, and it's what made me a trade unionist, what gave me a social concience. You know, I look at the kids today with them all (if they can even get work) working for agencies........... and to my mind it reeks of the Pen. The employers have made it legal and polite and done by email – but it strips those kids of the rights and safeguards that were so hard earned by their forefathers.
So it's 1973 and I've started work, now its the winter of early 1974 and Heath has introduced the three day week http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Day_Week and people are struggling to manage, and the TV is ordered to close at 22:30hrs. The country seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis and disputes seemed endless and deepened into the Winter of Discontent. So now it's 1978-79 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_Discontent and we saw inflation running at about 26% and pay rises being limited to a worthless value, strikes broke out nationwide but the most notorious action during that winter was gravediggers in Liverpool striking. As coffins piled up, Liverpool City Council hired a factory in Speke to store them. A persistent journalist asked the Medical Officer of Health for Liverpool what would be done if the strike continued for months - 'burial at sea would be considered'. The gravediggers eventually settled for a 14% rise after a fortnight's strike. The national press screamed but I remember thinking that some of the city's more successful employers were just using the economic problems to mask a drive for greater profit margins. And life in Liverpool was getting harder by the day. Alan Bleasdale had seen the harsh truth and by 1978 he had already written The Black Stuff and by 1982 written the follow on series Boys From The Black Stuff; Yosser's famous 'Gizza Job'.The Militant Tendency were running Liverpool and the Tory party had laid seige to the finances of the city. Who could forget the confessional scene 'I'm desperate father' - 'Call me Dan' - 'I'm Desperate Dan'............ tragically true on an epic scale.
Meanwhile I marry in July 1981 and while on honeymoon in a Rhyl pub that lorry drivers stay at (The Load of Mischief) Toxteth burned by night and The Specials sang 'Ghost Town'. We were later awarded a sticking plaster called The Garden Festival. So it's 1984/5 there's little work and the country is embroiled in the Miner's Strike http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_miners'_strike_(1984–1985[/url]) There are many views on this dispute and I suppose it depends where your politics stand but I can tell you the lesson I learned from the dispute and it wasn't defined by the left or the right. For the first time I came to understand that our perception of our rights to act freely are an illusion, that the legislature was not separate from the police and the courts. It wasn't the horses charging picket lines, nor the BBC editing the order of events, not the mass arrests and related statistics. It was such a simple thing. People (men in cars) whilst travelling on the motorways were being stopped and turned back on pain of arrest. These men had committed no crime, were acting within the law, but their freedom to travel was removed. We are then not free – as is now true of some new age travelling groups, having committed no offence, they are simply turned back before crossing the boundaries of some constabularies. I have no love of these groups ….. but I do of their right to travel freely.So now it's 1986 and I'm a man with a wife and new baby and I'm coming up to thirty. I don't know it yet but I won't see a socialist government ever again – Tory rule until 97 and then New Labour (centre right) they will repeal none of the anti trade union laws.So just on thirty and I'm at the Pierhead in almost a gale, and I'm just watching the river churn and foam, thinking its like a Great Soul, a Mahatma. I have The Port of Liverpool Building, The Cunard Building, The Royal Liver Building all behind me and The Liver Birds above me; it's 1986 and I know I'm not British, I'm not English, not black nor white nor Labour – I'm Scouse and the city frames me and the river runs through me, and I can still hear the one o'clock gun from across the river (even though it's been silent since sixty nine)….... and I know our strength; We can laugh at anything especially ourselves.Twenty five years pass and we are discussing poetry and someone cleverer than me says that Haiku even in the English form is a poem really quite harder to produce than most people think, and I writeRiver City Port.My Mahatma.Tribal, - Pool of Life.Which is quite wrong as a Haiku but is an elegant statement in itself. I like Pool being triple edged.Regards Dave