Issue 217 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 1998 Copyright Socialist Review

Why I became a socialist: Brian Dooley

I come from an ordinary Liverpool working class family. We were by no means poor but we didn't have it too easy. My dad was a docker - he worked through the pen systems before casualisation was first taken away from the ports. He used to come home day after day without getting any work and they were hard times. Sometimes on a Friday his suit used to be brought out of the pawn shop and on the Monday it would go back in again. I remember that he always had contempt for the Tories and an intense dislike of the royal family, saying they were parasites. He always voted Labour - and I did too. I always thought the Labour Party was the party of the people and there were some good people in the Labour Party, the likes of Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner.

Before I went to work on the docks I worked on the Liverpool buses. Shortly after the dockers had won their victory against casualisation in 1967, the busmen, who had never been on strike in their lives, got a bit discontented and inspired by the struggle of the dockers we decided to have a go ourselves. We went on strike for 12 weeks. I thought that was a long time then, but it's nothing in comparison to the dispute I've just been involved in.

It was shortly after that I decided to go on the docks, the register was open. I was fortunate that I went in during the days when it was permanent employment. I enjoyed the camaraderie and we were always being called upon to lend solidarity to other people. I didn't have a problem with that and I've found out during this dispute that the solidarity we showed to others has been paid back to us tenfold.

During the first dispute on the buses I had begun to question what the Labour Party was about and I was a bit disillusioned. Throughout my working life there's always been pay freezes, wage restraint and promises of better times around the corner - and these never materialise. But during this docks dispute over the last two and a half years I've really seen the true colours of Labour. Admittedly there are still some good people, but at least Arthur Scargill had the courage to say, 'I'm not having this', and got out and he formed his own party. I'm not suggesting every Labour MP forms their own party but I do believe they should be taking more of a stand against this government. I don't know how their consciences can let them sit there while these attacks are taking place.

We had the Tories in power for the first part of our strike and as the election loomed nearer people had high hopes that Labour was going to intervene in the dispute and bring about a just settlement, although I had reservations because I'd seen them in the past.

Our own local MPs didn't want to know, with the exception of Joe Benton. I remember particularly going to see one of the new women MPs (Louise Elman) and asking her when she was going to get involved and push our case with the government, and she said our dispute was illegal so she couldn't help. I had to remind her that if the suffragettes hadn't taken illegal action she wouldn't have been sitting there as a woman MP, she wouldn't even have a vote today. Also without the Tolpuddle Martyrs we would have no unions today. I also had to remind her that the Labour Party was created by the workers to improve the conditions of the workers. It seems that these people have forgotten these lessons. Now when I see Blair on the television I can feel my hackles rising. People have waited 18 years to get rid of the Tories. When they did people said, things can't happen overnight, but what's happened overnight are the attacks on ordinary people.

Before the election we were told to keep things quiet so as not to embarrass Labour and spoil their chances of getting in. I particularly thought that this was why Bill Morris was acting the way he was. But now it's obvious that there's no way that they're going to repeal the anti-union laws and Morris, the other general secretaries and the TUC aren't going to do anything to push them. The members have got to make the unions take a stand on this. They've got to force these leaders to represent the workers.

Before the dispute I'd never before been in a position of going round speaking to people and I was overwhelmed. First and foremost was the generosity of people and the fact that these people really wanted us to win this dispute. One particular case that brought it home to me was when I went to Gloucester. We were going round various workplaces and we took time out to get some chips and sat in a little park. There was a gang of homeless youngsters there, with a lot of harrowing tales to tell. They knew from our T-shirts who we were, and although these kids have all got problems they wanted to give us money. One insisted on giving us his last 70 pence. He said, 'We've been put in the street by the Tories and now Labour aren't going to do anything for us. You're fighting for our future.' I went home that night and I could have cried.

I voted and argued to continue the dispute and I'm optimistic that workers can win in the future. I can understand the men who voted to stop. We had 40 people whose homes were up for repossession, we had six who had actually lost their homes. We had four men who died - two over Christmas - and that knocked a lot of us. The morale was at a really low ebb. We all, including the lads who voted to end the dispute, feel sad and disillusioned.

The strike has had a marked effect on all our lives. My whole family has become politicised. My wife used to just work part time and do the housework. She didn't used to have really strong feelings about anything, but she became an active member of Women of the Waterfront. She has now got very strong views about all kinds of subjects. My son is now 18. The experience has given him a totally different view on life. He hopes to go to university to study labour law. Despite the hardship and everything they have actually been enriched by it all. Obviously I wish we'd gone out and won the dispute, but it was an experience I wouldn't have been without.

I have to laugh when they say that trade unionism and solidarity and strike action are outdated, that we're dinosaurs. My philosophy is that if they're outdated so is exploitation of people - as long as there's people exploiting others there's going to be people who are going to fight back.


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