All out in Liverpool

Merseyside is being exposed to dangerous levels of pollutants. Quantities of hazardous waste passing through the port of Liverpool have increased from a mere 754 tonnes in 1989 to 6,000 tonnes in 1995 (13,500 tonnes when solvent wastes are included in the data).

Clearly, the waste recycling industry has begun depending on Liverpool in a big way. It is this which makes the current docks dispute in the city an issue not only for socialists and communists, but also for environmentalists everywhere. When Liverpool’s 500 remaining registered dockers were sacked on September 28 1995 for refusing to cross a picket line, the people of Liverpool lost one of their few remaining protective shields.

Liverpool’s dockers have always reported on health and safety violations and refused to unload certain cargoes. In 1989, for example, they learned that the Canadian government had backtracked on a commitment not to export the PCB-contaminated remains of a fire at a chemical storage facility at St Basila le Grand.

The notorious waste disposal company, Rechem, won a contract to dispose of approximately 3,000 tonnes of PCB-contaminated material, to be sent to Liverpool in l5 separate consignments from August of that year. But the very first consignment, on a ship called the Nadezhda Obukhoa,was met at Liverpool docks with a barrage of protest as Greenpeace and community opposition groups voiced opposition to the toxic load.

The dockers refused to unload the cargo, forcing the ship to return to Montreal.

This was a tremendous victory for the environmental movement. The Quebec government cancelled Rechem’s contract in mid-August and subsequently the Canadian government announced an end to all exports of PCB-contaminated waste.

But now in Liverpool scabs have taken the place of class conscious, organised dockers. Scabs by definition do not care - they will handle any shit for money. On the docks such a workforce will simply obey orders, unloading anything regardless of safety. This may even help explain why the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company provoked the strike in the first place - they needed a docile labour force if Liverpool was to submit to its planned role as a dump.

Toxins destined for a new local incinerator, radioactive waste bound for plutonium reprocessing at Sellafield, cheap coal mined by children in Columbia, explosives - nothing now seems excluded.

“First we have the coal dust; now we face the threat of explosives,” said local resident Mrs Winifred Ollerton, when news broke that the MDHC had applied for a licence renewal variation, enabling it to handle military waste. “It seems that the port authorities can do just whatever they want to do.”

Across the water from Liverpool, the Irish chemical and pharmaceutical industry generates 100,000 tonnes of waste per year, of which 20,000 tonnes are exported, mainly to Britain. Irish environmentalists have so far successfully prevented any attempt to build in Ireland a “merchant incinerator” like Rechem’s controversial plants elsewhere. Meanwhile, it suits the Tories and their friends to import toxic waste for commercial reasons.

It has been widely rumoured that Rechem is to build an incinerator in Liverpool like the one which has been pumping PCBs into the densely populated environment around Pontypool. Farmers from miles around that plant have complained of mysterious diseases killing their animals. Duck eggs and other foods have been banned.

If the once-proud dockers of Liverpool are beaten into submission, will the city be turned into an immense dump for toxins and nuclear waste shipped in from the four comers of the world? One man certainly would gain from this. Intriguingly, Rechem is owned by a company called Shanks McEwan. Its chairman is none other than Gordon Waddell - who is also chairman of the MDHC which locked out the 500 dockers a year ago.

There is time yet to save Liverpool. The 500 dockers are still confident and fighting, demanding full reinstatement. Their international blockade has halted much trade to the port. Anxious to end the dispute by delivering a knock-out blow, their leadership - the Merseyside Port Shop Stewards’ Committee - has now laid plans for a massive gathering of all the oppressed in Liverpool on September 28, the anniversary of their dispute.

The event is billed not only as a labour movement demonstration and subsequent mass action, but also as an environmentalist, anti-roads, anti-capitalist, pro-entertainment celebration and rave. With mobilisation through the Freedom Network and the rave scene, it promises to be a massive show of force.

Chris Knight
Liverpool Dockers London Support Group