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1978 - Dockyard Strike

20th June. The dockyard came to a virtual standstill as the work force down tools and marched out of the dockyard on a one day’s token strike. This followed the rejection by the Staff Side of the latest pay offer to Government Employees on June 19th.

3rd July. A mass meeting outside of COB 1 (Central Office Block 1) by thousands of dockyard workers to hear the revised pay offer. Throughout the entire government establishments there was considerable unrest and resentment over, what was thought to be a meagre pay increase. This led to many one day walkouts, banning overtime and in some instances banning incentive agreements. Ships in refit suffered many walk off’s over health and safety issues.

The Bulwark Incident.

Shipwrights and support trades continued their action in support of their demands that the Chatham new wage structure be introduced into Portsmouth Dockyard. In June local ASBSW trade union officials told management that it considered the Docking Agreement – a national one that had been in force since January 1968 – was not a practical proposition, and gave notice that it would not be honoured after 3rd July. In practice this meant that shipwrights would no longer haul up side shores using block and tackles during the dry docking of ships. The first dry docking to be affected was that of the aircraft carrier HMS Bulwark in C. Lock. As the shipwrights involved assembled with their mauls on their shoulders, they were asked if they were prepared to abide by the docking agreement. Their answer was No! They were ordered out of the yard. Throughout the week shipwrights from other ships and workshops of the yard were ordered onto the docking with the same results. Eventually 170 shipwrights who refused to operate the agreement in accordance with the custom and practice over many years were taken off pay and sent home. The result was almost an complete stoppage of work on ships and in workshops in that many of the other skilled people in the yard relied on the shipwright for guidance in performing their own particular duties. The position was aggravated by the fact that a work to rule was still in force for many of the trades.

On October 3rd members held a mass meeting in front of COB1 in support of their colleagues and walked out of the yard from 2 o’clock but returned the next day.
The Bulwark was later dry docked on 10th October after the TGW union officials in a meeting with management agreed to carry out more work than had normally been their custom and practice during the docking operation; in effect slingers lifted the docking shores into position using dock-side cranes. The shipwrights called off their action but it was to take another year before shipwrights that had been sent home; as the unions claimed, wrongly could claim their pay back of which they only got half.

Note; Brian Patterson was at that time one of the three Shipwright Liners involved in the docking of Bulwark. He recorded that: “Each day we were instructed to rig the docking wires, plumb bobs and sighting battens and then stands back from the other shipwrights. When they had been ordered out of the yard we were then told to unrig everything and return to our office until the next day. It was a most depressing period having to stand back each day and watch colleagues who were good men silently accept the order to leave the yard.