The Pentonville Five: a victory to remember

July 28, 2012 at 6:49 pm (history, Jim D, political groups, solidarity, Tory scum, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Above: two of the dockers, Vic Turner and Bernie Steer, carried in triumph from jail by supporters

On Friday 21 July 1972 five dockworkers, picketing a container depot in a dispute over job security, were jailed in Pentonville Prison, London, under the Industrial Relations Act which the Tory government of the day had finally brought into law – after big trade-union demonstrations against it – in August 1971. Within a few days of the jailings, and despite the fact that many factories were on summer shutdowns, around 200,000 workers across the country struck in protest.

The TUC, under pressure, called a one-day general strike for Monday 31 July. At that point the Tory government buckled and found a legal device (the intervention of the previously unheard-of “Official Solicitor“) to release the five dockworkers. It was a historic victory for our class and marked the effective end of the Industrial Relations Act, which the 1974 Labour government formally abolished.

Forty years on, it’s a salutary reminder to older comrades, and evidence for younger people interested in left-wing politics, that our movement can win major victories, forcing a Tory government to back down, the TUC to call a general strike, and an incoming Labour government to repeal anti-union legislation. Working class solidarity is possible, and it can achieve great victories.

Here’s what Workers Fight (forerunner of today’s AWL) had to say at the time, about its own role and that of the rest of the UK left.

Here‘s quite a good factual account of events leading up to the release of the dockers.


  1. Robin Carmody said,

    The painful truth, though, is that the unions would probably be in a considerably stronger position today had the Tories won in February 1974 (as they were several different short heads away from doing). A Tory win then, after all, might well have postponed Thatcherism and the radicalisation of the Right forever.

  2. Laban said,

    “it’s … evidence for younger people interested in left-wing politics, that our movement can win major victories”

    Ah, but comrade, the objective conditions have changed utterly !

    “The main purpose of the bourgeois in relation to the worker is, of course, to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it”

    As the Telegraph reported :

    Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that unemployment was 2.62 million in the three months to September.

    The number of non-UK nationals in British employment was 2.56 million, up 147,000 from the same period year earlier.

    I note this post is flagged “Tory scum”. It’s funny, because today’s Tories/Lib Dems are basically following Brown/Darling’s Labour strategy

    a) slightly reduced state spending (Tories slightly more than Labour, but we’re talking maybe one or two percent here)
    b) money printing
    c) lowest-ever interest rates
    d) mass immigration to keep wages flat while inflation reduces real living standards
    e) banks to be bailed out by indebting the taxpayer for generations to come.
    f) reduced state spending AND reduced terms and conditions via outsourcing

    But the poor proles need to be constantly reminded that one party is good and one evil, although the actual policies are near-identical. It would never do for people to realise that there’s not a fag-paper’s breadth between them.

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