‘We refused to moor the ferries. They can’t make us’. The man telling me this was fishing on the beach. A big guy wrapped up for all sorts of weather. Sun, snow, wind, calm, lashing rain. He had the hood of his jacket pulled over his woollen hat just in case.
‘They should have put a picket line on the Western Docks’, I said, ‘and stopped anyone getting on and off the ships.’
‘Oh have they!’, he said and his whole face lit up. His friend was standing nearby vaping. He seemed less bothered about the climate and was wearing a green track suit. The more militant the talk got, the more he nodded and interjected with ‘that’s right’. Sometimes that’s enough. One person says ‘that’s right’, and then the next person and before anyone knows it something different’s going on.
‘No’, I said, wishing they had. ‘They should have done’.
‘That’s right’, his friend said.
‘I work cargo’, the big guy said. ‘On the Thursday they [the ferries] came in they said ‘get a gang and go and moor them’, we all said we’re not doing it’.
I’m RMT’, he added, ‘but I couldn’t go on the demo, I had to be at work’.
He hadn’t caught much but said there might be a chance of sea bass when the tide was at it’s flood.
‘About one o’clock today’, I said. You have to know these things at this part of the coast as you can quickly get cut off.
‘That’s right’, he said. All three of us looked out to sea and the sparkling light playing on the waves. And then a rain stretched cloud tore across the horizon. I left them to fish.
I walked along the beach picking up plastic. Thinking about mooring ships. Even the biggest, most advanced ships. Worth millions of pounds with millions of pounds of cargos need human labour to moor them. Not many, perhaps half a dozen or so people. And if they decide not to moor a ship then the ship isn’t really much use to anyone, particularly not its owners.
The plastic is everywhere. It’s all connected. Capitalism, waste, war destruction, the destruction of nature, the destruction of people. The very production within capitalism generates destruction. I have a litter picker and use it to clasp plastic bottles, glass bottles, broken plastic, cartons, nylon rope, fishing line, beer cans, bits of ragged polythene, polystyrene foam. You want to pick it all up, even the tiniest pieces. Even when it’s obvious that millions and millions of tonnes of pollutants are pumped into the atmosphere and dumped on the land and sea each year. Production, consumption, destruction, waste, death, war, corruption.
The wilful destruction of nature is accompanied by the destruction of people and buildings and books and schools and hospitals and mosques and churches. War is everywhere and it’s spreading. But war isn’t cheap. It costs a lot of money. And who’s making money from armament production in Russia, in the USA, in Britain? It’s not just about killing children it’s about making money from killing children. Who owns the war factories in Russia, the USA and Britain? What’s the balance sheet like with the destruction of Ukraine and Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen? Let’s put the money balance against the number of dead. That way we can calculate how much money is generated in blowing up a school and killing women and infants in a maternity ward. War isn’t free you know. It’s not a charity. Fighter planes and bombers and missiles don’t deliver philanthropy. There’s a bill. Who pays?
Along the road to the Eastern Docks I note where all the lorries are from. Romania, Slovakia, Portugal, Netherlands, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Turkey, Belgium, Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, France, Estonia, Great Britain, North Macedonia. No one’s asking the drivers what they’re thinking or how they feel. I for one would very much like to know. They are all part of a long queue that stretches for miles across Kent. There is disruption in the port. No P&O ferries are working and a DFDS ferry is out of action having smashed into some port infrastructure in Dunkirk. Ports are strongly defended, but they are vulnerable too. How many pickets would it need to close this one down?
There’s a lorry with a Ukrainian number plate. The driver is stuck in the long queue looking at his phone. I raise a hand and he winds the window of his cab down.
‘Ukrainian?’ he nods. We find enough words to agree we are both against war. I wish him good luck. He gives me the thumbs up. I have rarely seen a person so dejected and fed up looking. His skin had the colour of darkness, his eyes already losing the light of life. And yet he drives towards the war zone.
It’s less than 2,000 miles from the port of Dover to Mariupol. The journey will take two days. Why should I be so angry? I’m not going to the war zone. But in that moment I felt a hate for it all, the world of Trump and Johnson and Putin and Biden and all the rest of them. A hate and anger like I’ve rarely experienced before. Leave the lorry drivers alone, leave the pregnant mums-to-be alone, leave the school kids alone, leave the teachers alone, stop killing the nurses and the factory workers, stop killing the shop keepers and the barbers and the librarians and electricians and plumbers and everyone who does the work. I walked up to the cliffs to take some photos and when I came back the lorry had gone. On the long journey to Ukraine.
The police are swaggering around. It’s not police that’s needed here but some toilets and cups of tea and sandwiches and hot food. But that’s impossible. Instead the police stand in groups looking at their phones. I take photographs of them to annoy them. It always does. A coach driver is waiting in the line with a full complement of people who look like their off on holiday.
‘What’s the hold up?’ I ask him.
‘Problem in the port’, he says. ‘They’re a few ships short’.
‘Well they shouldn’t have sacked all the worker’s then’.
He laughs, as do the elderly women inside the coach who hear it. They’re looking working class smart in their holiday outfits and newly permed hair.
I tap the side of my head. It’s a clear indication that they – they being the management, the politicians – haven’t got a clue. We all laugh again, at the expense of the boss class.
Things need to be at ground level and include conversations with people who can make a difference. We’ve really had far too much macho posturing and blustering hot air. And this is important not just for the P&O Ferries debacle but also in stopping wars and stopping the people who make wars. A strong workers movement here encourages a strong movement ‘there’ where ever that may be. Look at this long line of lorries, look at all the countries they come from, look at the enormous money value of all these goods, look at the enormous money value of the port, the ships, the lorries themselves. None of it worth tuppence without the labour that makes it possible. There are groupings and they go like this:
Oligarchs, unelected despots, authoritarians, right wing libertarians, hedge fund managers, billionaires, those with several million pound mansions, supporters of neo-liberalism. These are the cheats, liars and hypocrites.
Lorry drivers, teachers, shop workers, factory workers, farm labourers, sea farers, construction workers, librarians, care workers, nurses, the poor, the unemployed, people who live in poverty, people who face oppression, injustice and exploitation. These are the people who do all the work.
The lens is being adjusted for the new conditions of light and shade. Those who study such things are seeing the world in sharper focus.
It’s more the pity that the leadership of the TUC and the so-called ‘Labour’ Party can’t look a little harder. It’s not focus groups we need but a lens to study class and capital and contradictions. They could have given out a call for mass pickets at the Dover Western Docks. 10,000 would have been more than enough. There is only one way in and out. To even get to this part of the docks there is a single bridge. How difficult to block that. Ports are incredibly well ‘protected’ with strong gates and tall steel fences. But this also makes them vulnerable to workers action. There are few ways in and out. If anyone mentioned breaking the law the TUC could have organised a daily lunch time laugh-in in workplaces across Britain to discuss Partygate. And imagine the boost to everyone who is facing huge rises in energy costs and an unprecedented cost of living crisis. Imagine the boost to the workers’ movement in Ukraine and Russia if there was a stronger workers’ movement here? Imagine all the people.
Instead a weird silence everywhere. As if what happens on the streets and workplaces doesn’t count. That the only place to shout is in the House of Commons. And even there the opposition doesn’t shout very often or very loudly. There doesn’t seem to be any strategy or tactics. When’s it going to change? You know, the change so many people want and so desperately need. What’s the plan?
The bright sunshine is overwhelmed by dark dirty looking clouds. They quickly deposit snow and hail. It’s only when I get to the supermarket and take my rucksack off and go to open it to put the shopping in that I realise how much snow and hail there’s been. I collect up a good handful from the top of the rucksack itself. I don’t want to just throw it on the floor, someone could slip. I ask the cashier if she has any ideas as to what to do with the snowball in my hand.
‘Put it here’, she says, pointing to bunches of daffodils in a large bucket of water. I drop the ice in. The daffodils momentarily shiver but they’re are soon bright enough again. The cashier is writing her name on the back of the receipt.`
‘If you get time’, she says, ‘you can give me some feedback if you like’.
‘Of course I will’.
When I got home, I wrote that the cashier helped de-ice me. The managers who read this will never get it. But then they never do.