It was on Thursday 16th July 1970 that the first national dock strike in Britain since 1926 began. In total it involved around 47,000 dockworkers across the country.
Seeking to raise their basic wage from £11 a week, British Dockers’ representatives had voted 48 to 32 in favour of strike action the previous day. As a result, Home Secretary Reginald Maudling declared a state of emergency to deal with strikes at UK ports. Within 10 minutes of returning from a trip to Canada the Queen had signed the proclamation allowing the government special powers to deal with major disruptions to daily life.
The Army had some 36,000 troops – including the Royal Navy and RAF – on standby to handle cargo from the 150 ships affected by the strike as the government anticipated the stoppage would hold up 75% of UK imports and exports. They asked the strikers to return to work while a court of inquiry considers their grievances, but the national docks secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union declined the action and said that: “It has all the hallmarks of being a prolonged strike.”
The opposition leader Harold Wilson pledged the Labour Party’s support for the Conservative Government’s decisions. In control of the operation, the Ministry of Defence expected the troops to be used to move perishable foods from dockside warehouses. However, retailers and wholesalers reported no immediate threat to supplies of essential goods, saying they had reserves to last several weeks.
On Monday 27th July a court of inquiry reported and suggested an average 7% increase in Dockers’ wages. Initially the Dockers rejected the terms saying they made little real difference to their basic wage. However, on Thursday 30th July union delegates voted 51 to 31 to accept the findings of the Pearson report and return to work on the following Monday 3rd August.