J F, or Jack, Webb was elected on at least three occasions the President of his local co-operative society in Bristol despite systematic attempts by the right-wing to remove and bar him from standing.
He was also active with other members of the Bristol support in lending support to the Canadian Seaman's strike in 1949. Demanding major concessions from the Communist-led CSU so as to force a strike, North American shipping companies were, unbeknown to the recognized union, negotiating behind their back with a New York based rival, which had almost no members in Canada at the time. This body, the Seafarers International Union (SIU), offered to scab on the CSU, which it did in an often violent manner.
Dockers in Britain were solid in their support for the CSU but this solidarity was exclusively unofficial in character. Attention has preciously focused on London docks but both Avonmouth and Bristol ports were also militantly active, after an initial attempt to by-pass London.
Jack Webb was a leading figure in providing backing for dockers at Avonmouth who refused to unload a scabbing ship calling at the port from Canada. On May 16 the employers threatened to penalise those dockers who actually did not unload the ship prompting all Avonmouth dockers to walk out there and then on strike. The employers then locked out all dockers until they agreed to unload the scab ship. On May 22, Bristol came out in solidarity with Avonmouth, adding six hundred men to the strike in the South West. On the 25th Avonmouth’s towage workers and lock workers were suspended after they alos gave support. Two days later, the government sent troops to unload a ship in Avonmouth but crane drivers refused to work alongside the troops.
The same day a scab ship was diverted from Avonmouth to Liverpool. Merseyside dockers refused to handle her and 45 of them were suspended. One thousand Liverpool dockers then joined the strike. On May 30th, 1,400 more dockers in Liverpool came out. On June 2nd, troops began unloading all the ships lying in Avonmouth dock. About 11,000 dockers had by now joined the strike. On June 6, merchant seamen manning the 'Trojan Star' refused to sail her out of Avonmouth because the lockgates were manned by troops. Other seamen also joined in.
On June 14, the Avonmouth dockers returned to work. But the struggle had meanwhile flared up in London where employers refused to hire labour for newly arrived ships unless scab Canadian ships were unloaded. By July 5, over 8,000 London dockers were on strike. On July 7, troops were moved into various London docks to unload ships. Drivers of meat haulage firms and fruit and vegetable firms said they would not carry goods unloaded by troops. The next day, the Labour Government announced it would proclaim a State of Emergency on July 11. The only effect was to ensure that Watermen, Lightermen, Tugmen and Bargemen also joined in.
Over 10,000 dockers were now on strike. On July 12 the government started pouring blackleg troops into the docks. Another 3,000 dockers came out. The Executive of the Lightermen's Union told their members not work alongside the troops. The Labour Government now started issuing Emergency Regulations and set up an Emergency Committee, headed by a former Permanent Under-secretary at the Home Office.
By July 20, over 15,000 men were on strike. They only returned to work on July 22 when the Canadian Seamen's Union, having obtained certain concessions, withdrew their pickets from certain ships and announced that they were terminating their dispute, so far as Britain was concerned. Through this solidarity work the Communist Party increased its influence amongst the Bristol dockers. Throughout this struggle, it had been a Labour government fighting dockers. As a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps had been to the fore in attacking the dockers and their action as far as it affected British trade.
Jack Webb was selected the Communist Party’s candidate in the General Election of 1950 for the Bristol South East constituency. Seemingly, the main point of contesting was to stand against his Labour opponent, Sir Stafford Cripps. Webb polled 524 votes, or 1.1% of the vote in what was a rock solid Labour seat.
Sources include: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/2095509844/ and World News (1949)
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