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Delays For Vacationers As Ships Sail Home To Defy Strikers

April 30, 1988

DOVER, England (AP) _ Two ferries sailed for England Friday to try to break a seamen’s strike that threatened delays of up to 18 hours for travelers heading to continental Europe over a long weekend.

About 500 pickets gathered in drizzling rain around midnight (7 p.m. EDT) at the dockside at Dover, preparing what union leaders promised would be a hostile reception for the two P and O shipping company ferries and their strike-breaking crews.

Police reinforcements formed lines in Dover as pickets shouted at truck drivers crossing picket lines to board ferries of the rival Sealink company.

P and O refused to give the two ferries’ destination or when they would arrive.

The confrontation looming between pickets and non-striking crewmen at Dover in southeast England, the world’s busiest ferry port, put Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s union-curbing legislation to its toughest test since her re-election last June.

The P and O company’s Pride of Kent and Pride of Bruges, left Rotterdam, Holland on a 10-hour voyage to England, crewed by about 280 of the 1,100 employees who accepted new working conditions and opted out of a 3-month-old strike called by the National Union of Seamen.

P and O has fired 720 other seamen who rejected the new contract, and many of them manned picket lines at Dover.

Crew members of Sealink have refused for four days to cross the picket lines, forcing Sealink to cut the number of daily round-trip voyages to Calais, France from 16 to eight and use only French-crewed vessels.

With Monday a public holiday, the problems come on one of the travel industry’s busiest weekends of the year.

Sealink warned motorists of delays of up to six hours, while bus passengers were told they might wait 18 hours.

Truckers faced even longer delays, and police cordoned off lanes of the highway into Dover to accommodate stranded vehicles.

Mrs. Thatcher’s legislation which forbids sympathy strikes has enabled Sealink to seek court seizure of the union’s funds.

The measure has proved critical in taming militant labor sectors like the coal miners, railwaymen and newspaper printworkers in recent years.

But the sequestration of funds could push the seamen into voting for an all-out national strike, and Sealink has appeared at pains to prevent that, stressing that it is not in dispute with its workers and does not want to harm their union.

After talks with government mediators Friday, Sealink and union negotiators announced ″a skeleton agreement″ to save Sealink from further disruption and asked to adjourn the hearing until Tuesday.

The negotiators said that under the agreement the seamen would confine their pickets to Dover and neighboring Folkestone and call off the scattered strikes that have broken out at other English and Welsh ports.

But later, the deal collapsed over the failure to bring P and O into the peace talks.

″The deal with Sealink is off so far as I am concerned. All Sealink ferries should stay in port,″ said Sam McCluskie, leader of the 24,400-member National Union of Seamen.

Some pickets set fire to a P and O flag and cheered as McCluskie warned the crews in Rotterdam: ″If they stay there as scabs, they will be marked as scabs forever.″

The ferries sailed from Rotterdam despite last-minute efforts by the union to persuade their crews to join the strike.

Dutch tugboats ignored the union’s pleas to refuse to handle the vessels.

Crews of the tugs said their action was saving the company from being sold to foreign owners, that the strike decision was undemocratic and that had they been allowed to vote in a secret postal ballot, they would have abided by the outcome.

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