12 MAY 1950, Page 2

Light on the Docks

Undoubtedly an important factor in the public's attitude to the recurrent strikes at the London Docks has been exasperation arising from ignorance And intensified by official warnings that the problem, being complicated and delicate, had better be left to experts, The British Institute of Management decided after the summer strike of 1949 to break through this obscurantism by starting a field study of its own, with the simple and sensible aim of understanding the workings of the London Docks, and an interim report has now been issued. Already the common-sense assumption that what the dockers and their employers can understand the general public'ean under- stand too has produced useful results. The attitude of the Institute's investigators has been sympathetic and balanced ; their findings are instructive, although a many of the organisational data normally associated with a management study are not yet provided, and the broad outline of the problem is now visible. At the root of the whole matter is conflict of interest, simple to state but very hard to resolve. Fundamentally, the dockers want to shield themselves from the variations and uncertainty of their work, and their em- ployers want to rid themselves of expense of those same variations and uncertainties. Neither side is quick to make concessions. The only bargain recognised is a hard bargain. The normal practice is sharp practice. And to make matters worse both sides are internally divided, the Dock Labour Scheme has serious defects, and the Com- munists, those great advocates of revolutionary change, are able to exploit the fundamental resistance of the dockers to change itself. But the Institute's study has already made it easier to draw the line between the legitimate means employed by the dockers to make their uncertain lives tolerable and their often quite intolerable restrictive practices. The sooner the study is completed the easier it will be to settle future disputes without that hesitation and bitter- ness which have been the inevitable result of past ignorance—an ignorance which the unions and port employers have done nothing to dispel.