Screenwriters help Liverpool's striking dockers to tell all

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TWO OF Britain's most successful writers, Jimmy McGovern and Irvine Welsh, have worked together to mastermind a film account of the Liverpool dockers' strike.

The film, Dockers, will be aired by Channel 4, and has been written by 14 of those who lost their jobs in the long-running dispute. The former dockers were given writing classes and had their scripts edited by the authors, whose credits include Cracker, Hillsborough and Trainspotting.

The strike began in September 1995 when five men were dismissed by the Mersey Dock and Harbour Company for refusing to work when their overtime agreement was arbitrarily scrapped. When 500 other dockers refused to cross the men's picket line they were also sacked.

Some of the dockers formed a writing group through the Worker's Educational Association and invited McGovern and Welsh, both supporters of the strike, to help them to create a screenplay about the dispute.

"I said, `How can I help?' But I'm no good on picket lines. I just get frightened," said McGovern. "The film offered the dockers the chance to tell a story that they felt had been widely ignored."

As well as telling their own story, the film also employed 200 of the sacked dockers as extras and technicians on the film. Many of the former dock workers involved in the film now want to pursue a career in writing. They have formed a production company, the Initiative Factory, and have other projects in the pipeline.

Dockers stars Ken Stott and Ricky Tomlinson as two dockers on separate sides of the dispute. Tomlinson, a former Brookside star who was once jailed for his strike activity, plays a scab who goes back to work at the docks under the terms of a non-union contract.

The film also focuses on what the dockers see as the betrayal of their cause by the union movement and the Labour Party, and it will make uncomfortable viewing for Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G). It labels him a traitor to the strikers and shows him telling a meeting of dockers that he was "marching side by side in solidarity" with them. He is then seen refusing to support what it was claimed was an illegal dispute. The T&G was afraid of being sued by the employers if it became involved in anything illegal.

The film also claims Mr Morris manipulated a vote at a union conference to defeat a motion supporting the dockers. Mr Morris declined to comment on the film after seeing it yesterday, but insiders at the T&G described it as "an insult".