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23 May  
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1966: Emergency laws over seamen's strike
The British government has declared a state of emergency a week after the nation's seamen went on strike.

The new emergency powers will allow the government to cap food prices, allow the Royal Navy to take control and clear the ports and lift restrictions on driving vehicles to allow for the free movement of goods.

Ports and docks around the country are becoming increasingly congested as ships are brought to a standstill by protesting members of the National Union of Seamen.

The government must protect the vital interests of the nation. This is not action against the National Union of Seamen
Harold Wilson, Prime Minister
The NUS is demanding their 56-hour week is reduced to 40 hours.

The Minister of Labour Ray Gunter has been negotiating with the NUS to bring the strike to an end.

He acknowledged conditions and regulations governing the seamen needed to be modernised, but said the pay demands could not be satisfied because the resulting amount of overtime pay would go counter to the prices and incomes policy that aims to reduce inflation by limiting wage rises to 3.5%.

The Prime Minister Harold Wilson told the House of Commons the state of emergency was being imposed.

Mr Wilson said these powers would not be used until deemed absolutely necessary.

Whatever its outcome, the government has ordered an inquiry into the terms and conditions of the seamen.

Shipowners estimate exports worth £40m will be delayed by the strike which has seen "dead" ships blocking berths in London, Liverpool, Southampton and other major ports.

Passenger ships are also severely affected.

Most of Cunard's fleet is out of action. Today, 900 crew members of the Queen Mary stopped work when the ship ended her voyage from New York at Southampton. The Queen Mary was carrying 850 passengers including the evangelist Dr Billy Graham about to begin a tour of Britain.

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The National Union of Seamen logo
The National Union of Seamen are demanding improved pay and conditions



In Context
On 28 May, Harold Wilson said Communists were using the seamen's strike to gain influence over the National Union of Seamen. He said they were "endangering the security of the industry and the economic welfare of the nation".

The following day the seamen decided to return to work, partly due to his comments and partly thanks to a pay compromise reached with ship owners.

Mr Wilson's hardline tactics split the Labour party into Left and Centrists and did little to improve the country's economic problems.

The NUS did not call another strike until February 1988.

In 1990 the union amalgamated with the National Union of Railwaymen to form the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT).

Stories From 23 May


 
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