US west coats ports began to reopen yesterday following an 11-day lockout after president George W Bush persuaded a federal judge to intervene in the bitter labour dispute.

A report in the Boston Globe said it was the first time in 25 years the White House has taken such a dramatic step.

”The work stoppage is hurting our entire economy. It is hurting truckers and rail operators who carry goods to other parts of America. It’s hurting farmers and ranchers and manufacturers, retailers and consumers,” Bush said according to the Globe, adding that he was asking attorney general John Ashcroft to seek a court injunction ending the lockout.

The president apparently finally bowed to industry and political pressure to use power available to him under the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which allows him to ask for an 80-day ‘cooling-off period’ if industrial disputes threaten the country’s health or security.

The Boston Globe said that Judge William Alsup agreed to impose a temporary restraining order three hours after Justice Department officials filed documents in a San Francisco federal court, ending, at least for now, a 29-port shutdown that left ships queued up, closed several car and automotive component factories and was estimated to be costing the US economy as much as $2 billion a day.

According to the Globe, Alsup said the government had met the requirements for an injunction to reopen the ports and ordered a fuller hearing for October 16 on whether he would impose the 80-day cooling-off period as required by the Taft-Hartley law.

The newspaper said that the Pacific Maritime Association, representing port owners, was getting ready to call dock workers back to the job though it was warning that it could take six weeks or more to clear the goods backlog.

The dispute had largely been over the proposed introduction of new electronic technology to move goods around the docks more efficiently, leaving port workers, some reportedly on six-figure salaries, unsure of future employment.

Other reports said Ford, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan and Delphi had begun to fly in parts from Asia to keep US plants running while a tyre importer reported a large shipment of winter tyres was held up en route from Japan.

United Auto Workers president Ron Gettelfinger yesterday weighed into the west coast ports dispute with a statement saying there was no need for a presidential board of inquiry or a court injunction to end the lockout of more than 10,000 dockworkers.

“Members of the [dock workers union] have offered to return to work as soon as their employers take the locks off the docks.  If port owners — represented by the Pacific Maritime Association — will simply accept the union’s offer, then [union] members can return to work while both sides continue working toward a settlement,” the UAW statement said.

The UAW added that federal government intervention in labour disputes was a bad idea, especially “when carried out by a president who has tried repeatedly to limit — and even eliminate — the right of workers to join unions and bargain collectively.”