Women during the strike
|Pawnbroker's shop. © NMM|
While the men were on strike money was not coming into the house for food. Women therefore wandered the streets for hours searching for something to eat.
Everything that could be of any value was pawned. Suits, boots, handkerchiefs, jackets, work tools, dress material, dresses, shawls, underclothes, shirts, trousers, waistcoats, and even the bedding on which the families slept.
|The dock labourers' strike: Sweethearts and wives. © NMM|
Landlords who tried to collect their rents faced resistance. A white banner was hung across Hungerford Street, Commercial Road, which said 'As we are on strike landlords need not call.'
Another at the top of Star Street, Commercial Road read:
Our husbands are on strike; for the wives it is not honey,
And we all think it is right not to pay the landlord's money,
Everyone is on strike, so landlords do not be offended;
The rent that's due we'll pay you when the strike is ended.
At first food was distributed to dockers and their families. Soon, shilling [5p] food tickets, which were accepted by local tradesmen, were issued instead. However, despite appeals for help, not enough money was coming in to meet the needs of the increasing numbers on strike.
|With the dockers and stevedores on strike produce remained on the quayside waiting to be loaded or stored. © NMM|
As the strike progressed into its second and third weeks, there was great hardship in East London. By the end of August many dockers and their families were starving.
The employers' view
The employers were now confident that they would be able to force the men back to work:
What the cost would be of granting the demands of the men, I cannot exactly say, but it would be at least £100,000 and that would mean we should have to raise our rates.
We cannot afford an advance in wages, for it would either destroy any possibility of dividend to the shareholders of the joint companies or tend to drive shipping from the port. When the pinch comes, as come it must, the hopes of the strikers will receive a severe shock and I shall be
surprised if there is any backbone left.
Mr Holland, Chairman of the Dock Directors, interview on 16 August, 1889.
|The East and West India Dock Company was one of the employers opposed to the strike. © NMM|
|The Thames during the strike: Idle steamers waiting for the stevedores. © NMM|
During the strike the port was at a standstill and the dock companies were losing money.
Despite this, they believed that giving into the dockers' demands would set a dangerous precedent.