The 1911 strike
After 1890 there was no serious industrial unrest in the port until 1911. In that year there was a strike led by the recently formed National Transport Workers Federation (NTWF). Sixteen unions involved in dock work, road haulage and passenger transport had formed the Federation.
|Police and strike-breakers during the 1911 strike. © NMM|
|Strike of the National Union of Dock Labourers, 1911. © NMM|
Harry Gosling of the Amalgamated Society of Waterman & Lighterman was elected president. The new union immediately approached the Port of London Authority (PLA) for:
- a wage increase to from 6d (six pence) to 8d (eight pence) an hour
- improved conditions
- formal recognition of all unions.
Elsewhere in Britain, other branches of the NTWF went on strike in what soon became a national dispute.
|Flag of the Port of London Authority. © NMM|
Lord Devonport, the Chairman of the PLA, consulted the dock employers, wharfingers and shipowners. He offered:
- 7d (seven pence) an hour
- a one-hour reduction in the working day.
The cost to the employers would have been £200,000 a year. But the union, who had won no meaningful improvements since 1889, rejected it.
The employers resist
|Ben Tillett of the Dockers Union. © NMM|
Devonport refused to negotiate and publicly declared that he would starve the men back to work.
Ben Tillett led a mass meeting of dockers on Tower Hill in a prayer: ‘Oh God, strike Lord Devonport dead’.
After a two-week strike the dockers were forced to return to work on Devonport’s terms.