PortCities London

The Great Dock Strike of 1889

The strike spreads

A general strike?

Workers at the Thames Ironworks.
View full size imageMen at the Thames Ironworks joined the great strike of 1889. © NMM

Other workers followed the lead of the stevedores, including the seamen, firemen, lightermen, watermen, ropemakers, fish porters and carmen. Strikes broke out daily in factories and workshops throughout the East End.

The port was paralyzed by what was in effect a general strike. It was estimated that by 27 August 130,000 men were on strike.

An eye-witness account

London lighterman, circa 1910.
View full size imageLightermen went on strike with the dockers. © NMM

One newspaper reported:

Quotation marks left
Dockmen, lightermen, bargemen, cement workers, carmen, ironworkers and even factory girls are coming out. If it goes on a few days longer, all London will be on holiday. The great machine by which five millions of people are fed and clothed will come to a dead stop, and what is to be the end of it all? The proverbial
Quotation marks right
small spark has kindled a great fire which threatens to envelop the whole metropolis.

Evening News & Post
, 26 August 1889.

The strike committee

Tom Mann
View full size imageTom Mann, one of the leaders of the 1889 dock strike. © NMM

The dockers formed a strike committee to organize the dispute and decide on its aims. As well as Tillett, Tom Man (1856-1941) and John Burns (1858-1943) were important members of the committee.

The main strike demand was 'the dockers' tanner' - a wage of 6d. an hour (instead of their previous 5d. an hour) and an overtime rate of 8d. per hour.

They also wanted the contract and 'plus' systems to be abolished and 'call-ons' to be reduced to two a day. They also demanded that they be taken on for minimum periods of four hours and that their union be recognized throughout the port.


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