The Great Dock Strike of 1889
Picketing the docks
The Strike Committee organised mass meetings and established pickets outside the dock gates. They persuaded men still at work and 'blacklegs' to come out on strike.
As Tillett recalled, 'We had 16,000 pickets on at one time under their Captains, Lieutenants, and Sergeants, divided and sub-divided with military precision'.
As the men gathered at the dock gates there were accusations that they were intimidating those who stayed at work. One observer wrote to The Times to complain.
The Times, 24 August 1889.
During the strike, 22-year-old Richard Groves was charged with assault and with threatening two men. His colleague, Alfred Kreamer, aged 49, was charged with intimidating several people. On the whole, however, it was peaceful and the strikers showed remarkable self-restraint.
The dockers march
The strike leaders, aware of the need for public support, organized a series of well-disciplined marches. Daily processions of strikers made their way from the East End into the City and to Tower Hill, where they listened to speeches by the strike leaders.
Money was collected from onlookers and used to feed the strikers and their families. Through collections and letters £11,700 was raised.
Supporting the strike
Ben Tillett was active in the socialist movement and was able to persuade other activists, including Mann, Burns, Will Thorne (1857-1946), Eleanor Marx (1855-1898) and James Keir Hardie (1856-1915), to help the 20,000 men on strike.
Tom Mann took on the enormous task of organizing relief, aided by John Burn's wife and Eleanor Marx. Organizations such as the Salvation Army and John Trevor's Labour Church also raised money for the strikers and their families.
At their hall at 272 Whitechapel Road, the Salvation Army supplied nearly 10,000 loaves in a day. Church missions opened soup kitchens to supply free meals. Even the shopkeepers were supporting the strike by giving relief to those in need.
The Lords Committee had paid particular attention to the exploitation of dock labourers. The strikers also benefited from sympathetic press coverage. The East London Advertiser paid tribute to the orderly behaviour of the strikers as they marched through the City:
The East London Advertiser, 24 August 1889.
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