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The Great Dock Strike of 1889

Introduction
The situation on the eve of the strike
The spark
The strike spreads
Mobilizing support
Hardship
Australia to the rescue
The Mansion House Committee
Effects of the strike
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Australia to the rescue

Crisis point

Long shore men, 1859.
View full size imageBy the end of August the dockers and their families were starving. © NMM

The crisis of the strike was reached at the beginning of September. Without more money, it seemed that the strike could not continue. H. H. Champion, the Strike Committee's press officer recalled:

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Things looked very black indeed – for though the collections made in workshops and in the streets, supplemented by contributions from the older trade unions and from private individuals, had reached a considerable sum, they were totally inadequate to provide
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even a shilling a day for a tenth of the families who were without means of subsistence.

H. H. Champion, The Great Dock Strike in London, August 1889, (London, 1890), p. 18.

Australian help

The grip of international brotherhood.
View full size imageAn Australian docker with his English counterpart. © NMM
From the beginning of September however money poured in from Australia. The first instalment of £150 was sent by the Brisbane Wharf Labourers' Union. The press reported:

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Meetings at which resolutions of sympathy with the strikers are passed are being held nightly throughout Victoria, and a similar movement is on foot in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart…

A large and important meeting of citizens was held here yesterday at which resolutions were adopted expressing sympathy with the London dock workers on strike, and promising to support them to obtain their demands. The Chairmen announced that over £500 had been collected from all classes of the inhabitants, including Cabinet Ministers, and nearly all the members of the Queensland Parliament.

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The Pall Mall Gazette, 5 September 1889.

Scent of victory

Circular Quay, Sydney.
View full size imageShips being unloaded at Circular Quay, Sydney, c. 1878-85. © NMM
In all over £30,000 was raised by the Australian dockers and their allies. It arrived at just the right time and meant the end of worries about feeding the strikers and their families.

The dockers could now face a longer strike and the leaders knew they could now concentrate on the picket lines. Defeat through hunger now seemed very unlikely and the dockers scented victory.

 


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