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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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The Mansion House Committee

Pressure on the employers

Landing tapioca at Butler's Wharf.
View full size imageButler's Wharf was soon receiving ships after Henry Lafone negotiated a settlement. © NMM

At the beginning of September pressure was mounting on the employers to resolve the strike. They still seemed unwilling to make concessions even though ship-owners and wharfingers were increasingly critical of the dock companies' stubbornness.

Henry Lafone, manager of Butler's Wharf, held separate negotiations with the strike committee. He paid his 300 men on strike 1s each a day, including Saturday and Sunday. Lafone worked hard to bring about a satisfactory settlement and his own wharf was soon unloading ships.

Revolt by the ship-owners

Sir Thomas Sutherland (1834-1922), Chairman of P&O.
View full size imageSir Thomas Sutherland (1834-1922). © NMM
By 3 September the ship-owners were beginning to revolt against the dock companies who remained stubborn.

Sir Thomas Sutherland (1834-1922), Chairman of the P&O Company, even suggested that the ship-owners might take over the unloading of ships.

There was also the threat that the dispute would develop into a general strike in London and this finally prompted action.

 

 

The Committee

Mansion House Committee
View full size imageMansion House Committee. © NMM

On 5 September, when the strike was in its fourth week, the Lord Mayor of London formed the Mansion House Committee.

Its aim was to try to bring the two sides together to end the strike. Ben Tillett and John Burns represented the dockers at the negotiations.

Cardinal Manning

Banner of the Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen (Greenwich Branch no. 13).
View full size imageCardinal Manning depicted on a banner of the Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen. © NMM
An important member of the committee was Cardinal Manning (1808-1892), Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. He had shown that his sympathies were with the dockers, many of whom were Catholics.

The Mansion House Committee persuaded the employers to meet practically all the dockers' demands. After five weeks the Dock Strike was over. It was agreed that the men would go back to work on 16 September.


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