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Labour unrest in the port after 1889

The employers strike back
‘Oh God, strike Lord Devonport dead’
Bevin and the formation of the Transport and General Workers Union
The General Strike of 1926
The National Dock Labour Scheme and labour relations after 1945
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The employers strike back

Shipowners demand action

South West India Dock.
View full size imageShipping in the South West India Dock. © NMM
Despite the dockers’ victory in 1889, small strikes still took place. The unions kept up the pressure for further concessions. The continuing disputes angered the shipping companies, which demanded that they be allowed to load and unload their own ships.

Shipping Federation offices on Connaught Road, Royal Victoria Dock.
View full size imageShipping Federation offices on Connaught Road, Royal Victoria Dock. © NMM

The London and India Docks Joint Committee, under Mr C. M. Norwood, thus found itself being attacked by the unions and criticized by the shipowners (now organized into the Shipping Federation). Keen to make more money, the Committee finally agreed to give up the sole right to unload ships.

Dockers at work unloading a cargo of tea.
View full size imageDockers at work unloading a cargo of tea. © NMM

This intensified the casual labour problem. The new rules meant that every shipowner could set their own wages and working conditions.


The Shipping Federation

Caricature of Mr Cuthbert Laws, Secretary to the Shipping Federation.
View full size imageCuthbert Laws, Secretary to the Shipping Federation. © NMM

The large shipping companies were determined to restrict unionism and strikes at sea, on the waterfront, and in the docks. In September 1890 they formed the Shipping Federation, under the leadership of Cuthbert Laws.

At a time of trade depression and rising dock unemployment the re-organized employers decided to counter-attack.




Blackleg ships

Lady Jocelyn (1852).
View full size imageLady Jocelyn (1852) was used to house strike-breakers. © NMM 

Three ships, the Paris, the Ella and the hulk Lady Jocelyn, were equipped to house blacklegs, or ‘free labour’. They could carry them wherever strike-breakers might be needed.

One London dock strike in the autumn of 1890 was completely defeated when the Federation brought in blacklegs from these ships.

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Casual labour

Find out more
StoriesThe Great Dock Strike of 1889
The labour movement's first great victory
StoriesMany hands: Trades of the Port of London, 1850-1980
Find out what it was like to work in the Port of London
Related Resources
Related Images 1 Images
National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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