The Labour Force

  • John Lovell


The growth of the port of London, as we saw in the previous chapter, was entirely without plan. In fact until the creation of the P.L.A. in 1908 the port did not even exist as a formal institution. It was merely an unregulated meeting-place for a vast number of diverse interests—shipowners, wharfingers, lighterage concerns, merchants, dock companies. After 1908 there was some regulation, but the meeting-place remained as crowded and as full of diversity as before. In this situation it would indeed have been surprising if the port’s labour force had formed a homogeneous body. In fact, of course, port workers were as lacking in cohesion as the industrial complex that gave them employment. They were subdivided into numerous occupational groupings, and in the early days these groupings were no more bound together by a sense of common interest than were the port employers.


Labour Force Quay Crane Occupational Grouping Employment Structure Port Worker 
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  1. 1.
    Casual employment was a feature of many industries besides the port industry in the nineteenth century — see E. H. Phelps Brown, The Growth of British Industrial Relations (1960) pp. 83–4. What made the port industry so distinctive was its localisation, for this circumstance concentrated large masses of casual labourers in clearly defined districts. Thus, in 1908, the six London boroughs where the number of men casually employed bore the largest proportion to the population were all riverside districts. See C.O.S., Report on Unskilled Labour (1908) pp. 53–4, which makes this point very well.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The causes of these fluctuations are well summarised in Alan Bullock, The Life and Times of Ernest Bevin (1960) p. 116.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a full study of the mechanisms of the casual labour market see W. Beveridge, Unemployment: a Problem of Industry (1909) ch. v, especially pp. 77–95 for the waterfront.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    This fact emerges clearly from Booth’s investigations in the early 1890s. Booth Collection Group B, cxl-cxlii. The same was as true of Liverpool as of London; see R. Williams, The Liverpool Docks Problem (Liverpool, 1912) p. ii.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    For this attitude see, for example, H. Llewellyn Smith and Vaughan Nash, The Story of the Dockers’ Strike (1889) P. 24.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See Liverpool University, The Dock Worker (Liverpool, 1954) PP. 55–6.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    For New York see Charles Barnes, The Longshoremen (New York, 1915) p. 72Google Scholar
  8. C. P. Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall (Berkeley, 1955) p. 50.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    For this aspect see D. Caradog Jones, Survey of Merseyside (1934) 11 136.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    R. Williams, The Liverpool Docks Problem (Liverpool, 1912) p. 6.Google Scholar
  11. 26.
    For Liverpool see E. F. Rathbone, Labour at the Liverpool Docks (Liverpool, 1904)Google Scholar
  12. R. Williams, The Liverpool Docks Problem, and the same author’s The First Year’s Working of the Liverpool Docks Scheme (Liverpool, 1914). For London see W. M. Langdon, ‘Casual Labour at the Docks’, in Toynbee Record, February and March 1912; E. G. Howarth and M. Wilson, West Ham (1907) deals largely with the waterfront in London, as does the C.O.S. Report of 1908, Unskilled Labour. Two other works deal with the industry generally, but are particularly relevant to London and Liverpool: Hon. G. Walsh, Dock Labour in Relation to Poor Law Relief (1908), Cd 4391, and Report on the Relation of Industrial and Sanitary Conditions to Pauperism: Steel-Maitland and Squire (1909), Cd 4653. H. A. Mess, Casual Labour at the Docks (1916) is also a general study.Google Scholar
  13. 27.
    R. Williams, The Liverpool Docks Problem (Liverpool, 1912) p. 11.Google Scholar
  14. 32.
    This stratification is well described in Sir James Sexton, Sir James Sexton, Agitator (1936) pp. 109–12.Google Scholar
  15. 41.
    Description in C. Watney and J. Little, Industrial Warfare (1912) p. 72.Google Scholar
  16. 56.
    For the frequency of accidents see Maitland and Eraut, Factories and Workshops; also R.C. on Labour (1892), C. 6708, Evidence Group B, vol. I, Qs 396, 893 and 1695.Google Scholar
  17. 59.
    The description of quay work given below is drawn from the following sources: Brysson Cunningham, Cargo Handling at Ports (1926) pp. 11–12 and 43–5; Booth Collection Group A, xxiv 133; R.S.C. on Sweating System, xxi (1888) Qs 12784, 13341 and 15268.Google Scholar
  18. 72.
    W. Stern, ‘The First London Dock Boom’, in Economica, February 1952, pp. 62–72.Google Scholar
  19. 98.
    L. Smith and V. Nash, The Story of the Dockers’ Strike (1889) pp. 50 and 54.Google Scholar
  20. 123.
    See Booth, Life and Labour, 111, 1st ser. 96–9, 120 and 146; also M. Dorothy George, London Life in the 18th Century (1925) pp. 110–11.Google Scholar
  21. 127.
    Quoted in A. Redford, Labour Migration in England 1800–50 (Manchester, 1926) p. 130.Google Scholar
  22. 132.
    See Millicent Rose, The East End of London (1951) pp. 198–202.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J. C. Lovell 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Lovell
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KentCanterburyUK

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