The Great Strike, 1889

  • John Lovell


The revival of mass waterside unionism in the summer of 1889 occurred in circumstances that were in some respects notably different from those that characterised the movement of 1872. Whereas the movement of the early seventies achieved little publicity, being unaccompanied by a port-wide strike (or indeed any prolonged stoppage), the opposite was true of 1889. The great dock strike that year attracted so much attention nationally that it became one of the most celebrated events in the annals of the British labour movement, and it was this strike which directly stimulated a revival of organisation throughout the port. Public interest in the 1889 strike stemmed from its somewhat sensational and dramatic quality. Small-scale stoppages of short duration were nothing rare on the waterfront, but this one embraced all port workers simultaneously, including the most despised and degraded quay labourers at the north-bank docks, and its length came to be measured by weeks rather than days. The fact that it occurred in the metropolis, and that the strike leaders daily conducted the men in great orderly processions which marched from dockland right into the heart of the City of London, served further to focus the attention of public opinion.


South Side South Bank North Bank Contract System Port Worker 
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  1. 8.
    See accounts in Ben Tillett, Memories and Reflections (1931) pp. 94–7, and The Dockers’ Record, May 1890, pp. 1–2.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© J. C. Lovell 1969

Authors and Affiliations

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

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