A House Divided: Unionism after 1889

  • John Lovell


October 1889 to October 1890 constituted a harvest year for the London port worker. Charles Booth described the case of a man who, having drifted through a number of jobs, turned to the docks just after the end of the great strike. The man obtained work there, and for a whole year averaged 45s a week, working heavy overtime, often until 10 or 11 o’clock at night.1 Work was more plentiful than at any time since 1872, for not only was there the backlog from the strike to make up, but also trade continued to be exceptionally brisk through the first half of 1890.2 The abundance of work at the port was the principal foundation upon which the new mass unionism rested. The men had money in their pockets to pay their union dues, and the shortage of labour forced upon employers a tacit recognition of the unions. In the elation of success few stopped to question the basis upon which it rested. There were, however, some wiser spirits who did attempt to analyse the position. Among them was H. H. Champion, at one time secretary of the S.D.F., and now the editor of the Labour Elector, the official organ of the Dockers’ Union. In November 1889 he wrote warning the unions that their recent successes were due to the briskness of trade, and that this situation would not last.3


Mass Organisation Shipping Company Tidal Basin Port Worker Union Monopoly 
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  1. 5.
    Clement Edwards, ‘The Hull Shipping Dispute’, The Economic Journal, 111 (1893) 345–1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 6.
    E. F. Rathbone, Labour at the Liverpool Docks (Liverpool, 1904) pp. 9 and 14–15. See also Sexton, Agitator, pp. 102–7.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    The official history of this body is L. H. Powell, The Shipping Federation (1950).Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    Powell, Shipping Federation, p. 5. An excellent description of the activities of the Federation is to be found in John Saville, ‘Trade Unions and Free Labour: The Background to the Taff Vale Decision’, in Essays in Labour History in Memory of G. D. H. Cole (1960) PP. 323–40.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    The vital importance of the closed shop to waterside unions is fully treated in C. P. Larrowe, Shape-Up and Hiring Hall (Berkeley, 1955), especially p. 54.Google Scholar
  6. 65.
    For these developments see C. L. Wheble, ‘The London Lighterage Trade’ (M.Sc. thesis, London 1939), especially pp. 122, 133, 162, 188–9.Google Scholar
  7. 80.
    For a full description of the scheme see W. Beveridge, Unemployment: a Problem of Industry (1909) ch. v.Google Scholar
  8. 87.
    See, for example, the analysis given in H. A. Clegg, A. Fox and A. F. Thompson, A History of British Trade Unions since 1889, vol. I (Oxford, 1964) P. 71.Google Scholar
  9. 119.
    See Clem Edwards, ‘Labour Federations’, in The Economic Journal, 111 (1893) 419.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J. C. Lovell 1969

Authors and Affiliations

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

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