In looking back over four decades of trade union history it is perhaps natural to expect a process of evolution, of constructive development. Yet it is doubtful how far trade unionism in the port of London between 1870 and 1914 can be fitted into any meaningful pattern of growth. E. J. Hobsbawm in his study of waterside unionism sees the period as one of positive development, in which port workers generally moved in the direction of organisation on national, industrial lines.1 He attributes this development to a number of factors, notably the process of concentration in industry and the increasing tendency of employers to act upon a national scale, as in the case of the Shipping Federation. Furthermore he stresses the role of the socialist leaders after 1889 in weaning the unions away from the local and sectional attachments that were so strong in the port industry. There is much to be said for approaching waterside unionism in the period from this standpoint. The changes in the structure of the Stevedores’ and Lightermen’s unions between 1900 and 1911, the formation of the N.T.W.F., the attempt at national action in 1912, all these developments fit into a pattern of waterside unionism seen as moving towards organisation on industrial lines. Yet the recent history of unionism on the waterfront suggests that there may be something lacking in such an approach, that it only reveals part of the story.
KeywordsTrade Union Mass Organisation Casual System Union Official Port Worker
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