The Great Strike of 1889

During an industrial conflict that lasted five weeks and brought the Port of London to a standstill, writes R.B. Oram, the “close fraternity of the docks” struck for better working conditions and more generous rates of pay.

This major industrial upheaval of the nineteenth century lasted from August 13th to September 16th, 1889, and it brought the traffic of London, then the greatest port in the world, to a standstill. When the strike had lasted for three weeks, a general strike, anticipating the event of 1926, was ordered, only to be cancelled at the last moment.

On the one side was the mass of London’s casual dock workers, estimated at 90,000 strong, and on the other, the Directors of the four dock companies in the port of London, supported fitfully by a varying number of owners of wharves on the River Thames. Both sides, by modern standards, were sadly unorganized.

The dockers displayed loyalty and discipline, and they enjoyed superb leadership; the employers’ ranks were from the start riven from within and reviled from without. Gibbon’s condemnation of the French army at the fourteenth-century Battle of Nicopolis—“so many might aspire to command that none were willing to obey”—aptly describes the conditions in which the business men upon the Boards of the four dock companies and the many hundred wharves conducted their campaign.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.