The ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) congress in Sofia, Bulgaria, today remembered the 1889 Great London Dock Strike as a great early example of international solidarity.
Meanwhile in the UK Unite the Union today sent a boat down the River Thames and into the Port of Tilbury as the first of a series of events to mark the 125th anniversary of the strike and kick off ‘Year of the Docker’ festivities.
Unite the Union national officer for docks and inland waterways, Bobby Morton, said that in 1889, thousands of dock labourers had walked off the job demanding the famous “dockers’ tanner”, and changes in the way workers were hired.
At the time, casual labourers had to compete against each other to be employed for a few hours or a day at a time, and were at the mercy of the contractors and foremen, who hired and fired at will.
“It was led by pioneers such as John Burns, Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, which led to the first organising of the docks and gradually became the Transport and General Workers Union,” Mr Morton said.
“As we moved through the 125 years, obviously the dockers have a great affiliation with seafarers which led to the creation of the ITF, which became a great, worldwide movement.”
ITF president Paddy Crumlin said today was a day to celebrate the past, enjoy the present and get ready for the future.
“We’re still up against the same organised elitism and the same crushing of workers’ rights 125 years later,” Crumlin said.
“But we’ve got great hope – if you can do it in 1889, against all the odds, and you bring in all of the international forces, including my union, the Maritime Union of Australia, then you can do it again today.”
After the strike began, the cost of providing meals and clothing for thousands of workers and their families looked as though it might lead to the collapse of the strike.
But Australia’s Brisbane Wharf Labourers’ Union sent the first installment of 150 Pounds and in total the Australian Labour movement donated 30,000 of the 48,000 Pounds raised.
“They were reaching out in solidarity and sent a message that we’re all in it together. We’ve never lost that spirit and we should never lose that spirit in a world more globalised than ever before,” Crumlin said.
“Here at the ITF Congress, let’s remember and reflect; we are a mighty movement; we have been for more than a hundred years and will be for hundreds of years to come.”
The dock strike was immediately preceded by the successful strike by women workers at a match factory in the East End of London and most of these women were related to or married to dockers.
The match workers won their strike for better health and safety conditions in their factory and this win is thought by many to have motivated the dockers to take up their fight.
The 43rd ITF congress in Sofia brings together almost 2,000 participants from 379 unions in 116 countries.
News about congress is available at www.itfcongress2014.org, on Facebook at and Twitter at (hashtag is #ITFcongress2014).