Thursday, 15 December 2016

Leith Dockers strike 1913(Work in progress)

Leith Dockers strike 1913

pictured: Leith dockers strike procession.

There had been a long history of sailor and docker strikes dating as far back as 1790 according to the Annals of Leith, the official records of the burgh and a strike is mentioned in 1889.

1889 Dockers Strike.

see picture below.

In April and May 1949, dockers in London, Avonmouth, Liverpool, Southampton, Leith and Newport boycotted Canadian ships in sympathy with a strike by members of the Canadian Seamen’s Union

Closer to the present there was a strike by t
he entire workforce (850 people) of Henry Robb shipyard, threatened with more than 400 redundancies, marched through Leith on April 8 1983.
See picture below.

From 26 June - 14 August 1913 ,

7 week dispute involved 4,000 workers

widely reported in the press

brought leith port to a standstill

NUDL union requested a rise of a penny per hour on the day rate, an increase in piecework rates for handling 'dirty cargo' and a one o clock stop on saturday. They also demanded the end to employment of non-union labour.

The Leith Dock Employers Association was unwilling to concede and with the assistant of the Shipping Federation brought in 450 'free labourers' (scabs) to the port within the first week of the strike housing them in company ships, The Lady Jocelyn and the paris and were drawn initially from Berwick, Cardiff, Liverpool, Middlesborough and Newcastle. They increased to 600 when a further 150 men were brought in from Manchester. They were protected by the Edinburgh and Leith police force with the aid of 150 policement from Glasgow, Lanarkshire, the lothians and Aberdeen.

The dockers could not gain entry into the docklands which were surrounded by a perimeter wall.They place pickets on the dock gates on 8 hour three shift system and there were squads of flying pickets.
Only 6 pickets were allowed at any given time within the dock perimeter wall and always under police escort.

The docklands were publically owned and this raised the question of the legality of closing off the dockers access to the port.

The Dock Commission argued it was duty bound to protect that property and allowed access only to the scabs, police, the federation and harbour officials and those issued with a valid permit.

The Railwayment and seamen became involved and for the duration of the strike, 200 carters and 600 seamen refused to handle any cargo or work any boat operated by scabs.

The Lothian Miners backed the dockers, despite the fact the coal embargo imposed by the NUDL directly affected them and caused considerable unemployment.

Dockers at Grangemouth,Granton and Kircaldy all refused to handle cargo diverted from leith.

In early july there was what is described as a “strike epidemic” with female ropeworkers also going on strike. This was followed by a strike by the shipmasters and mates over pay and conditions.

This led the Leith Observer to remark “All of this has brought about a state of matters unprecedented not only in the history of Leith, but in any part of the country”

The Leith Observer reported that the scabs “were hardly an energetic lot” and it took them all day to do the work an ordinary docker did in a few hours.

The cost of maintaining the scabs was heavy and the press reported it was costing the bosses more than the increase in wages demanded by the dockers.

This tense situation encouraged rioting on the nights between the 16
th and 18th of July. The Leith observer commented that the only trade doing brisk business was the glaziers. The violence grew more intense and the scabs were often attacked while there was an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the perimeter wall with gelignite.

As requested by the authorities, during the night of the 17th July  6 naval gunboats headed into Leith Harbour and there was plenty hostility by sailors and marines who did not want to be used in this way.

Questions were put to the secretary of the Admiralty in Parliament asking why gunboats were sent to Leith.  He replied that aid had been called upon but they were not made use of.
The gunboats were withdrawn on 19th of July.

One MP was surprised that the Navy would interfere in a labour dispute and only report on the incident after the fact.

the union officials attempt to quell the anger of the workers but given the repression the dockers faced its unsurprised they responded with violence.

The press sympathetically reported that the police had provoked the strikes on a number of occasions.

On 4th August, George Barnes MP raised the issue of police brutuality at Leith during a debate in
the House of Commons and remarked on the lack of restraint and noted the unsuitability of putting new recruits into the situation.

Just after mid july, the Edinburgh Tramwaymen and Leith Boilermakers came out on strike too and joined forces with dockers, seamen ,firemen and other trade unions on a demonstration on 20th July 1913 which was reported in The Scotman.

3,000 dockers, 600 firemen and sailors, 500 tramwaymen, 150 boilermakers and 350 children of leith strikers who marched at the front under the charge of Miss C.M.M'Nab and Mrs J. Cruikshanks(Labour members of Leith School board)  a number of mill girls and there was the Wallyford Miners Band and the Celtic Pipe Band.

Banners read "Leith Dockers Strike- We protest against the use of armed forces of the crown to assist the employers"
"Leith Dockers- we are out for a living wage".

Staff with loaf of bread painted green to represent mould and placard underneath that said "our share of the profits"

the tramwaymen trailed off into edinburgh while the dockers and others headed to Leith Links.

There was speeches made.  Madam Sorgue, french anarcho syndicalist spoke.  Another speaker argued workers should use electoral politics and vote for labour in the elections.
James Airlie of the Boilermakers union noted that the army had been used by the employers 20 times in industrial disputres and only once in a war.

The tramwaymen dispute was settle on August 2nd but they promised financial support and the Amalgamated Society of Engineers(ASE) agreed to levy members to pay the financial cost.

Leith and Edinburgh Trades Councils gave financial help as did Leith and Edinburgh Labour party members on the councils and respective school boards.

In the 6th week of the strike the first of the dockers charged for their part in the July riots appeared before the sheriff court and was found guilty. Under the pseudonumn 'Leith Laddie' printed a fairly lengthy letter condemning the sheriff.

On 14th of August, James O' Connor Kessack informed a mass meeting of dockers held at Gaiety Theatre that another 300 men were coming from Newcastle. On advice of the NUDL the meeting voted by a large majority to end the strike but it came as a surprise to all who didn't expect it to end so suddenly.

The Dockers returned to work on the same conditions as before but the scabs now had to leave.

There were many who faced court for their part in the riots after the strike was called off.

More to be added......


 Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left C.  1872-1932 by William Kenefick.

Henry Robb strike,

No comments:

Post a Comment