The Dockers' Strike

Melody - "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp"

At the docks there is a strike
That the company don't like.
A tanner on the hour they'll have to pay.
Like slaves they'd have us work,
Far more than any Turk,
And make us sweat our lives out every day.

Strike, boys, strike for better wages,
Strike, boys, strike for better pay,
Go on fighting at the docks.
Stick it out like fighting cocks,
Go on fighting till the bosses they give way.

Every morning' there are flocks
For employment at the docks,
Hard working men who scarce can get a meal;
With wives and children dear,
It would make you shed a tear
If only you knew the hardship that they feel.
  If it's slavery that you seek,
For about a quid a week,
They'll take you on as soon as you come near.
Sweat your guts out with a will
Or they'll try your job to fill,
But that won't wash with working men, that's clear.

We'll stand up for our rights,
And the company we will fight,
Supported by our brothers everywhere,
For we have friends galore -
The good old stevedores,
And the seamen and the firemen they are there.

Starvation, 'tis they bids
To a man with seven kids,
When he brings home only fifteen pence a day,
For what can you get to eat
On seven-and-six a week,
When it often takes it all the rent to pay?

Here's a health to Mr Burns,
He's done us all a turn,
Ben Tillett, Mann and Mr Toomey, too;
We won't give in a bit,
for we've got 'em in a fit,
And we've put the old dock company in a stew.

London dockers struck in August 1889 for their famous 'tanner': a rate of sixpence an hour. Inspired leadership was provided by Bill Tillett, Tom Mann, and John Burns. There were mass meetings and spectacular demonstrations. On 25 August a great march of thousands of dockers left Poplar town hall for the City. With its bands, banners, slogans, and floats, the scene in some ways resembled craft processions like those in honour of Bishop Blaise. Men in costume depicted scenes from dock life. Britannia in a Union Jack skirt was partnered by Father Neptune. One scene contrasted a director's dinner (a huge plate piled high with meat and vegetables) with a docker's meal (a crust of bread and a tiny herring). Thanks to substantial monetary support from Australian trade unionists and a good deal of public sympathy at home, the strike ended in September with the 'full round orb' of the dockers' tanner granted from November.

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