"This is a revolt against oppression: a protest against the brute force which keeps a huge population down in the depths of the most dire degradation, for the benefit of a knot of profit-hunters …
this is a strike of the poor against the rich.”
—William Morris, 1889
Silvertown The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labor Movement
by John Tully
foreword by John Callow;
introductory comment by John Marriott
“Adds immeasurably to our understanding of the ‘new unionism’ of the Victorian era. Through writing as impassioned as it is reasoned, Tully brings to life ‘the people of the abyss’ at one of their finest hours, in which the solidarity of the ‘outcasts’ proclaims the possibility of ‘a better world in birth.’ This is history at its best: rigorous in its use of sources and capacities to broaden our ways of seeing experience; analytically demanding in the ways it pushes us to rethink conventional wisdoms of all kinds; and imaginative in the range of its argumentation.”
—Bryan D. Palmer, Canada Research Chair, Trent University
“A major contribution . . . Its detailed examination of a single, lengthy, and unsuccessful strike in 1889 in a large Silvertown rubber and gutta percha factory throws important new light on the development of the New Unionism in Britain and its relationship with the ‘aristocracy of labor.’ It is a serious and scholarly work written not with the usual academic detachment, but with a profound and moving feeling of empathy for the dispossessed and the exploited.”
—Alvaro de Miranda,
London East Research Institute, University of East London
In 1889, Samuel Winkworth Silver’s rubber and electrical factory was the site of a massive worker revolt that upended the London industrial district which bore his name: Silvertown. Once referred to as the “Abyss” by Jack London, Silvertown was notorious for oppressive working conditions and the relentless grind of production suffered by its largely unorganized, unskilled workers. These workers, fed-up with their lot and long ignored by traditional craft unions, aligned themselves with the socialist-led “New Unionism” movement. Their ensuing strike paralyzed Silvertown for three months.
The strike leaders –including Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Eleanor Marx, and Will Thorne—and many workers viewed the trade union struggle as part of a bigger fight for a “co-operative commonwealth.” With this goal in mind, they shut down Silvertown and, in the process, helped to launch a more radical, modern labor movement".
hat tip Felix Dzerzhinsky