The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labour Movement

Author: John Tully



ISBN: 9781907103995 Categories: ,

Format: Paperback

Publication date: March 1, 2014

Page extent: 288

23 in stock

The story of a little-known strike in Silvertown in the East End in 1889, this book documents the strike’s significance to labour and socialist movements and its role in the development of new unionism.

In 1889, Samuel Winkworth Silver’s rubber and electrical factory was the site of a massive workers revolt that upended the London industrial district which bore his name: Silvertown. The workers had long been ignored by traditional craft unions, but they now aligned themselves with the socialist-led ‘New Unionism’ movement. They succeeded in shutting down Silvertown and, in the process, helped to launch a more radical, modern labour movement.

Although the strikers were eventually defeated, the Silvertown Strike was a source of inspiration for workers in its time, and their story continues to offer inspiration today for all who continue the struggle for better workplaces, in London and around the world.

Foreword by John Callow
Introductory Comment by John Marriott
Author’s Preface
1. Prologue: Wednesday 11 September 1889
2. Introduction to a Forgotten Struggle
3. Samuel Silver’s Palace of Industry
4. Great Sacrifice, Great Barbarism
5. A Time of Hope
6. ‘They Want My Life’s Blood’
7. The Strike Gains Momentum
8. The Workers Disunited: Skilled vs. Unskilled at Silvertown
9. ‘There is no justice, mercy or compassion in the plutocracy’
10. November: Hunger and Cold
11. The Great Strike Collapses

‘John Tully shows us how meticulous research and empathy for the dispossessed can recreate a past that is either forgotten or reduced to the forlorn. 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; and imaginative in the range of its arguments.’

Bryan D. Palmer, Canada Research Chair, Trent University


‘This is a major contribution to labour history and to the history of East London. It is a serious work written not with the usual academic detachment, but with profound and moving empathy for the dispossessed and the exploited. This is recommended reading not only to historians and those concerned with East London, but as inspiration to those participating in today’s urgent struggle against increasing social and economic injustice.’

Alvaro de Miranda, London East Research Institute, University of East London

‘John Tully has done much more than write a book about a strike in this fascinating volume. He has managed to recreate a pivotal moment in British Labour history, reveal the connections between imperialism and industry, and the inherent barbarity of capitalism, and analyse the response of the British Labour movement.’

‘Tully’s account is very readable. He is able to connect the features of the strike to the wider historical period and uses quotations from great thinkers such as Marx to explain the barbarity of the system and the actions of its participants. He rescues from obscurity the working-class fighters who made their mark …’

‘This book is well worth a read and offers a major contribution to the history of the British Labour movement. The reader will get an insight into the nature of capitalism at both a theoretical and factory level.’

John Westmoreland, Counterfire

‘Silvertown tells the story — with the same vim and empathy displayed in The Devil’s Milk — of the great strike at the India-Rubber, Gutta-Percha and Telegraph Works in the East End of London in 1889.’

John Callahan, Science and Society

`The author, clearly a republican socialist, makes numerous swipes at the British aristocracy … Tully also manages to weave in to his narrative attacks on Tony Blair and New Labour – the book was clearly intended as an inspiration for today’s militants.’

‘Tully provides a very detailed narrative of the strike, and one which sits well with other works in this field’

Duncan Bowie, Socialist History 47

‘the product of meticulous research by John Tully, who deserves praise for presenting his material in a style that is refreshingly accessible’

‘Tully therefore undoubtedly brings alive this largely forgotten strike and is particularly sensitive to the degradations suffered by the unskilled workers and their families.’

‘The light shed on the role of women and children during the strike is particularly welcome, as is the focus on the support given by members of the local branch of the Social Democratic Federation’

‘the final chapters offer an insight into how the successful repression of the strike acted as a future model for employers who refused negotiation with their workers, and the epilogue proves a useful summary of the growth of independent labour politics in West Ham’

‘impressive amount of work Tully has undertaken to provide a much-needed and vivid portrait of an important industrial conflict.’

James Owen, Labour History Review 80