Cloth ISBN: 978-1-58367-434-5
Read an Excerpt in LINKS: International Journal of Socialist Renewal
“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
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.
Historian and novelist John Tully, author of the monumental social history of the rubber industry The Devil’s Milk, tells the story of the Silvertown strike in vivid prose. He rescues the uprising—overshadowed by other strikes during this period—from relative obscurity and argues for its significance to both the labor and socialist movements. And, perhaps most importantly, Tully presents the Silvertown Strike as a source of inspiration for today’s workers, in London and around the world, who continue to struggle for better workplaces and the vision of a “co-operative commonwealth.”
A major contribution to labor history and to the history of East London. 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 labour.’ 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. It is recommended reading not only to historians and those concerned with East London, but as an inspiration to all those participating in today’s urgent struggle against increasing social and economic injustice.
John Tully’s excellent Silvertown book has again prised wide open a window onto an important but almost forgotten episode of working class history. Tully depicts vividly how men and women, many coming from rural parts of Britain and Ireland, suffered and united together in the new industrial expansion. Mud, community, fumes and struggle. His descriptions and analysis will be useful and enjoyable for activists and academics alike.
In his preface the author expresses the hope that he has been able to tell adequately the story of the Silvertown strikers. Few reading this passionate and lively account can doubt that he has succeeded.