By the time the national dock strike began in July, 1972, London’s docks were already in decline. During the 1960s over 80,000 jobs were lost in the dockland boroughs of Greenwich, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Southwark. New transportation technology was the main cause: the invention of the corrugated steel shipping container lessened the need for men to unload ships by hand.
The strike was an attempt to prevent further redundancies and use by firms of casual labour. A group of London dockers’s show stewards were jailed under new powers to curb industrial action introduced by Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath. They were dubbed the Pentonville Five and soon released. One of them, East Londoner Vic Turner, died in January 2013. The Independent carried a nice obituary of him.
The film footage below is from a documentary about the strike called Arise Ye Workers, released in 1973. The British Film Institute remarks on its “ironic use of speakers’ voices over shots of traditionalist imagery” – the Vestey business empire gets the treatment here – and its “unadorned presentation of workers’ comments and views”. Now, step back in time.
The docks were closed by 1980. In 1981, the London Docklands Development Corporation was set up by Margaret Thatcher’s government and the rest is regeneration history. You can buy and watch the whole of Arise Ye Workers here.
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