In August 1889 a strike started at Spottiswoode’s, an old printing firm (based near Lincolns Inn Fields) which dated back to 1739.
The workers who went on strike were employed to feed paper into the presses; in the highly specialised and demarcated printing industry, they had been denied membership of the London Printing Managers’ Trade Society on the grounds that they were too unskilled.
But 1889 was the year unskilled workers broke the bounds; striking across London and beyond, after years of exclusion from craft unionism. The dispute at Spottiswoode started on August 26th, just 13 days after the great Dock Strike; were the workers there inspired by the dockers? Many other workers were – a whole crop of strikes broke out as the dock strike reached its peak – some 300,000 were on strike in London by the end of the month… (hopefully we’ll cover this in a blog entry on September 1st…)
The Spottiswoode workers had struck for a wage rise, demanding 20 shillings a week; they were soon joined on strike by employees doing the same job at 14 other London printing firms. From the strike committee organising this dispute, the Printers Labourers Union was created. Soon it had a membership of 500 in London, organised through workplace ‘chapels’, as the older craft societies in the print trade were. They rapidly established closed shops in a number of London print firms. The union grew in strength in subsequent years as technological change saw an increase in rotary printing presses in large publishing houses.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online