The Great London Dock Strike broke out 125 years ago this week, on September 14, 1889. It was a landmark event in the history of post-Industrial Revolution workers’ rights and trade unionism at a time when workers were largely treated like instruments for profit.
Catholics can be proud that the Church played an important role in this event, particularly through the leadership of Cardinal Henry Edward Manning, who was the Archbishop of Westminster at the time. Though 81 years old, he played an active and crucial role in bringing the strike to a mutually agreed conclusion that keenly respected workers’ rights and needs. The resolution gave strong momentum to the unionization movement that lasted for years.
Manning went on the become an influential voice in the development of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, published in May 1891 and still today considered the cornerstone of modern Catholic social teaching. That encyclical is in part an embodiment in doctrine of the ministry and witness offered by Manning during the dock strike.
The Tablet offers a fine article this week by Msgr. John Armitage on Cardinal Manning, his role in the strike, and the ways both he and the event influenced the contents and approach of Rerum Novarum. See “Values Lived through Action” here.