The struggle for better conditions for working people was fought out in the docks, steelworks, building sites and railways of Newport as well as in the coal fields of industrial south Wales. The conflict between capital and labour was behind the start of the Chartist movement but strikes and industrial disputes did not become a feature of life in Newport until the mid-1880’s as workers sought better pay and collective bargaining conditions. The strikes were sometimes bitter and long-lasting. This is an attempt to map and chronicle the industrial action and rise of the labour movement in Newport from newspaper reports and articles throughout this tumultuous period. We will continue to update it.
4 May 1885
MASONS’ STRIKE AT NEWPORT. The masons at Newport came out on strike this morning for an advance of halfpenny per hour in their wages. Some months since they demanded an advance of a penny, but got only halfpenny, on the understanding, as they allege, that the masters should give them the other halfpenny when the state of trade warranted siren a step. The building trades are now very brisk, and besides several large buildings in course of erection, there is a large speculation in dwelling-houses, especial- ally in Maindee. The action of the men, it is stated, is not supported by money from the trade society, and the strike is not universal. The masters offer arbitration as a means of adjusting the dispute.
3 September 1887
Strike of Newport Tram Employees. The drivers and conductors of the Newport tram cars struck work on Monday morning against a notice requiring them to remain on duty half an hour later in the evening than hitherto. They went in a body to the office of Mr. A. R. Bear, secretary to the company, and had the matter discussed. In the result it was decided that the new rule should not take effect this week. All the servants, with the exception of four, thereupon resumed their work on the same terms as formerly.
21 August 1889
THE NEWPORT SHIPWRIGHTS” STRIKE. The eight or ten Plymouth shipwrights, brought into the town on Monday evening to replace the men on strike, decided to leave on the following morning, not performing any work. This decision was come to after they had been informed as to the position of affairs by the men. On Tuesday they were accordingly driven through the town in cabs, and these were decorated with small flags. During the afternoon Messrs Mordey, Carney, and Co., Limited, submitted to the strikers the names of several gentlemen to act as arbitrators in the dispute, and Mr. Thomas Canning, engineer to the Newport Gasworks, was selected. Mr. Canning readily placed his services at the disposal of the parties.
20 August 1891
THE STRIKE AT NEWPORT. The dispute with the blacksmith’s hammer men still continues, and seems no nearer solution than when the men turned out on Monday week. They ask for 6d per day advance on their present wages, which vary from 23a to 24s, according to whether the establishment is engaged in the shipping trade or not. Owing to the strike impeding work in the riveting and smith’s trade generally, efforts have been made to import strangers, 24s per week being offered by the masters. Although nearly 20 men have arrived in response to the advertisements, they have not remained long owing to having given & willing ear to their compatriots who are on stride. The ex-mayor has been asked by the men to bring about a settlement of the dispute.
16 July 1890
GREAT STRIKE AT NEWPORT. ENGLISH V. FOREIGN SEAMEN. UNANIMOUS PROTEST OF TRADES- UNIONISTS. 2,000 [DOCKERS LEAVE WORK. DETENTION OF VESSELS. At the Alexandra Dock at Newport on Tuesday afternoon a most remarkable and, happily, unusual spectacle was witnessed, upwards of 2,000 workmen of all grades leaving work with- out and very lengthened notice, and causing an entire suspension of business in one of the largest docks in the Bristol Channel. Tue cause assigned for this novel proceed- ing was the refusal of the captain of the steamship G, R. Booth, 3,600 tons, of Sunder- land (Messrs Pearson, owners), to engage a union crew. It appears that the vessel arrived as New- port on Thursday last from Rotterdam, where, it is alleged, the captain bad discharged his British crew and taken on one composed mainly of foreigners. It is further stated that notices were posted on the steamer and at the shipping office, intimating in substance that “no English need apply.” The reason assigned for this proceeding is said to have been merely one,of economy, there having been a difference of from 20s to 25s per month in the wages received by each member of the crew. On the arrival of the vessel at Newport the local secretary of the National Amalgamated Seamen’s and Firemen’s Union waited upon tbe captain of the steamer in question, and requested him to make his crew of union men, and to send back to their homes the men whom be had engaged at Rotter- dam. To this request the captain declined to accede. On Saturday, however, the riggers and coal trimmers left the vessel, but on an undertaking being gi ven them that the conditions demanded by tbe Seamens’ and Firemen*’ Union should be com- plied with, the men returned to their work, after having been absent only about a couple of hours. It subsequently transpired, however, that the owners of the steamer could not ignore this action, and the parties failing to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, on Monday evening a mass meeting of work- men employed at the docks was held. At this gathering it was decided to give notice on the following morning to the dock company that unless the demands of the Seamen’s Union wars complied with all work at the docks would cease. The men were as good as their words, for the riggers accordingly left work at six o’clock on Tuesday morning,, and at mid-day the coal- trimmers followed their example. The unwillingness to proceed with work seemed to spread with amazing rapidity, for “during the afternoon the whole of the other employed at the docks, including the iron ore men, threw down their tools and left work. In a short time things, in what is usually the busiest quarter of the town were completely at a standstill. A perfect epidemic of restlessness appeared to prevail, and it spread to all grades. Even the ship- repairers and boiler-makers, at the request of the representatives of the Labourers’ and the Seamen’s Union, refused to go on with their work, and out of sympathy with their comrades they loft the vessels they were engaged upon. In all over 2,000 men of various trades and callings threw up their work. As a result of the men’s action several vessels that intended to proceed to sea by the evening tide were delayed” either through n&t having their full cargoes on board, or their not being properly stowed. A deputation representing the men waited upon Mr John Dunn, of the Alexandra Dock Company, and requested that the company would give orders for the removal of the vessel to the buoys, but it was pointed out that the company had contracted, to load her, and until she was full to the hatchways they could, not remove her. At about half-past eight this evening a mass meeting of the workmen of all grades was held on tho ballast land near tba dock, and it was attended by about 4,000. Mr Edward Davies, chairman of the local branch of the Dockers’ Union, read a telegram which bad been received from Mr Tom Mann, who advised the men not to come out on strike if such a course could possibly be avoided. The message further stated that unless the union authorised the men’s action strike money would not be allowed. Mr Davies, the chairman, recommended that in order that the responsibility might be ta2’n off the dock company with whom they (the men) had no quarrel, the vessel should be loaded to the batch- ways. But although this course was supported by Mr Gilman, the secretary of Seamen’s and Firemen’s Union, it was unanimously rejected. Both leaders then counselled the men to work all the tips with the exception of the one at which. the obnoxious steamer was lying, but again the men declined, with practical unanimity, to act upon the course suggested. They refused while the non-unionist boat was in the dock to load any vessel. It was stated that in future no vessel having blacklegs “on board will be loaded at the port of Newport by union men. It has beeu decided by the men to hold a further meet- ing at 10 o’clock this (Wednesday) morning to further discuss tbe situation. The suddenness with which the entire sus- pension of work was effected surprised all who had business to transact at the Docks. From the time the men refused to prooeed with the loading of the steamer—after some five trucks bad been tipped—until everything at the Docks was at a standstill not more than 25 minutes elapsed The vessel that has caused so much sensation was to have left Newport this morning.
31 August 1893
NEWPORT HOTEL CABMEN STRIKE. THEY OBJECT TO WEARING LIVERY. The cabmen in the employ of the proprietor of the King’s Head Hotel have come out on strike because they wiU not wear livery, as suggested by the proprietor. Anyone who has seen the liveried cabmen of London know what tiptop swells they look but the Newport men do not take kindiy to the notion. There is no fear that the public who use King’s Head cabs will have to go on foot these torrid days and sweltering afternoons, as sufficient volunteers have been obtained elsewhere.
20th July 1894
STRIKE AT NEWPORT. Uskside Timber Carriers Want Shorter Hours. A gang of timber carriers, employed by Messrs. Batchelor and Co. in the discharge of the steamship Rishangiys, struck work at Newport on Thursday, and state that they will not resume the discharge of the ship unless they get a production of hours and time for beer allowance.
27 December 1894
LABOURERS’ STRIKE AT NEWPORT. DISPUTE AS TO HOURS OF WORK. A strike by labourers at Messrs. R. Burton and Son’s wharf at Newport the largest general shipping establishment on the side of the River Usk. The bother commenced on Saturday, when a. dispute arose with reference to the leading of a coasting vessel with tin-plates for trans-shipment into one of the Atlantic liners The rule amongst members of the Labourers’ Union is not to start a fresh job after four o’clock on Saturdays The vessel I was being discharged all through the forenoon and early afternoon on Saturday, but when the loading came to be commenced the men objected because they contended it was starring a job after four p.m. The trouble, unfortunately, did not end there, for on Monday the official of the Union went to the wharf and called all the men out. It is hoped that the dispute will soon be settled, and work resumed as early as possible after the Christmas holidays.
25 September 1896
KEIR HARDIE AT NEWPORT Mr. Keir Hardie appeared at the Liberal Rooms, Newport, on Thursday evening (under the auspices of the Independent Labour parry) to speak on the labour problem. He said that in districts of Wales which he had visited that week he found that allegiance to a Trades Union meant dismissal from employment, and to be a member of the Independent Labour party, and to be known as such, meant a man would have to go away from the district. There was just the same lack of freedom in Parliament and the pulpit. He knew of cases of clergymen who had lost their livings for preaching Socialism, and he knew of no men more to be pitied than the ministers of the Nonconformist chapels who were dependent upon a few rich men in their congregation for their salary. He examined the claims nut forward on behalf of temperance, thrift, charity, and politics to solve the labour problem, and he dismissed them all. His solution of the problem was Socialism, but not the caricature of Socialism which was put forward by people to gull those who would be most in need of it.
7 January 1899
NEWPORT. There can be little doubt that Newport suf- fered more in 1898 from the results of labour struggles than any town in South Wales. The stoppage in the coal trade was the chief, but not the only, factor in the unfortunate business pause of the year.’ There commenced contem- porary with the coal strike a lock-out of car- penters. which ultimately led to the suspen- sion of work throughout almost the entire building trade on a question of overtime. That unfortunate dispute lasted for several months, and seriously aggravated the distress caused by the want of work at the docks and on the riverside. Happily, the building trade has got over the results of that stoppage, but trade generally can scarcely be said to be quite normal as yet, owing to the after effects of the coal strike. Money has been scarcer than formerly, and the docks certainly have not been so busy. The estimated loss that the Alexandra Docks and Railway Company sus- tained is £ 60,000. But that is only a fraction of the entire loss to the town. Happily, there I are signs cf better times coming. The export of coal foreign for November was 42.391 tons in excess of the quantity sent away in Novem ber, 1897, and there was a substantial increase in the importation of pitwood and the export of iron. Freights have risen, sailors’ wages have advanced. and forward chartering has been brisk. The year marks the advent to Newport of Messrs. Lysaght’s new ironworks and of the operations upon the new Tredegar Graving Dock.
2 July 1900
PLASTERERS’ STRIKE AT NEWPORT. I A Settlement. The strike of the operative plasterers at New- port was adjusted on Saturday evening at a con- ference of masters and men. The strike has lasted for 15 or 16 months, and was commenced by the masters locking out the Newport men in obedience to orders from Loudon, where a dis- pute was then pending. The masters have been willing to settle on their terms for some time, but the men claimal a settlement according to heir interpretation of the national settlement, Hence the delay in arriving at an adjustment at Newport. It is understood that in the settle- ment arrived at on Saturday both parties have made concessions.
18 October 1902
NEWPORT PIPE-FOUNDERS’ STRIKE. The Newport iron pipe makers’ strike formed the subject of some allusions at the town council meeting on Tuesday. Alderman Goldsworthy stating that the strike pre- vented the waterworks committee proceeding further with the laying of the pipe line to the new reservoir at Went wood. Unless the corporation soon got more pipes they would be obliged to exercise their option clause and obtain the pipes from outside the town. The council decided to ask the mayor and Alder- man Goldsworthy to endeavour to intervene and bring the masters and men together before the option clause was resorted to.
1 February 1908
NEWPORT STRIKE COLLAPSE Over 100 ironmoulders who have been on strike for nearly three months will resume work at Messrs. Spittle’s foundry, Newport, on Monday.
11 December 1908
NEWPORT DOCK STRIKE. About Z5 boilermakers employed on variout3 Jobs at the Alexandra Docks, Newport, having to.ken umbrage at the employment of a man against whom there was (rightly or wrongly) ill-feeling, left their work. The vacancies were filled by other men (from a very large number of applicants) being prut on. Work is now going on without present interruption, but the original hands appear to be aggrieved, and are seeking reinstate- ment. I
24 March 1917
TRAMWAY STRIKE AT NEWPORT. TRIO OF GRIEVANCES IN QUESTION. The Newport (Mon.) tramways employees (male and female) unanimously decided to down tools after conveying munitions and other workmen to work on Thursday morn- ing. The grievances include the employment of female drivers in preference to discharged soldiers employed by the department. Female conductors and other workers are also de- manding improved conditions as to wages and hours. Strong resentment has been expressed by the employees against alleged insinuations of officials that there is a pro-German element among them.
27 September 1918
STRlKE & RAILWAY STRIKE. WELSH BORDER AFFECTED; I In spite of the fact that the Executive of] the N. U. R. had Come to an agreement with; the Government last week for an advance of 5s. for men and women- over 18 and 2s. 6d, for those under that age, the railwaymen in the Newport (Mon.) area came out on strike on Monday. Many works doing urgent war work had to be closed down. Mr. J. H. Thomas, M.P., secretary of the I N.U.B., and Mr. Bromley, general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, left London on Monday afternoon for Newport. Mr. Thomas, interviewed, said:—”I deeply deplore the decision of certain sections in South Wales in refusing to accept the settlement. I am doing all I can to persuade them to return toj work. I cannot believe that they realise fully I the advantages of “the settlement, which pro vides for a scheme whereby in future in- creases in the cost of living will be auto- matically dealt with.” There were some turbulent scenes, in which wounded soldiers took part. Ten wounded j soldiers made a sudden and furious charge with crutches at the Newport, I.L.P. centre, the heaquarters of the railway strike committee, and cleared the meeting room. A few persons were injured, and furniture was smashed
STEEL STRIKE January 1980
In 1980, unions in the steel industry called a national strike in support of a bid for a 20% pay increase. The management led by Ian MacGregor had offered a 5% increase. The unions were also concerned about the British Steel Corporation plans to close some plants with the loss of thousands of jobs. The steel strike lasted nearly 14 weeks, January 2 – April 2 1980. After beginning in the nationalised sector, the stoppage gradually spread to the privatised steel works. The plants reopened after the Lever inquiry recommended a package worth 16% in return for an agreement on working practices and productivity deals.
In February 1980 – miners voted against supporting the steel strike and did not at any stage support striking workers.
Newport was severely affected by the strike. The long dispute hit household incomes for thousands of people and many businesses in the town and area. Families were supported with food parcels. Strikers rallied through the town supported by the local MP.
Later that summer, 17,000 of the 24,000 South Wales steel workers were put on short time and in September, the Consett works in County Durham was shut down with the loss of 3,400 jobs. By the end of 1980, BSC had completed the closure of a number of outdated and loss making plants and reduced its workforce to 130,000 – compared with a total of 268,500 employees at the time of nationalisation. The so-called slimline process resulted in the reduction of workers at the Orb, Whiteheads and Llanwern works.