The First Dispute
The Eight Hour Day
A "petition" was presented to the gas company with the demand for the 8 hour day, six day week and by the 20th May 1889, the company agreed to set up a new third shift, thus creating a third more jobs. This was the first time in history of industrial workers across the world that such an agreement had been struck. Within six months 20,000 workers had joined the new union.
As word spread, gas workers from other companies joined and took up the fight. It also inspired other unions to demand better pay and conditions.
By 1911 gas workers' union membership had increased to 77,000.
One of the most important strikes following on from the success of the gas workers, was the London dock strike.
It was led by Ben Tillett, a great friend of Will Thorne's. Most dock workers at that time were casual labour, employed for as little as an hour at a time, and at the whim of the foreman. Some foremen even expected bribes to allow men to work.
In 1889 the dockers went on strike with a demand for an end to this system of casual work, a minimum of four hours continuous work, a minimum wage of 6d an hour (the "dockers tanner").
After four weeks of hardship, as the company tried to starve them back to work, and with the support of other unions, both international and national, the strike was successful. The employers admitted defeat and granted all the dockers' main demands.
Following from the success of the eight-hour day dispute and the massive growth in the union membership, Will Thorne was now seen as the"dangerous man" and attempts were made to weaken the gas workers' union.
For example some companies tried to intimidate workers by sacking union members (Leeds gas company). This led to a dispute and the management forced to reinstate the workers.