Ben Tillett (1860-1943)

From: Rosebery – Statesman in Turmoil (2005), by Leo McKinstry:

…the dockers’ trade union leader Ben Tillett, who served on the LCC in the 1890s, wrote in his memoirs in 1931 that ‘Lord Rosebery was one of our great men, despite being an aristocrat…He entered deeply into the life of the poor. He certainly studied poverty and he came into contact with the worst and most offensive side of slumdom: the fetid atmosphere, the tuberculosis-laden air of wretched hovels into which the poor were crushed as in a lethal chamber…

…Ben Tillett argued that Rosebery ‘brought to the chairmanship of the London County Council an almost regal demeanour. He raised the Council, as he did the Chair, to a position of great authority. His was pioneer work in the great revolutionary effort in municipal life, and it stands as a model today. He really made London government a living thing.’

From: TUC History Online:

“Ben Tillett (1860-1943) took miscellaneous jobs in the Bristol area, including circus work, before becoming a seaman and travelling the world. In 1880, he settled in London, working in tea warehouses along the River Thames, and formed in 1887 the Tea Operatives’ and General Labourers’ Association. When this union took strike action on 14 August 1889, they were joined by the stronger Stevedores’ Unions and given organisational and propagandist support by many of London’s well-known socialists. The strike brought Tillett national recognition – not only did he play a continuous role in negotiations, but also shared responsibility with John Burns and Tom Mann for public speaking and organising pickets. When the strike ended on 16 September the Tea Operatives Union was reorganised to become the Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers’ Union and Tillett remained as General Secretary until 1922 when the union was merged into the Transport and General Workers’ Union. He was an MP 1917-1924 and 1929-31.”


“…Born in Bristol, Tillett was twenty-nine when the strike started. Self-educated, he had a sensitive face and a stammer. Beatrice Webb described him as “a light-haired little man with the face of a religious enthusiast.”

From: Rosebery – Statesman in Turmoil (2005), by Leo McKinstry:

Beatrice Webb, herself a woman of raging internal conflict between Puritanism and passion, wrote this about Rosebery in March 1900…: ‘He is a strange being, self-conscious and sensitive to a more extreme degree than any mortal I have ever come across…’ “.

From the website of Spartacus Educational:

“…In 1889 Tillet’s union members became involved in the London Dock Strike. The dockers demanded four hours continuous work at a time and a minimum rate of sixpence an hour. Tillet soon emerged with Tom Mann and John Burns as one of the three main leaders of the strike. During the strike Tillett lost his speech impediment and was acknowledged as one of the labour movement’s greatest orators…”

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