The performance of protest
The 1889 dock strike on and off the stage
in Politics, performance and popular culture
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The late 1880s is characterised as the era of ‘New Unionism’ as workers from various trades and industries banded together to demand higher wages and better working conditions against a background of growing socialist feeling. The East End of London was the setting for many of the most notable disputes, such as those occurring in 1888 at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, in March 1889 at the Beckton gasworks, and later the same year at the docks. This chapter surveys the range of responses to the dispute from theatrical establishments in the East End, and the performativity of the strike itself, especially the daily processions each day during the strike. The lines of marching men physically and symbolically penetrated the nation’s financial centre. At a time of growing concern about the lawlessness of the underclass in the East End and fears of contagion from its hordes, the presence of the disciplined ranks of marchers performed a counter-narrative of dignified but oppressed labour.

Politics, performance and popular culture

Theatre and society in nineteenth-century Britain


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