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Tillett, Ben

Tillett, Ben (1860–1943). Trade unionist. A Bristol man, Tillett spent his early years in the navy and merchant marine. Coming to the London docks he was shocked at the misery and poverty of casual labour and organized a docker's union. The great dockers' strike of 1889, for a basic wage of 6 pence an hour, was a sensation, and succeeded, partly through the mediation of Cardinal Manning. Admitting that he hated strikes, as he had seen too much of the suffering they caused, Tillett campaigned for compulsory arbitration. He continued to build up dockers' and transport organizations, which came together in 1922 to form the Transport and General Workers' Union. Tillett threw himself into the war effort in 1914 and made recruiting speeches, to the disgust of many of his Labour colleagues. He served in Parliament for North Salford 1917–24 and 1929–31, and was chairman of the TUC 1928/9. A fine open-air speaker, Tillet was no theoretician and shocked some of his audience at the foundation meeting of the Independent Labour Party in Bradford in 1893 with a fierce attack on doctrinaire socialists. He outlived his fame, drank too much, and reminisced.

J. A. Cannon

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