I am desired by the Directors of the West India Dock Company to acquaint
you that a most serious impediment to the dispatch of business at the Docks
has arisen from a combination among the coopers, and to request the aid of
his Majesty's Secretary of State.
The journeyman-coopers employed as extra men have struck as it is termed, for an advance of wages. The Directors, under a sense of public duty, feel that they must resist any demand thus made, but that they must at the same time provide for the due execution of the business. They, therefore, relying upon their permanent coopers, have tried the effect of working extra hours, and have engaged to make good such compensation to the officers of the Customs and Excise for their extra attendance, as the Boards may be pleased to direct.
These exertions have proved insufficient to meet the pressure of the moment, and the discharge of a great number of vessels being impeded, the Directors dispatched proper officers to Bristol and Liverpool to engage any cooper who might be out of employ. They, however, find that the extent of the combination is so great, and such a system of intimidation exists, that no men in the metropolis or its environs will venture to return to their work, however well disposed, and that the men who have arrived from the outports have been seduced and broken their engagements.
It has been suggested that a measure which was adopted under similar cir cumstances some time ago at Bristol by the General commanding His Majesty's Forces, would be of material assistance, viz., granting furloughs to such men in the regiments quartered in the neighbourhood as were at all competent to work as coopers.
The Directors of this Company therefore request that you will confer with His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief and suggest the expediency of acceding to their wishes in this respect. The pay allowed to coopers in the Docks, and which would be given to such men, is five shillings per day of eight hours, viz., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those employed at present from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening earn 7s. 6d. a day.
You will not fail to observe that the inconvenience experienced by this Company is comparatively of little moment compared with that which is sustained by the West Indian planters and merchants, shipowners and others, and that the public revenue is suffering materially from the draining of sugars on ship-board and on the quay before passing the King's beam.
letter by Henry Longlands, Secretary of the West India Dock
to the Secretary of State, 1821