In 1773 the first organised strike occurred in this district, when the seamen of Greenock and Port Glasgow demanded an increase of pay. The attempt failed. They had more sagacity than modern trade unions. as they took the opportunity to demand an increase on a rising market. The reverse is the modern method, but how they can succeed on a falling market is difficult to see. The fact that there were at this time 200 seamen in Port Glasgow who joined in with the Greenock contingent is indicative of the amount of shipping which was lying in the harbours.
On 29th March, 1773, Glasgow Town Council decided to admit Humphrey Cunningham, ship mate at Port Glasgow, a burgess and guild brother of the city, in respect of his spirited behaviour in quelling the late mobs in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and to remit the fine and hold same as paid.'
The following account of the incident appeared in the Scots Magazine for June, 1773: " On Thursday, March 4, a great number of sailors assembled at Greenock, and in a riotous and disorderly manner peremptorily insisted for an increase of their wages, which the merchants declined complying with, as they have already from four to five shillings per month more than what is given in any other port in Britain. The magistrates and several of the inhabitants were at the greatest pains to convince them of the impropriety of their conduct, and the bad consequences that might result from their persisting in it ; notwithstanding which, they next day were more outrageous, and having obliged the rest of the sailors to join them they went on board all the outward bound vessels, struck their topmasts, locked up the public sail-lofts, hindered the loading and unloading of any vessels, and put an entire stop to all manner of business at the port, parading the
town in a hostile manner, and threatening and punishing such sailors as refused to join them.
In order to assist the civil power in putting a stop to such illegal proceedings, two companies of the 15th Regiment marched from Glasgow for Greenock on Sunday morning, March 7th and the same evening some of the inhabitants four of the ring leaders and delivered them over to custody of the military, who were immediately surrounded by a vast number of the sailors and most incessantly pelted with stones, bricks, etc. The magistrates again used their utmost efforts to prevail upon the mob to desist and disperse, but without effect, for they still continued throwing stones, bottles, etc both at the magistrates and military,
who were at last obliged, in their own defence, to fire, wherby two women were unluckily killed and a man and a -woman wounded.
The mob then gave way, but assembled in greater numbers about nine o'clock, threatening to burn the houses of the magistrates and the ships in the harbour if the. prisoners were not immediately delivered up to them, which was complied with. They were joined the next by about two hundred sailors from Port Glasgow ; after which they were still more daring, added new articles to their proposals, and refused to accept of their former demand.
On this more military were applied for, and two troops of dragoons had arrived to assist in quelling the mob but their assistance was unnecessary, for, by the activity of the grenadiers and light infantry of the 15th Regiment, on Thursday, March 12th more than forty of the rioters were secured. Upon examination they were dismissed, excepting twenty-four, supposed to be the chief actors in the mob, and on Friday, the magistrates of Greenock, attended by the principal inhabitants, without any of the military, went out to such of the sailors as kept in a body when the latter, observing that their behaviour was disagreeable to the townsmen, forthwith dispersed, and most of them returned to the respective ships they belonged to."
The first organised strike in Port Glasgow which took place in 1773.
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This page last modified on Saturday, April 03, 2010