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Sunday, September 27th, 2020
Home » The Human Element » Maritime Image of the Day: “The Lump – Dockers Waiting for Work”

Maritime Image of the Day: “The Lump – Dockers Waiting for Work”

'The Lump', Dockers waiting for work by Colin Jones (1963)

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – Historically, dock work in England, as elsewhere, was back-breaking, poorly paid work with little or no job security. This lack of job security is captured in today’s “Maritime Image of the Day” by Colin Jones, a highly respected British photographer.

What made things so precarious for the dockers back in the day was the casual labor system that they worked under.

Under the casual labor system, foremen would hire the number of men they needed to load or unload a ship, pay them off when the work was done and that was the end of it. Once done with the job, the docker was unemployed and the process would start again the next day.

Black and white photo of man smoking cigarette amongst other dock workers waiting for work.

Finding work as a docker was essentially like begging. At hiring time at certain wharves, the foreman would come and stand at the iron gates of the wharf entrance where there would usually be a crowd of from two hundred to three hundred men. Probably seventy or eighty would be required, and those at the back of the crowd would climb on the heads of their fellows and roll over and over their heads to reach the foreman to get from his hand the metal ticket admitting them to work.

Getting work under these types of labor conditions was described by one author as a “gladiatorial struggle for existence”. The elderly would be knocked back and come out of it utterly exhausted, with no chance at all of work.

Men used to beg for work. My Dad used to stand and beg at what is called the Stones down by the Connaught Bridge where the pub is now. The foreman would stand on a box and he would throw disks. And the men would fight to pick up a disk. They might get a job for an afternoon, a day. Very rarely they got a week’s work. So that’s how difficult it was.

Patricia Holland talks about how dockers would gather on the Connaught Bridge to beg for work

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