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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Labor & Workers
"Binding Right with Might: The Great UK Bookbinding Strike of 1786" Talk by Dominic Riley
Master bookbinder Dominic Riley talks about the 1786 strike of UK bookbinders for a shorter workweek and also the role of anti-labor laws like the "combination law"
"Binding Right with Might: The Great Bookbinding Strike of 1786" was the topic of a talk by Dominic Riley.
Bookbinders were the first artisans in Britain to strike against their Masters, and the first to be sent to prison for their ‘crime’ —demanding a reduction of their working day from 15 to 14 hours. They were also the first to establish a Trade Union, and led the way for the ‘forty hour’ movement. So how is their story not better known?
Dominic has been researching their story for many years and has recently published a full-length article about his ancestors’ heroic struggle. It is a story about the ancient art of bookbinding, of course, but also of the turbulent 1780s in Europe, when working people of all kinds dared to challenge the oppressive conditions they labored under.
The martyrs were: Thomas Armstrong, William Craig, Patrick Lilburn, Thomas Ashman, Thomas Fairburn and William Wood. They were all finishers.
On May 8, 1787 they were sentenced to two years' imprisonment at Newgate Gaol. Their crime was 'combination', for demanding a reduction fo their working cay from 15 hours to 14, or the working week from 90 hours to 84. Just over a one year later they were released, on June 28, 1788.
The bravery and tenacity of the martyrs ignited the will of working people everywhere. In 1936, the 43&1/2 hour week was won, a hundred and sixty years after a few brave bookbinders, with limited resources and the full force of the law against them, dared to stand up and demand the smallest improvement in their working lives.
This talk by Dominic Riley took place on 6-16-17 in San Francisco at the Center For The Books.
Production of Labor Video Project
The UK bookbinder were the first national union to organize a strike in 1786 and faced the anti-labor "combination law" which prevented union organizing.
Six bookbinders were jailed under the law and become known as Martyrs. These workers were Thomas Armstrong, William Craig, Patrick Lilburn, Thomas Ashman, Thomas Fairburn and William Wood.