Poplar's Rates Rebellion
The 1921 rebellion in Poplar, east London, when thirty Labour councillors went to prison rather than cut services or increase rates.
… and why it matters today
By Janine Booth, published in RMT News.
The two biggest employers in the east London borough of Poplar one hundred years were the railways and the docks. Our forerunner unions had plenty of members there. Their jobs involved long hours and low pay, but they were unionised, so they were fighting for, and winning, improvements.
Today (1 September 2021) is the centenary of the first arrests of Poplar's rebel councillors.
More about this auspicious occasion and its relevance today in my article on Labour Hub.
A century ago, in August 1921, Labour Councillor Jack Wooster told crowds demonstrating in support of Poplar's rebel councillors that "Sympathy without relief [the name back then for welfare benefits] is like mustard without beef".
Sympathy without relief
is like mustard without beef
or lettuce without leaf
One hundred years ago, a big movement grew in the east London borough of Poplar, headed by thirty councillors who went to prison rather than levy extortionate rates or cut services to the working-class population that elected them. ‘Poplarism’ won.
Why did Poplar win? Here are ten key points, which contain lessons for today.
Long before ‘Black Friday’ became the name for the first day of the Christmas shopping season, it was the name that the labour movement gave to the day on which trade union leaders inflicted a defeat on their own movement. It happened exactly one hundred years ago, on 15 April 1921.
Our story is set just after the first world war in Poplar, an east London borough with a population of 160,000 people crammed into the docklands in the bend of the River Thames (Poplar) and the area just north of it (Bow).