On July 31st 1911 the unmistakable curved frontage of Penarth’s Royal Hotel (now Royal Apartments) provides the backdrop for the incendiary leader of the National Sailors and Firemen’s Union, “Captain” Edward Tupper ‘VC’, as he rallies his members during a hard-fought seamen’s pay-strike which had brought Penarth Docks to a virtual standstill.
During the summer of 1911 “Captain” Tupper – (who, it turns out, wasn’t a real captain and didn’t hold the Victoria Cross) rallied the members of his union – relying on his powerful oratory and a voice unaided by any microphones or loudspeakers.
In order to break the strike, shipowners decided to hire foreign labour. In Cardiff and Penarth a large number of Chinese seamen were engaged – at higher pay rates than those of the strikers.
There was particular anger directed at Chinese seamen being employed on the steamship, “Foreric” which was rushed by a gang of strikers, stopping all work on the vessel and enforcing a crew boycott until the unfortunate oriental crewmen were unceremoniously forced to disembark.
However reports reached the strikers that two of the Chinese seamen had been later spotted leaving Penarth Pier on board a tug which had taken them to the Shipping Federation vessel “Lady Jocelyn”.
The angry crowd then mobbed the offices of the tug company which was forced to promise not to deal with any non-union labour. The strikers also attacked the homes and businesses of the Cardiff Chinese community.
Eventually the strikers did win some sort of pay rise for themselves . Tupper said the following month that thanks to him the men now had a wage of £5 a month, and if the freights (rates for cargo) went up, he promised that “The Skipper” (as he referred to himself) would be on the spot again to see that the men get “their Jimmy O’Goblins” (1911 slang for “money“) and would be paid five pounds ten shillings.
Tupper said the example set by the Bristol Channel men was “the greatest example of solidarity the world had ever seen” Capitalists and monopolists could never withstand the workers when they were united – he said.
He also admitted to the crowd “You know, I’ve been in a bit of a trouble lately. I am under £800 bail, but £800 or £8,000 will not cripple my tongue when I see a man not having fair play”