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Topical Budget 619-2: And Now Your Food Will Cost You More! (1923)


Main image of Topical Budget 619-2: And Now Your Food Will Cost You More! (1923)
35mm, black and white, 46 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company
Camera OperatorFrank Danvers Yates

Food ships are held in dock due to London dockers' strike.

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Topical Budget rarely made any pretence towards neutral reporting, and this item about the 1923 dockers' strike is one of the best examples of the flagrant bias that sometimes emerged when it felt its audience's interests were being threatened.

In July 1923, over 50,000 dockers went on strike around the country, bringing the docks at Bristol, Cardiff, Grimsby, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Southampton, Swansea and London to a close. The strike was a protest over the outcome of an agreement signed in September 1822 that would permit the dockers' salaries to be lowered if it could be shown that the cost of living had also fallen.

After the Ministry of Labour claimed that a ten-point fall in the cost of living index had been registered between September 1822 and July 1823, dockers' wages were duly reduced by one shilling a day. Although the dockers' union, the Transport and General Workers' Union, agreed that the pay cut came within the terms of the agreement, the dockers refused to accept it.

Will Thorne, the Labour MP for Plaistow in East London, home of many striking dockers, took up their cause in the House of Commons, asking the Minister of Labour, Sir Clement Montague-Barlow, how the figures had been compiled. Sir Clement admitted that the figures were an average for the whole country, and might not necessarily reflect conditions in individual districts. The strike eventually lasted eight weeks, after which the dockers were forced back to work.

None of this is apparent from Topical's coverage. According to the intertitles, it was an "unauthorised, pocket-money strike" (in fact, the pay cut was at least 12%), whose real victims would be the people who would have to pay more for food after prices rose as a side-effect of the strike. There are two further intertitles, one with a quotation from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1797), "As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean", and the second reading "On the beach at Dockville" - the apparent intention being to stir up hatred of the "idle" dockers relaxing while others suffered. Although frequently biased, Topical Budget was rarely this inflammatory, which suggests that the food shortages had struck a raw nerve with its editors.

Michael Brooke

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