Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Olympic strikes

Was there Olympic hysteria in 1912? No no!  I'm not talking about the Olympic games!  I'm talking about RMS Olympic, the older sister of the Titanic.

Just imagine the situation 100 years ago.  The whole world was still reeling in shock after the loss of the 'unsinkable' Titanic, and White Star Line had made no secret of the fact that Titanic was the second of its Olympic Class liners.  There is no way that anyone boarding Olympic would have done so without a measure of concern for their own safety.

Olympic and Titanic - sister ships

White Star Line was obviously aware of this too.  When Olympic arrived back in England they hurriedly arranged for an additional 40 lifeboats to be provided in case of another disaster.  Good for them!  Except this did not actually satisfy everyone.

Strike reported in New York Times, 25th April 1912

The reason for the dis-satisfaction was that these additional lifeboats were not brand-new seaworthy craft like those that were already in place.  In reality it would not have been possible to procure so many, let alone immediately to fit the ship out to launch them swiftly.  In fact these new lifeboats were hurriedly purchased, second-hand, collapsible, and in some cases rotten and nonfunctional.  The men who worked in the engine rooms of the ship were not convinced that they added sufficiently to their safety and the sent a delegation to the owners.

On 25 April a deputation of strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. Only one was unseaworthy and they said that they were prepared to recommend the men to return to work if it was replaced.  However, 54 of them were arrested when they left the ship, and charged with mutiny!  The court found them guilty but imposed no punishment and most of them returned to work in time for the ship to sail on 15th May.

Less than 5 months later, the ship was withdrawn from service for a refit, which included fitting 64 'proper' lifeboats and improving the double hull.  When she re-entered service with a gross tonnage of 46,359 tons, she was again the largest ocean liner in the world - at least for a few months!

At least in 1912, Olympic hysteria achieved something useful!  It won't be the same in 2012.

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