True Story No27

 

I'll come in as long as I don't miss Coronation Street

When there was plenty of employment and skilled people were in short supply, the Unions used to have a lot of power.

In the large industrialised cities the Unions had the most power and if they played their cards right could get virtually anything from employers.

In the early 60s the Unions had a lot of money and the members often used to get paid when they went on strike.

I remember one particular day though, when strikes had been quite common and the chap opposite me, who had just been on strike for something or other, was sitting at his desk minding his own business, when the Union rep arrived with a clipboard.

Tony put out his hand for his strike pay and Ted, the Union rep said, in an embarrassed, but obviously well practised, voice that he was sorry but the rules had changed and HE wanted some money.

There were noises of discontent and when Ted had wandered off to see his next victim, Tony turned to anyone in the vicinity that might have been listening, "I'm packing the Union in!".

"What! now ?", I said.

"Well Ted says he'll bring me a form to fill in and I'll be allowed to resign at the next meeting", said Tony.

"I hope they don't go on strike again until I leave; I can't afford it".

A lot of engineers resigned but the Drawing Office were a bit more dedicated and their leader had probably lost all the resignation forms anyway.

For some reason we were always busiest at Christmas or a bank holiday and people in the packing department could command a huge wage increase for turning in on their days off.

Double time and triple time were commonplace but of course things changed and with lots of unemployment the unions never regained their power of old and it was not uncommon for people to work overtime for nothing to curry favour with their boss in the event of a "downsize".

Occasionally employers made a stand and challenged the Union but in our factory the draughtsmen's union, being quite militant, and better organised, generally got their way.

Their local leader had even been on TV where he'd even owned up to being a COMMUNIST!

On one particular occasion; I can't remember what the trouble was, but the draughtsmen were on strike.

In our business they did two main jobs.

They designed printed circuit boards and they designed mechanical bits and pieces.

Of course everything we did used printed circuit boards and mechanical assemblies so the DO was pretty well indispensable.

They were always late finishing their jobs and always making changes because the engineers had made mistakes (these were called "DO errors").

They managed to pan out their work so all of them were always very busy and if anything went wrong everyone always blamed the DO (who got very upset).

Anyway, one day they went on strike and barricaded themselves in their office.

I can't remember exactly why they did this rather than going home and doing a spot of gardening.

Usually when they went on strike the keenest gathered at the front door of the factory round a brazier (that's a sort of round barbecue with holes in the side, filled with burning coke for keeping warm).

When you arrived at work there was a lot of shouting and jostling, but as it was a small factory you knew everyone and it wasn't very serious so you usually stopped to pass the time of day and warm your hands before going into the building.

Anyway, this time they dispensed with the brazier and stayed in and barricaded the doors at the ends of the top floor where their office was.

All the managers were called into Personnel and told that the position was serious and could anyone think of anything to do?

Some people said; "Break down the doors and chuck them out".

The boss said that was probably illegal so he couldn't agree to it.

It was eventually agreed that the best thing was to have people stand by the stairs and if anyone popped out they wouldn't be allowed back in, and of course, he said, " they can't stay in too long because they'll want their dinner before too long".

Just then there was a sort of scraping sound from outside and we went to the window to look out.

There was a big basket of fish and chips being hauled up to the fourth floor on a rope so we could forget about a blockade!

We were all given special jobs.

A shift system was worked out so there'd always be several managers in the building around the clock.

Senior blokes, and those who were willing, were on duty in the small hours while the rest of us did evenings.

One of our tasks was to find out just exactly who was up there behind the barricades.

By peering through the cracks in the doors and ringing them up we were able to make a list of who was there.

When we next had a meeting we looked at the lists made up by the different managers and found that ALL the draughtsmen were up there.

"That's impossible", was a retort, "I saw Fred at lunch time in town shopping".

"I definitely saw him upstairs", proclaimed Peter.

We looked at the list and compared notes.

Something was odd.

Most of the people upstairs were also outside as well.

Perhaps they've got a ladder.

No it's the fourth floor and that's too high for a ladder.

Nobody could figure out how it was done so we were told to go around and check all the windows.

Being a "List X" site everything was pretty secure though and we didn't find any windows that would open more than an inch or so, within reach, so they couldn't have climbed in during the night.

It was an imponderable question and we gave up.

One night the late shift was watching TV in the Personnel Manager's office (I think one of the stipulations made by some of the senior managers was that they must have a TV so they didn't miss their favourite programs but nobody had thought to raise the fact that they couldn't be guarding the doors on the fourth floor AND be watching TV on the ground floor at the same time!).

Anyway on that night the DO, who must have been getting a bit more militant, decided to take over the third floor as well by barricading the doors to either end of the next floor down.

That was serious because when the engineers turned up for work the next day they found they couldn't get to their offices.

Not only that, but the third floor was where the senior managers had their offices as well.

That was the last straw and after a couple of days all the DO demands were met.

When things were back to normal we asked one of the draughtsmen how they managed to swap their numbers on the fourth floor.

Was it a rope ladder?

Did they climb through a window, unscrewed from its hinges, by a secret supporter?

No was the reply, "In the morning at 8:30 three chaps just came in with the rest of the workers, went upstairs and when no-one was looking just went into the drawing office.

At lunchtime three chaps came out and just mingled with the crowd going out.

The incoming shift brought with them all the food and requisites they needed, changes of clothes, camp beds and everything".

"Weren't you bored out of your minds", "Not really, we had a TV".

"How did you get a TV upstairs"?

"Oh that was Fred; he drove his car into the garage below the factory and came up in the lift and nobody noticed".

The next year one of the draughtsmen went to a Buckingham palace Garden Party and met the Queen.

He couldn't figure out why he'd been invited.

After the event, it turned out he had the same name as someone "more deserving" and through some quirk of fate the letter and invitation had inadvertently been wrongly addressed and dropped through his letter box.

He quite enjoyed his day out!

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