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Review: Trico: A Victory to Remember. The 1976 Equal Pay Strike at Trico Folberth, Brentford. by Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt.


9781912064878_200x_trico-a-victory-to-rememberThe current dispute of women council workers in Glasgow over equal pay reminds us of the long road travelled since the famous Match Girls’ Strike in East London in 1888. Just as famous is that of the women Ford upholstery workers of Dagenham whose successful dispute of 1968 got made into a movie years later.

Less well-known but no less hard-fought was the strike of women workers at Trico Folberth (will refer as ‘Trico’ from here) of Brentford in 1976. It lasted 21 gruelling weeks.

This book tells that story.

Trico was – and is – an American manufacturer of car accessories, primarily windscreen wiper blades and the associated water pumps and motors. Their UK-based factory which supported car manufacturing for both domestic and international production was based on the Great West Road at the eastern end of Brentford’s ‘Golden Mile’. Today the enormous GSK complex dominates its former site.

The enabling legislation which led to this dispute was Barbara Castle’s Equal Pay Act, 1970 which came into effect at the end of 1975. Put simply, it legislated that men and women should receive identical pay for the same work. While many companies complied with the legislation, many did not. The Act, as Sally Groves points out, was riddled with loopholes which company lawyers throughout the country skipped through with consummate ease. Trico fell into the category of company which thought all of this could be ignored by dint of its male and female staff working almost completely apart.

Trico was a 24 hour manufacturing operation where men worked night shifts and women through the day. Never the twain would meet until in 1976 the night shift was cancelled, some men laid off with the survivors joining the women on the day shift. With this the pay discrepancy between the sexes soon became apparent, something that took the women workers completely by surprise. The consequences soon took the management by surprise too.

Negotiations between union representatives and management took place but led nowhere. On the afternoon of 24 May, at a union mass meeting in a nearby park, approximately 400 women production workers voted for all-out strike. They picked up their belongings from the factory and went home. Virtually none had ever struck before and most of them expected to be back at work in a matter of days.

P-009 John Bracher addressing strikers in Boston Manor Park Eric Fudge standing middle background with bucket. Morning Star, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute_500

Strike meeting in Boston Manor Park. Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

This is where the real story begins. It should be noted that about a  hundred men also came out in support. The remainder – including some husbands and boyfriends – stayed on, keeping the factory ticking over. It was to be the single women in particular who felt the most hardship in the following months.

From here we find out how these green strikers grew in determination and experience. Author Sally Groves, who became the workers’ press officer, admits they were virtually clueless at the beginning. But support for them grew in the trade union movement, among local Brentfordians and others, and their cause soon spread from the local press to national media.

P-012 Sally Groves' banner on Trico railings. Morning Star, courtesy Bishopsgate Institute_500

Sally Groves’s homemade banner on the railings at Trico, Morning Star. Courtesy Bishopsgate Institute.

P-030 Trico strikers lobbying TUC Brighton, Source unknown_500

Trico strikers lobbying TUC Brighton. Source unknown.

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On the march.

At the centre of this story, though, is friendship and solidarity. Previously black and white and brown workers didn’t really hang out together: now they did – lifelong friendships were forged. There are dozens of vignettes, heartwarming, sometimes sad but often amusing which, added together, led to final victory on 15 October when the strikers voted to return to work after Trico management agreed to all demands.

Joan Bakewell postcard 1st side without address_500px

Kind permission of Joan Bakewell, DBE.

The reasons this book succeeds so wonderfully are many. First, I believe, is that while both authors were directly involved in the strike, their contributions are some forty years apart. Vernon Merritt’s original manuscript had lain untouched since when he left it in the dispute’s immediate aftermath. By contrast, Sally Groves has completed the job very recently. This has given the whole a very inperceptible yet balanced feel. Second, there are plenty of verbatim accounts of those directly involved which are separated from the main narrative in grey boxes so the work is rich in reportage, reminiscing, anecdote: those who were around in the 1970s will experience a strong tinge of nostalgia, I feel, whatever their politics. Third, dozens of wonderful photographs, cartoons, ephemera. Finally, this book is excellently designed, footnoted and indexed as every good history book should be.

Quite apart from being a wonderful read, I believe this to be an important work in the history of equality and industrial relations in this country. I commend it to you.


Trico – A Victory to Remember (238pp) by Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt was published in June by Lawrence and Wishart in association with Unite trade union. Erroneously listed as paperback by Amazon at time of writing.

A signed copy of the book will be the November book prize in London Historians Members’ Newsletter.

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