The more things change the more they stay the same, is the way a Lancashire factory worker describes the incentive schemes tried out in the sheet metal works where he has been employed for 24 years. The factory produces domestic washing coppers, gas drying cabinets and chemical toilets. The number of workers has declined from 600 in the post-war boom to about 100 today. e.s. is 49, a storeman, and a former treasurer of his local cnd group.
A lot of the time, when there’s been trouble, it’s about the money. On the occasions when a complaint or stoppage of work has been long enough and insistent enough to push the shop steward, the foreman or the rate-fixer into the manager’s office, somebody or other hasn’t been getting what he considered the rate for the job.
It isn’t by any means the only grievance or the only criticism that workers make of the management. We’ve had stoppages of work because of the cold or the damp, but usually it’s the money perhaps because on these matters one can get the minimal support of the shop stewards and the potential support of the union. This is what the union is supposed to be for, by tradition.
For instance, the decision to provide snack meals only instead of cooked dinners, at the canteen, hit many of us below the belt, as it were, but between rumour and fait accompli the drift of talk around the dinner tables had not hardened into any decision to see the manager. Of course we knew, by long experience, what the result would have been. We would have been given ‘an explanation’. Under pressure, the manager would often concede that we were entitled to an explanation. A committee of workers could have run the canteen just as a committee runs the Social Club; but such schemes require a stronger leadership, some altruism and a fluent tongue, qualities in short supply here. We can scarcely be called a militant workshop.
Before the war, there was no ‘trouble’ about pay; we received the trade union rate; work was seasonal with always the possibility of being laid off in the winter; and with plenty of men on the dole to take their place, few cared to risk being marked as a ‘trouble-maker’.
After the war, in a period of full employment and full order books, many local firms set up bonus schemes in order to keep and attract workers. Ours didn’t. But gradually the stories of bonuses of 30s. or more being earned elsewhere wore down the passivity of the work-staff. Workmen—some of the best the firm had—began to leave. Others