‘In the jungle one has to defend oneself as best one can.’ This is the experience of a militant in the printing industry where, after a succession of take-overs, the monopoly confronts the worker with its ‘rational’ demands for modernizution and closures. From the shop floor the irrationality is obvious: the monopoly’s use of scientific advance does not benefit society, does not advance man. Instead, desperate situations of insecurity, under-employment and redundancy are created. rd, aged 51, has been a militant since he joined the Communist Party in his youth. A Spanish Civil War veteran, a former Imperial Father of the Chapel (convenor) and a committeeman of the London Central Branch of the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades among his other union activities, he here describes 18 years experience of the printing trade.
I am a warehouseman in a factory owned by Britain’s largest printing company. I and 150 other warehouse workers put in a normal week, and yet many of us are lucky if we work more than two days a week. When there is no work, the warehouse manager comes round to assert discipline: he makes us stand up. In principle he would like to see us standing up eight hours a day, because he fears a visit from the head management which might display his lack of control. As soon as he has gone we sit down, of course. This is a ridiculous situation—and a desperate one, for we fear further redundancy. How has this come about?
Since the end of the war the last vestiges of paternal capitalism have been eaten away in the printing trade by fierce competition and the development of monopoly. The Amalgamated Press, built up by Lord Northcliffe, was an early victim in the process. Though a formidable concern in itself, it was swallowed up by the Mirror group which in turn took over its biggest rival, Odhams Press, to form the International Printing Corporation empire. As a consequence of these take-overs, the ipc now controls 12 uk newspapers, 11 overseas papers, 75 consumer periodicals, 132 trade, technical and specialized journals, 20 large printeries, extensive book publishing companies, huge investments in newsprint, television, relay wireless, books and newsagent’s shops.
The feeling of the workers in my factory when the Amalgamated Press was taken over were mixed. What did the take-over mean? Greater security or a threat to their livelihoods in what had always been considered a sheltered industry? For the unthinking, there was some justification in believing that this new and formidable concentration of capital offered certain security for all time. But the latent fears of many, including my own, were soon to be justified by closures, rationalizations, streamlining and automation. Many magazines were merged; very soon about 20, including Women’s Illustrated which despite a circulation of 850,000 was said to be unviable, disappeared.
Today one can understand the attitude of the long-service worker who looks back nostalgically to the days before he became part of the ipc. Lord Northcliffe was considered a good and generous employer under whom he felt secure. There was a sense of a personal relationship, a sense later strengthened by the attacks on Northcliffe as eccentric by other press lords.
Now there is little interest in the job other than getting your money on Friday and getting out of the building as fast as you can to your family and the questionable cult of television and the ‘leisure’ it provides. There is a general feeling of frustration, a feeling that life has little purpose in such insecure conditions where everyone is threatened with the loss of his job. Most of the old crafts have disappeared, taking away the opportunity once open to workers of acquiring skills or developing creative talent. The young man entering the industry as an unskilled worker will probably remain so for the rest of his life.
During my ‘work’ hours in the factory—now that I have given up the office of Father of the Chapel—I plan the household and other jobs I have to do which I look forward to as a relief from the monotony and demoralization resulting from work in which I have no particular interest. My job is unskilled; some of the day, when there’s work, I’m on packing—bundling magazines, counting them, tying them up for dispatch. Mainly Woman’s Weekly and a few specialized trade journals. At other times I’m on a trimming or a combination machine, with half a dozen other men ‘knocking up’ work for the guillotine, which is very monotonous but without which a magazine wouldn’t be presentable to the public. Recently I’ve had a spell on a machine which glues covers, trims and divides books. I stand at the end scooping up the books—the Sexton Blake Libraries—as they come out and hand them to a man to parcel in 20’s. The work is so monotonous that I begin to calculate in my head how much money is coming out of the machine at is. a book, and discover that I am handling £5 worth every 30 seconds . . . But I have always known that being tied to a machine would prevent me from being active in union affairs, and so I’ve passed over several turns of promotion since I went to work for the Amalgamated Press 18 years ago.