Aircraft Convenor: Chryslers
At the end of 1942 Bill went to work in the machine shop in Chryslers
at Kew, West London. Before the war the factory had been an assembly and
service plant for Chrysler lorries; it had been extended and when he went
to work there was part of a group known as London Aircraft Production.
LAP was made up of five or six firms whose factories were turned over
to the production of Halifax bombers. The Chrysler factory now employed
1,500 workers and made the tail of the bomber.
In 1943 Bill was elected convenor of Chrysler and wrote a column for
The New Leader, paper of the Independent Labour Party. This was
called ‘Convenors Diary’ and charted the everyday happenings
in the factory.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 3 April 1943
I was elected convenor last night. Convenor in a factory which employs
about fifteen hundred workers. It has rapidly expanded over the last year.
Before the war trucks and cars were assembled and agitators were not tolerated.
Now the major part of the of factory has been given over to aircraft manufacture
and the Unions have been recognised.
Jock proposed me as convenor. Politically he is sympathetic to the Communist
Party, but he does not understand their line completely. To him, the Communist
Party still denotes Communism and the Russian Revolution.
He says to me: “Every worker cannot help but be a Communist. I’ve
nothing against the I.L.P.— Maxton is M.P. for my constituency.
But I don’t think it’s passed the reform stage yet.”
He gives me advice: “You’ve got to out general the management.
I agree with you that you mustn’t let them use the Stewards to discipline
Jock must go through a good few mental somersaults to reconcile his militancy
with the “Daily Worker” he reads every day!
I have met another C.P. sympathiser. After he learned I was convenor,
he spoke confidentially: “Have you ever thought of joining the communist
I said no. I had fundamental differences with it. I told how a C.P’er
in the tool room had said the Stewards didn’t co-operate enough
with the management. “But he’s not a real Communist,”
he objected. “Some C.P’ers don’t realise where politics
end and Trade Unionism begins.”
The maintenance men have been very, militant. Their wages are much lower
than the wages of the semi-skilled aircraft workers who earn bonus.
For two weeks the maintenance men placed an embargo on weekend overtime,
demanding 6d. an hour increase or a bonus on every plane that went out.
After an appeal and a promise that the District Secretary would it quickly
deal with the matter and call a works’ conference, the men returned
to weekend work. But the case has dragged on.
The situation is difficult. The maintenance men are ahead of the rest
of the factory and, standing alone, they would not achieve victory but
The maintenance Steward and I pay a visit to the District Secretary. The
result is we know the case is being handled. But the machinery of negotiation,
like the mills of God, grinds slowly. However, the maintenance men are
glad to see that something is being done.
The day has its crop of the usual complaints. Rises unpaid. Shortage
of hot water, etc.
I am learning that action counts for a lot.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 10 April 1943
Talking to the deputy convenor of another factory I asked him:
“Your convenor’s full time, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” he replied. “It isn’t very satisfactory;
it seems to separate him from the workers. But it couldn’t be helped.
Things were in such a state here when we first got organised that he had
hardly got his overalls on in the mornings when he was called away. Then
it got he never took his coat off at all. New workers always think he’s
an executive of some sort when they see him walking around with his coat
on. You’ve got to explain to them he’s the convenor. I’d
advise you always, at least, to get your coat off and your overalls on.”
I spent the morning in the main assembly. There is an acute shortage of
tools. The result is, a great deal of discontent when workers are on waiting
time and can’t earn bonus. An attempt is made to put the blame for
the shortage upon workers who borrow tools and hide them away so that
they will not be held up when they need them.
I pointed out that workers did not take these tools for the fun of it,
but because there was a shortage in the first place. The management had
lately engaged a great deal of new labour and they were standing about
because there were no tools for them.
At the Stewards’ meeting we decided that workers who were on a
great deal of waiting time should apply for their release and thus exert
a little pressure on the firm.
The men discussed the new wage award. The toolmakers had thought they
were to be given an increase which would bring their earnings up to those
of the workers on bonus. But the bonus of these workers is calculated
on their basic rate, and an increase in a basic rate means a corresponding
increase in bonus earnings. The old grievance of the skilled men was aggravated.
“There’s not much going on,” I said to Jack.
“That’s all right,” he replied. “You’ll
have plenty to do soon enough. Lull the management for the present. Find
your feet. Find out the correct approach to these people. You’ve
got to know whom you can bluff and who calls your bluff.”
As a result of the strike in Yorkshire, the rise is again discussed. The
old turner says nobody in the tool-room will get the rise.
The more the award is studied the more fantastic it looks. Some plain
time workers will get it, others won’t. Those workers whose bonus
earnings are calculated on their basic rate will gain by it. Those whose
bonus is calculated on the basic plus cost of living rate, will not gain
at all. If the tribunal* had deliberately sought to stir up trouble they
couldn’t have done better.
*Under war legislation strikes were illegal and Arbitration Tribunals
dealt with disputes.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 17 April 1943
There is trouble in main assembly.
Three gangs did not receive their bonus, which was due yesterday. They
say they are not going home till they to get it.
"I’ve had about enough of this holding back our bonus. You
can’t earn enough to pay the rent here "said one of the workers.
I thought of the toolmakers and their idea that everyone in main assembly
was earning fabulous sums.
The suggestion was made that they will go in twos up to the personnel
manager and ask for their release. The procession up to the office of
angry-looking workers began.
Meanwhile we continued searching out the cause of the hold-up. Finally,
the chief rate-fixer promised that the men would be paid on Monday, and
those who were hard up could have it that morning.
The men agreed to this. We arranged a meeting with the works manager on
Monday morning to demand that these hold-ups in bonus payment should be
Out in the main assembly a gang of men refused a job on the grounds that
it was unsafe. We spent the whole morning chasing the foreman, the supervisor
and the works manager. Finally, the job us made a little safer, but still
not safe enough. The men again refused, and were forthwith reminded by
the foreman of the Essential Work Order, under which they could be compelled
to work. The men agreed to work if they were given more time by the rate
fixer, arguing that as the job wasn’t safe they must take more time
to do it. Again more running around and arguing. At last the rate fixer
looked at the job and flatly refused more time. The men decided to work.
They had not got what they wanted, but it was a fighting defeat.
The crew of a bomber visited the factory to give us some pep talk. They
walked round chatting to the operators. Said one of them to an operator:
"You’re doing a fine job of work. Keep it up."
"Yes," was the girl’s cynical reply. "If we’d
known you were coming we’d have made you a couple of lighters."
The management put a notice on the board about the new wages award. They
declared they were awaiting clarification, but stated it would appear
that no increase is due to bonus workers. Bonus earnings are calculated
on the basic rate and as that had been increased most of the workers expected
greater bonus earnings. In view of the notice, we fixed a general meeting
for Friday night.
The wages award is still being discussed. It is doubtful if anybody but
the Arbitration Tribunal can give a correct interpretation of it. Nobody
knows for sure who gets what. The management steer clear of any discussion
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 24 April 1943
At half past four there came the complaint that girl welders who wished
to work overtime were being sent home by their foreman. We called on the
factory superintendent. He said it was nothing to do with him; it was
up to the foreman. We called on the foreman; he said it was up to the
superintendent. By the time we saw the superintendent again we were feeling
annoyed and the interview was heated. But it ended in instructions being
given that the girls work on.
I came up against the muddled way in which girls are transferred. One
of the girl fitters who lived near the factory was informed by the Labour
Exchange that she would base to start work immediately at a factory an
hour’s journey away. This in spite of the fact that she had a widowed
and invalid mother. It seemed that although her present job was essential,
the National Service Officer had only put her on it temporarily.
We went to the Labour Exchange, but to them the girl was just a number
on their books. She was mobile — she could be transferred —
she was transferred, and for them that settled the matter. Neither I nor
the A.E.U. district secretary who ‘phoned them up, could make any
In the canteen at dinnertime there was a propagandist for the Home Nursing
Scheme. He was explaining its value and somehow managed to link it up
with social security and the Beveridge Report. “We are going to
have our Beveridge,” he said. There was a loud burst of clapping
and banging of tables at this. A director was seen to take the personnel
manager aside and agitatedly talk to him. It seemed he was chastising
him for allowing “propaganda” in the canteen!
In the afternoon we had our Works Committee Meeting. That is the monthly
meeting of Stewards and management. The principal item on the agenda was
the women’s rates. Most of the women in the factory are on men's
work and come under the Relaxation Agreement* and should after 32 weeks,
if they can perform the work without extra supervision, get the men’s
rate. But in the factory women doing men’s work, and even teaching
men their work, are getting 81/2d. an at hour basic rate, while the men
get the fitters’ basic rate of 1s.1d.
We contended the women should go up to 1s.1d. The management contended
that the women were getting the men’s minimum rate, which was the
rate for the job they were doing. Thus the management would have us believe
the men were overpaid if receiving 1s.1d. However, they promised to consider
the whole question of grading before the next meeting.
I saw the girl who had been transferred. At her new factory there was
no fitting job for her. She was put on inspection, a job she had never
done before! It seemed the Labour Exchange had transferred her just for
the sake of transferring someone somewhere! We advised her to apply immediately
for her release.
*Because of the wartime shortage of skilled labour an agreement was made
between the unions and the employers that there would be a temporary relation
of the stipulation that only skilled men be allowed to do certain jobs.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 1 May 1943
The workers complained they couldn’t earn bonus, since their rate
fixed time had been combined with that of another group of workers. As
the second group had not been making as much bonus as these two workers,
it meant that the latter’s bonus earnings dropped. The two workers
asked that the times be split up again and their foreman said that in
the interests of production he would prefer it. The chief rate fixer accused
the men of deliberately going slow. But, as we said, the men couldn’t
afford to go slow, their pay packets wouldn’t allow it. We finally
extracted the promise that the chief rate fixer, the planning department,
and the superintendent would discuss the replanning of the job.
I was put “on the carpet” to day. Jock and I were called before
the works manager and the production manager. They complained that I was
spending too much time on Union business away from my machine. I pointed
out, of course, that the amount of time I spent away from my machine was
determined by the amount of trouble caused by conditions in the factory.
Heated words flowed back and forward. The works manager declared I was
taking complaints of people who “had got to learn to do as they
were damn well told.” However, everything calmed down and the situation
was left as before, with no curtailment of my right to visit other departments.
We are told by a director that the Ministry of Aircraft inspectors are
going to have a look round on Monday. He expects us to see that the workers
behave themselves on that day. We only hope they see as many men on waiting
time as we do!...but obviously everything is prepared before they come.
About 25 per cent. of the workers turned up at the mass meeting. However,
we realise that organisation and interest have still to be built in the
factory. There is a wall of suspicion, a heritage from past betrayals
on the part of Stewards, to be broken down.
Most of the workers seem to have reconciled themselves to the firm’s
interpretation of the, award. The meeting ends by passing a resolution
that the Executive Council of the A.E.U. be asked to immediately seek
from the Arbitration Tribunal a clear interpretation of the clauses of
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 8 May 1943
As a result of a decision of the Shop Stewards’ Committee, we are
electing committees of three in every section. These Shop Committees will
sort out and investigate complaints so that the Steward is sure of his
facts and of his line of action. We aim in future to be sure of our ground,
with all the moves planned, when we fight the management. Knowing also
which is important, what not to take up — demands we have no chance
At ten minutes before dinnertime only two or three machines in time machine
shop were running. Most of the operators were washing their hands. The
production manager came through the shop. He came through again seven
or eight minutes after dinnertime. Again hardly any machines were working.
He told one or two of the girls to get to work. He then came across to
"As convenor you could do a good job of work,” he said. “You
could see that these workers finished and started on time.” I told
him if I did that the workers would soon ask whose side I was on—theirs
or the management’s.
What our management means when it says it wants co-operation between itself
and the Stewards is a state of affairs where the Stewards see that the
workers get down to work and keep their shoulders to the wheel without
any nonsense about wages, inadequate washing facilities and general conditions.
The maintenance men, after lying low for some time, were once again agitated.
This time over working conditions in their shop. Ventilation was deplorable,
although the management said there was nothing the matter with it. We
had decided to write to the factory inspector, but after seeing the works
manager again he put alterations in hand.
The works manager called us into his office and gracefully climbed down.
It was over the fire watching on a Friday night.
Some time ago flue machine shop day shift began finishing early on a Friday.
The nightshift was forced to come in an hour and a half earlier and fire-watch.
For this they received a subsistence allowance of nine pence. They offered
to work that hour and a half, but the management wouldn’t allow
But now, some few weeks later — after we had finally proved that
the minimum fire-watching allowance is 3s - the works manager told us
that the fire-watching arrangements were unsatisfactory to the Ministry
of Aircraft Production, and would the night shift be willing to work the
hour and half?
The night shift was willing — but only just. Some of them were saying
that as the management wouldn’t accept their proposals in the first
place a they should be allowed to stew in their own juice now.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 15 May 1943
The works manager had promised that the 6/- rise would be paid to plain
time workers this week. Now he told me the firm couldn’t pay it
yet as they weren't sure who was going to get it! Trouble was on the wing.
We called a meeting of plain time workers for Friday dinnertime.
The secretary and myself were called in to see the works manager, a director,
and the really Big Noise of the management. It was the first time we’d
seen the Big Noise.
The director said he had made a study of the wages award. The Big Noise
modestly contradicted this and proceeded to give the interpretation of
the award he had received from the central management of the aircraft
group. From this, it seemed that in the whole of the factory only two
labourers would benefit from the award! The Big Noise then said he sympathised
with the men in not getting what they expected. We told him sympathy was
cold comfort compared to an increase in wages.
We held our meeting at dinnertime. There was some slight talk, especially
from the maintenance men, about taking action. However, it was decided
that the first step was to see the Union District Organiser.
The secretary, a maintenance steward and myself called, at the District
Organiser’s office. He had been called away to a strike. The only
official we could see was the secretary of another district. He was very
gruff, almost insulting, and helped us very little. He seemed to resent
us asking advice on the interpretation of the award.
We gathered, finally, that in his opinion it was only a certain Section
of the toolmakers who could claim the award.
The secretary, two maintenance stewards, the tool-room steward and myself
conducted a mass attack on the works manager’s office. I informed
him that the men were not satisfied with the firm’s interpretation
of the award. We claimed it for a certain section of the tool-room. We
also claimed it for maintenance workers, setters and markers-off, who
had been refused it as their general rate was above the district rate.
The works manager said that if the management had followed their inclination
they would have paid the award to everybody, but they had to comply with
the other firms in their aircraft group. The works manager was weighed
down under our attack, but we knew he did not have the final word. He
merely took our arguments back to the director and the Big Noise. We told
him we wanted an answer urgently as the men were talking about some kind
He gave us our answer an hour later. The union organiser had been called
in to another factory in the group over the award. He was meeting the
management on Tuesday. We agreed to await the results of that meeting.
I suffered under one of the minor inconveniences of a convenor. I never
had time to collect my wages this week.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 22 May 1943
At a meeting of Shop Stewards and their Shop Committees it was decided
we should press for a special Works Committee meeting with the management
to discuss the wages award. We disputed the management’s contention
that the maintenance workers and the tool-workers were receiving “merit
rates commonly applied” and thus not qualifying for the six shillings.
At dinnertime the Works Manager informed me the meeting was called for
half-past two. At half-past two the four other Stewards elected for this
special Works Committee and myself were outside the conference room. Two
of these Stewards had never been on the Works Committee before.
We met the Works Manager. “These Stewards aren’t on the Works
Committee,” he said. I told him they had been elected especially
for this meeting. He replied aggressively: “We’ll see the
Stewards who have always been on the Works Committee or we won’t
have a meeting.” I told him that was the Stewards’, not the
management’s, job to elect the workers’ representatives. He
pig-headedly stuck to his point.
We left him and called a Stewards’ meeting. After testing the feeling
of our sections, we decided to call Works Meeting for to-morrow.
The day ended with one amusing incident. There had been a suggestion that
the Works Meeting be called for five o’clock that night. (The factory
finishes work at seven on Thursday and five on Fridays.) One worker was
violently opposed to this, talked vehemently about the necessity for not
holding up production. Till five o’clock came — then he clocked
out and went home!
The Works Meeting was held. The workers showed they were in no mood to
be trifled with. The tool-room Steward and the Communist Party had intended
to move a vote of no confidence in me as convenor. I knew they had attempted
to stir up a little mud against me in the factory.
However, they had a shock! It seemed the meeting had been badly advertised
— there were only about 300 workers there — and almost all
vocally militant. They expressed in no uncertain manner the point of view
that they alone, and not the management had the right to decide who should
represent them and why shouldn’t they have their own way for once?
The C.P.er who tried to draw across the red herring about “our boys
in North Africa” was shouted down. The vote of no confidence was
The meeting instructed us to inform the management that the representatives
the workers wanted, and no others, should sit on the Works Committee.
If the management’s answer was not satisfactory we were to call
another meeting on Wednesday to decide on action.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 29 May 1943
At the Shop Stewards’ meeting one of the maintenance stewards moved
that in view of the C.P. tool-room steward’s remarks at the general
meeting he was not fit to be chairman of the Stewards’ Committee.
The motion was lost — not because there was general agreement with
the policy of the tool-room Steward - but because he is an able chairman.
He told me after the meeting that the “workers would deal with me.”
I should have thought it was evident to all but the blind that the workers
are being forced by conditions to realise the need for a fighting leadership.
In the future, as there is a greater sharpening of the struggle between
employer and worker (which it is impossible to prevent, even in war-time),
it will not be the militants, but those who urge collaboration with, and
a giving in to, the bosses who will be “dealt with.”
The District Secretary has written to the management informing
them they have no right to interfere with the election of workers’
representatives to the Works Committee. There is the regular Works Committee
meeting this Friday and we have decided that the representatives elected
by the stewards shall go to the conference room and, if the management
still persist in their refusal to see them, will sit there for the rest
of the afternoon as a protest and then call the works out to a meeting
Our plan of campaign was not needed. The Works Committee proceeded to
business without any bother, the chairman making a passing reference to
the works meeting during discussion. Evidently the militancy shown at
that meeting had shaken the management.
The Works Committee lasted for three and a half hours. Very little is
actually achieved at these meetings. Actual discussion and argument gain
only minor concessions. It is the power of our backing which determines
what we can get.
We discussed the wages award. Net result — we gained a percentage
of the award for four or five girls in the tool-room and registered a
failure to agree on our claim for toolmakers and maintenance men. That
will be placed in the hands of the District Organiser to go through the
next step in procedure — a works conference at which the Organiser
will he present with the stewards.
The chairman of the Works Committee is the “assistant to the chairman
of the board of directors.” He deludes himself and tries to delude
us that he is impartial. He adopts a weighty conference manner speaks
“understandingly” at first, then, if the steward still persists
in his point, tries to make him look small, then gets angry, and, finally,
declares the matter will have to be referred back to the management.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 5 June 1943
Forty rivetters refused a job because the time had been cut. Part of the
fuselage which they had to rivet was being done outside of the jig* and
the chief rate fixer made this an excuse to cut the time. He said there
had been a change of method and the job could be done quicker. But exactly
the same number of rivets had to be used and rivetters refused the cut.
It was obvious that the rate fixer was making this excuse to cut the time
because he thought it had been fixed too high in the past. The rivetters
were determined in their resistance. After verbal battles with the rate
fixer we took the next step in procedure and for a meeting with the management.
In the meantime the men were at the old time.
A worker in the main assembly very agitatedly informed me he had been
accused of sabotage. I went with to see the personnel manager and the
superintendent. He had made a very bad mistake — had drilled thirty-two
holes oversize. He admitted the mistake but there was no question of sabotage.
After much discussion the charge of sabotage was dropped, but the worker
was instantly dismissed.
The maintenance workers had elected a deputation to see the Works Manager
at the beginning of the week. They wanted to discuss the wages award and
were talking of giving twenty-one days strike notice. The Works Manager
had so far ignored their request for an interview; so to day their Steward
informed their foreman that if he did not have the interview to-morrow
they were downing tools at 12.30.
The Works Manager sent for me and the Maintenance Steward. He said he
couldn't see the deputation as he had been busy, and in any case, according
to procedure, he should only see the steward. I said the men were sore
at the refusal of the firm to pay the 6s. award. The Maintenance Steward
said the men didn't care whether they worked or not.
"Do you think I better see them then?" asked the Works Manager.
We said we thought he better.
The deputation of five came in, also the maintenance foreman. The Works
Manager seemed to be looking to me for protection. The maintenance men
were firm; their case was good, even the foreman agreeing with most of
what was said. The Works Manager attempted to prove that the men were
in receipt of a commonly applied merit rate and thus not due the award.
He could not prove it to our satisfaction. There was deadlock. The Works
Manager was uneasy.
"Can't the A.E.U. District Secretary come down?" he said. "Couldn't
he come down next week?"
"'phone him up," I suggested.
The Works Manager 'phoned up the District Secretary and in a few minutes
a conference was fixed for next Wednesday.
I had already registered a failure to agree, but it was obvious that if
it had not been for the militancy of the maintenance men the conference
would not have taken place for some weeks.
*Jigs are used to hold components in a set position for machining etc.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 12 June 1943
The District Secretary writes to say he can't come to the conference to
day. There is indignation among the maintenance men, who are waiting restlessly
to see if he can persuade the management to give them the six shillings.
They instruct us to phone him and tell him that they are giving strike
notice if he doesn't come down. The District Secretary is very apologetic
over the phone. Says he has had urgent instructions from head office.
The conference is fixed for the following Monday. The maintenance workers
decide to wait.
Youth rates in the factory are very low. The firm pays only the minimum
youth rates which, according to agreement, are payable when expense is
incurred in the training of youth. These young workers in the factory
are not being trained, but are being used on jobs as cheap labour. We
obtain the promise of an increase for a youngster of seventeen earning
just under 7d. an hour, paying 30/- for lodgings, and having to work weekends
to make his money up. The Stewards are working out a claim for a general
increase for youths.
We had well advertised a works meeting for to night. On the agenda were
women's rates, youth rates and the wages award. The meeting was a fiasco,
about fifty workers turning up. We decided promptly to cancel it. One
or two of the Stewards seemed demoralised by the lack of response. However,
we must keep up our morale but learn our lesson. At the present we can
pull a mass meeting only on some burning and common issue. We still have
a long period of building ahead.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 19 June 1943
With a benevolent smile on his face the works manager informs one of the
Stewards that the girls who lead the router are to receive 21/2d. an hour
"occupational allowance." In other words they are to get the
dirty money we have been fighting for some time.
The workers in one of the detail shops are agitated. A worker there has
been given instant dismissal for "creating a disturbance." He
had a row with his foreman over a job which he thought was too heavy for
him as he had stomach trouble. Rows between this foreman and workers are
common, but this one ended in, the superintendent giving the worker immediate
notice, although no one in the shop had been "disturbed." The
dismissed worker was a non-unionist, but his fellow workers felt that
the issue was one of principle. If the firm got away with this they could
sack Tom, Dick or Harry with impunity.
We saw the superintendent. He stuck by his decision. After lunch about
50 per cent. of the workers in the shop stopped work, but went back while
we saw the works manager. The works manager wouldn't move; he up-held
the decision of the superintendent.
On hearing this, the workers left their benches and marched out of the
shop for half-an-hour. They decided to hold a meeting at 5 o'clock to
put their case to the rest of the factory.
The meeting was held outside the gates, but it was comprised almost entirely
of the workers who took part in the demonstration. The workers throughout
the factory, completely devoid of tradition, have yet to learn the value
of solidarity with any section that is fighting the management. The meeting
decided to send a deputation to the N.S.O.*
*National Service Officer – who would be appealed to for a Tribunal.
We 'phoned up the organiser of the Area Shop Stewards' Committee. He promised
us the support of the committee, said that the 62 factories affiliated
would send telegrams of protest to the management and to the National
Service Officer. We also decided to press for an enquiry by a Ministry
of Aircraft official into labour relationships at the factory on the grounds
that the management continually provoke the workers. These
methods of fighting have their limitations. We know that any M.A.P. official
will row in with the firm, but a little pressure can be exerted in this
way, and by it we can stimulate interest and unity of the workers throughout
The National Service Officer adopted a sympathetic attitude to the demonstration.
He even went so far as to say to the organiser of the Area Shop Stewards'
Committee that he thought the worker had a good case. The dismissed worker
has joined the T.& G.W.U. For the present we can only await his appeal
against dismissal. When we returned to the factory the works manager informed
us – assuming his benevolent smile - that the management wished
to meet the tool-room Steward, the maintenance Steward and myself on Monday
morning to discuss maintenance and tool room rates of pay. It seems that
all the agitation in the factory is doing some good.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 26 June 1943
We are informed by the management that they are willing to give increases
to the toolmakers and maintenance workers providing these workers stop
pressing for the six shillings award. Which sounds all right until we
are told that before the
management will give precise details of the increases they must have a
signed statement declaring the workers have given up all claims to the
After a meeting with the maintenance workers and the tool-room workers
we meet the works manager and inform him that we are willing to tentatively
give up negotiations for the award and, if agreement is reached on the
increases, then claims to the six shillings will be given up altogether.
The management won't hear of this. Before they will discuss the new increases
or tell us what they propose they must have that signed statement giving
up all claims to the award. We have several meetings with the works manager
and point out that their attitude is provoking the men, as the men believe
that no purpose would be served in hiding the nature of the increases
unless there was a catch in them.
The maintenance men put an embargo on overtime until the firm agrees to
negotiate on the increases.
The works manager informs us that the maintenance men are being put on
a shift system so that the overtime hours will be covered. The shift system
is to start the following day, but as the maintenance workers have gone
home before this decision is taken those on late shift have to be informed
The maintenance men stand in a bunch outside the gate. Those on the late
shift had arrived at their normal time and had been refused admission.
The men have all refused to go in until they are allowed in together.
The maintenance steward phones the District Secretary. We see the works
manager and have a heated time. In the afternoon the district secretary
informs me that a conference between the Ministry of Labour, the Unions
and the management is to be called next week to discuss conditions in
the factory. He and the firm have been in touch with the Industrial Relations
Officer and if the maintenance men go back to work overtime the shift
system will be dropped. The maintenance men agree to go back and work
overtime in view of the conference.
At five o'clock we hold a meeting outside the gate. At last organisation
is beginning to show results. Six hundred workers agree in no uncertain
way that the attitude of the firm is to take all and give nothing, and
that it is time this state of affairs was ended.
It is evident that with a little work, and by not being afraid to give
a lead, we can build up 100% unionism in the factory.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 3 July 1943
A Communist Party leaflet is distributed outside the works. It talks of
the "reactionary and anti-union nature of the management," and
urges the workers to press for their removal in the same way as Fairey's,
General Aircraft and Short's managements were removed*. The Communist
Party has obviously tried to find a line which would fit in with the militancy
of the workers without cutting across Party policy. But it is pretty obvious
that even if it were a good thing to have a management
removed before the workers are ready to take over, even if we would be
any better off under a Government controller, the firm is not in that
extreme position of chaos and muddle which alone forces the Government
to act. We don't object to using the Government machinery where possible,
but we realise how little is the help we can
expect from a Government which, after all, is a Government of employers
and, as a whole, looks after the employers' interests. Of course, the
writers of the leaflet are afraid of action inside the factory and wish
to give the workers the impression that they can use the Ministry of Aircraft
Production to solve their grievances. But the M.A.P. is far from being
impartial. On the contrary its officials accept the firms' point of view
before the workers'.
The Parliamentary Secretary - to the Ministry of Aircraft Production –
is in the factory. We ask to see him and he agrees to see the five stewards
who are on the works committee. We have a long talk with him about the
workers' grievances. He, as was to be expected, declares he can't interfere
in working conditions and tells us we have our Union agreements and arbitration
courts, etc. On one point only does he promise to do something. That was
with regard to the need for better ventilation and sanitary conditions.
He promises to "have a talk" with the chairman of directors
about the complaints we made against the firm.
He finally produces the Communist Party leaflet, which the management
have obviously told him we are responsible for. He says such a leaflet
is "likely to cause disaffection" and he could take proceedings
against those who distribute it. I smiled as it struck me that the authors
of the leaflet would be the last to' "cause disaffection."
We pointed out that the leaflet was nothing to do with us, although the
authors, we thought, had the right to express their opinion. We told him
we didn't want to remove the management yet, although their attitude had
provoked disputes. He dropped the
question of the leaflet and then, very pleasantly, bade us good-bye. We
left feeling that if we have to rely on this procedure we will get very
*MAP removed the management of these companies for incompetence
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 10 July 1943
We held our conference in the afternoon, with the Industrial Relations
Officer presiding. The District Organiser, the District Secretary, the
Maintenance Steward, the Tool-room Steward and myself were present.
The Organiser certainly knew, his case. The firm, of course, tried to
put the blame on the workers for the stoppage of maintenance men. However,
we proved otherwise. The Industrial Officer, to aid the firm, skillfully
took the discussion away from past events.
The result of the conference was very satisfactory. The firm produced
details of increases they were prepared to give to the plain time workers.
The increases in a majority of cases were more than the award.
We held shop meetings throughout the factory, giving the results of the
conference. The plain time workers were pleased. The rest of the factory
realised that a victory for one section aided the whole of the factory.
We put forward the perspective of a closed shop at these meetings. It
had quite an enthusiastic response.
The assistant chairman to the board of directors called us into his office.
He gave us a typewritten report of the meeting the Stewards had with the
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aircraft Production. He said
he wanted to discuss it next week. It was obvious that, as the firm had
been forced to give a little in one direction, they were now going to
try to take it out of the Stewards in another and attempt to slate us
for what we said to the Parliamentary Secretary.
We are prepared. Having got the firm on the defensive, we are determined
to keep them there. We can substantiate all the complaints that are accurately
given in the report of our meeting. It looks as if we are in for an exciting
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 17 July 1943
The worker who was instantly dismissed a fortnight ago had his appeal
in the afternoon. He was defended by the T.& G.W.U. Organiser. His
steward and myself attended in case he should need any witnesses. When
we went before the appeal court we found that, besides the foreman with
whom the worker had an argument, there was present the foreman's trade
union branch secretary, the works manager, the personnel manager, the
labour and welfare supervisor, and the works superintendent. The appeal
seemed to go very well for us. The organiser argued the case that the
E.W.O. allowed instant dismissal for misconduct only and that the worker
had not been guilty of misconduct. The firm could not prove their contention
that the worker had caused
a disturbance. It seemed certain that the worker would be back on Wednesday.
We learned that we had scored a victory. The National Service Officer
had directed the dismissed worker back to work. There was a further increase
of morale in the works. In the morning we were called into the personnel
manager's office. The works manager and works superintendent were there
and later they sent for the reinstated worker. The works manager proposed
that the worker should be transferred to another department. We opposed
at first, pointing out that, far from easing friction, such an action
might be likely to cause friction — if the rest of the workers felt
their reinstated workmate had been victimised. The works manager then
suggested a transfer to the tool-room. The worker accepted this, there
being no loss of pay and the work being more congenial. In the afternoon
we had a special works committee meeting to discuss the statement the
stewards made to the representative of the M.A.P. The meeting, according
to the works manager, was "to clear up some of the misunderstandings
which had arisen." However, when the meeting started it was evident
that the "assistant chairman to the board of directors," and
the self-appointed "chairman" of the works committee was determined
to have a little of his own back.
The strategy of these meetings is for each side to attempt to prove that
the other side has been guilty of "lack of co-operation." The
"assistant chairman to the board of directors" is a past master
at getting stewards on the defensive and at controlling a meeting. He
is a tough nut to crack, but gradually we are breaking him down. After
his initial attack we rallied and finally reached the point where the
firm declared that recent "misunderstandings" had been due to
faults on both sides (we signified our disagreement), and that in future
they hoped a more amicable relationship would exist. Of the matters we
raised with the M.A.P. representative there remained to be settled the
question of women's rates. The firm promised to consider that.
We declared that we also hoped a more amicable relationship would exist
— such relationship we were pleased to see at the meeting with the
Industrial Relations Officer (where the maintenance and tool-room workers
were granted increases).
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 24 July 1943
The secretary and myself interviewed the works manager about holiday fire
watching. Most of the men were to have their holiday broken by a night’s
fire watching. We pointed out that this arrangement would cause great
discontent, and at least half the firewatchers wouldn’t come in.
We suggested that firewatchers be brought in from outside for the holiday
week, or, failing that, the firm should allow certain workers to take
The firm produced a new scheme. Volunteers, to fire watch the whole week,
are to be asked for, to be paid £7, with their week’s holiday
The “inspection” are being organised, and have elected a steward,
but the chief inspector has refused to discuss rates and conditions as
he has instruction from the management that the A.E.U. cannot represent
weekly paid staff. We produce the agreement on this question and point
out that the Union can negotiate for staff workers who “use tools
or instruments, are not responsible for the dismissal or engagement of
workers, and come under the authority of the foreman.” The chief
inspector said he would report back to the management.
We have our Works Committee today — the shortest and most amiable
ever. Even the discussion on he women’s rates, usually the most
heated, was short. The management offered an agreement — that, subject
to of the recommendation of the foreman, women who had finished their
training period could go immediately above the minimum rate. That, for
us, can be the thin end of the wedge for the raising of the minimum rate.
We asked for an increase of bonus for the women in the anodic section,
and, to our surprise, there was no opposition.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 31 July 1943
The setters in the machine shop had — been asking for a rise. At
the Works Committee the management produced a new scheme for them. The
machine shop is to go on bonus soon, but till that time the management
proposes to split the setters'
rate up so that so much of it appears as 50% of their basic rate in lieu
of bonus. This, of course, would be dropped when the shop went on bonus,
which setters would share in. We took particulars of the scheme in order
to report back to the men. There was a discussion as to whether we could
negotiate for the inspection staff. We pointed to the agreement. But the
management found a loophole, based upon disputing the interpretation of
the word "foreman." I phoned up the district secretary, who
agreed with our interpretation of the staff agreement, and said he would
contact the firm right away. There shouldn't be any difficulty in getting,
the inspection staff the right of representation. The incident will be
remembered for future use, when we can quote, with effect, how the firm
attempted "unreasonably" to withhold the right of representation
from the inspection staff.
After having worked out the suggested increases for setters we
find they amount on the average to 1/2d. an hour. The principal danger,
as we see it, lies in the split-up of their rate. The setters are now
receiving 6d. above the district rate, which the firm are declaring is
in lieu of bonus. There is no proof of this on the men's engagement form
and we declare that, whatever this 6d. is, it is not a lieu bonus, and
therefore must be included in the men's flat rate. Two of the night setters,
two day-shift setters and myself visit the Labour and Welfare Supervisor*,
who obviously can't prove the setters are receiving lieu bonus. He takes
us to the Works Manager. A long, and sometimes involved discussion ensues.
We want an increase in rate, back dated to March 31, and a guarantee that
when the shop goes on bonus setters' bonus will never fluctuate below
present rates plus the increase. The works manager states he will consult
the Wages Board.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 7 August 1943
It turns out that the Inspection Chief was mistaken when he informed the
Inspection Steward that the firm had agreed to recognise him. The works
manager informs us that the management will allow the inspection staff
to have a Steward, but they will discuss with him only working conditions
apart from wages. They will not recognise the right of the A.E.U. to negotiate
on the wages of weekly staff.
The Inspection Steward is present at this meeting and, in spite of the
fact that it is forbidden, we manage to slip in a discussion on wages
and stress the discontent of the inspection staff. We then register a
failure to agree on our right to negotiate. This means the matter is now
in the District Organiser’s hands.
The management have received a letter from the Union District Secretary
which informs them that our interpretation of the agreement on staff workers
is quite correct. Following this the Inspection Steward is informed that
the management will recognise him as eligible to negotiate for the weekly
paid inspection staff.
We prepare to go forward on the wages claim and arrange a meeting with
the Inspection Steward of another factory in the same group of aircraft
factories as ours. Their rates are higher and we are basing our claim
There is a very involved mathematical discussion in the works manager’s
office. It is around the tool-room rates — the toolmakers are not
receiving overtime pay on the lieu bonus which they received recently.
The firm is not compelled by agreement to pay overtime rates on it, but
we are arguing that it has been the custom and practice in the rest of
the factory. It is the practice in the machine shop, but the works manager
contends this is a mistake.
The discussion becomes even more involved around the question of ability
money. Actually we are not aiming at having ability money paid on the
lieu bonus, but are seeking for an agreement whereby we drop our claim
for this in return for a guarantee that the toolmakers receive what would
be, in effect, the average bonus of the skilled workers in the assembly
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 14 August 1943
The old trouble with the rivetters has cropped up again. Some time ago
the rate-fixer attempted to cut the time on a certain job. We thought,
after seeing the temper of the men, that he had retired from the scene,
but his retreat had only been temporary. Here he was stating the men would
have to accept a cut of eighty hours.
They refused and he then declared that, as there had been a change of
method in doing the job, and times were in dispute, the job would have
to be time-studied — that is, a gang would have to do it while he
timed them. The rivetters refused a time study, feeling he would use it
to cut their bonus.
Unfortunately, so far as trade union agreements are concerned, when a
time is in dispute then a time study is taken and when we feel that a
time on a job should be increased we always force one.
We had a long succession of meetings. Finally, the rate-fixer offered
a cut of forty hours or a time study. A steward would be present during
the time study; it would be done by the gang which normally did the job.
The men remained adamant. No cut and no time study was their answer; they
still refused to do the job.
The district secretary of the A.E.U. and the organiser of the T. and G.W.U
came to the factory. We called the men together. There were three alternatives
for them: a forty-hour cut, a time study, or carrying on with the stoppage.
In my opinion the time had come for a retreat, rather than face a defeat
at a later stage. The case of the men in refusing a time study was not
strong. They were not compromising themselves by having it. A steward
would be present during it and it would be held under normal conditions.
They could prove by it that there was no basis for a time cut. If they
proved that, and the rate-fixer declared they had deliberately gone slow,
the steward could contradict that and the fight could begin again but
with them in a far stronger position. If they stuck out now they faced
In the past we had shaken the firm because we had proved that the two
stoppages which had taken place were provoked by them. This time, with
the rivetters anarchistically refusing a time study, the firm’s
case was strong and they would certainly rap our knuckles.
We finally managed to get the rivetters to see that fighting the management
is not a matter of blind battling, but of choosing your ground and your
weapons and, above all, of thinking a step ahead. They accepted the time
study. We made it plain to the firm that it would be held under normal
conditions and with workers of average speed.
Most probably the battle will begin again after the time study. But we
will be in a far better position then.
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 21 August 1943
The tool-room steward and I are called into the works manager’s
office, where he sits with the labour manager. The meeting is very friendly.
We are given details of a further offer for the machine shop setters;
the offer meets all their demands, except that it will not be backdated.
We are also informed that there is to be a monthly review of the earnings
of all men on production bonus and the toolmakers’ earnings will
be made up to theirs, with the toolmakers’ present rate as a minimum.
At last we have achieved the removal of the skilled toolmakers’
long-standing grievance — that the dilutees in the assembly shops,
by reason of their bonus earnings, were receiving much higher wages than
the skilled engineers on plain-time work. It will also mean a greater
unity in the factory, in so far as the tool-room worker will now be eager
to aid the bonus worker in fighting against any cutting of bonus times.
The setters are very pleased with the suggested increases. We aimed high
so they are satisfied with slightly less than we asked for. The only snag
is that their rates are now being split up on a new basis which includes
a lieu bonus, on which overtime rates are not payable. This actually means
that the drill setters on night shift receive only two shillings extra
on their gross earnings.
We inform the works manager that the setters as a whole will accept the
increase if the drill setters’ rates are adjusted. The works manager
confesses that the management did not realise the existence of the “complications”
we pointed out. However, he promises to “wangle” the drill
One thing seems clear. While the firm stuck firmly to minimum rates as
laid down in agreements then no “complications” arose. But
now that we have forced them to launch out above the minimum rates we
are finding that the engineers’ rates are so involved that they
stagger from complication to complication, each one enabling us to extract
a further concession.
In the main assembly a foreman and the shop superintendent are trying
to prove that production is being held up because the fitters and rivetters
on the “tails” are going slow. The workers are very indignant,
and we have several meetings with the shop superintendent over this question.
The foremen are at the old game, trying to blame the workers — who
actually never slacken up all day — for not putting their backs
There seems evident a latent hostility between foremen, charge hands and
men owing to the fact that the majority of the men can earn more, owing
to their bonus, than the foremen or charge hands. In this case the indignant
representative of the fitters proves that the lag in production is not
the workers’ fault, but is due to a changed production method.
We extract an apology from the shop superintendent for his accusation
CONVENOR’S DIARY... 4 September 1943
The rivetters were still determined not to start the job at the cut time.
The management refused to allow them to start at the old time, and so
a deadlock existed. Someone had ‘phoned up the Industrial Relations
Officer and informed him there was a dispute. He refused to intervene
while there was a stoppage.
In the afternoon the T. & G.W.U. Organiser called on the management.
He reached an agreement with them that the rivetters should return to
work, pending a meeting between union officials and the firm to discuss
the whole matter. Whatever agreement as to times is reached, will be applicable
to the job they start today. We called a meeting of the rivetters, who
agreed to this.
The chief rate fixer looks very worried these days. A new method was instituted
on the tails and it seemed as if the fitters were going to have the same
trouble as the rivetters.
However, the militancy of the rivetters has had an effect. The rate fixer
retreats when the fitters show their teeth. He has been taught a lesson.
In the afternoon, with the A.E.U. District Secretary and the T. &
G.W.U. organiser, we meet the management. It was plain they had been shaken.
Their spokesman complained about the number of stoppages we have had lately;
was worried about the fact that each one had to be reported to the Ministry
of Labour; and declared that the workers seemed ignorant of the proper
channels for negotiation. There followed some discussion, the final offer
of the firm being a reduction of the cut from 86 to 55 hours. They agreed
to pay the rivetters for the time they stopped work. It was evident this
is the most we can get.
After the meeting the two union officials decide to send a circular to
the workers explaining procedure and directed against stoppages.
The rivetters are generally agreed they have gone as far as they can.
It is true they have sustained a cut, but they agree among themselves
the job will stand it, and they are likely to lose more by a further battle.
Their gains are quite considerable.