Hey friends! Today is my stop on the blog tour for Striking for Ford by Alan Dixon and I am bringing you a guest post. Enjoy!
Striking for Ford by Alan Dixon
Genre: Non Fiction
Published by: Clink Street Publishing
Release date: 24/08/2021
Where to find: Amazon
Summary: A wry look at the 1978 winter of discontent, seen through the eyes of a trainee personnel officer in a militant Liverpool car factory. An insight into the vanished world of a polarised society of petrol queues, three million unemployed, public service strikes and a socialist government unexpectedly trounced by Margaret Thatcher in May 1979.
-Five interesting facts about working for Ford in 1978
1) A Liverpool workforce is one of the most frustrating and funniest to work with anywhere on this planet. Is there anywhere else that a 22 year old junior Personnel Officer would be asked to:
*Sneak into the factory canteen, hide behind the shutters and listen in to a shop steward meeting discussing strike action.
*Return in the middle of the night to break up night shift production workers watching a porn show in a small upstairs room, who were generating enough heat to set off the fire sprinklers on the ceiling below which was drenching car doors and boots making them rusty.
*Manage a disciplinary hearing for a worker who deliberately set fire to the Japanese flag on the company flagpole in protest at visiting Japanese VIP’s. He said he had watched his best friend beaten to death with bamboo poles in a prisoner camp after the fall of Singapore. He was supposed to be dismissed for endangering company property and people but I managed to get an ill health retirement instead .
*Pretending to be boyfriend/girlfriend with a colleague to photograph a shop steward betting and drinking in a pub when he was supposed to be at work, leading to a violent confrontation with the pub landlord when we were spotted taking photos.
*Causing a strike by refusing to give a worker an advance of wages because he said that his pram and baby clothes had been stolen from outside his house. I thought it a tall story and refused so the union steward called a strike of his production line losing twenty four cars. I never knew if it was true or not, but I was admonished for not giving the wages advance and nearly resigned on the spot.
*Confronting a racist foreman who alleged a black employee had fraudulently stamped his clock card used for signing into work, proving he had a history of racist remarks and through a college friend, was a member of the National Front(known as a racist right wing organisation in 1978)
2) Someone famous once said you live your life forwards and understand it backwards and I now realise that 1978 was just the apex of what had been a rubbish decade for most people. We had known three day working weeks, power cuts, so we had to eat by candle light, there were petrol station queues and 50 mph speed limits. Then in 1978 the Labour government under P.M. James Callaghan had set a limit of 5% for pay deals when inflation was over 8%. Ford’s had a nine week pay strike and at the end of it the company paid 17% which opened the flood gates for similar strikes across steel, mining, hospitals, gravediggers even the producers of Coronation Street. The anti union feeling that followed from these hardships for much of the country, led to the surprise election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979.
3) As a 22 year old graduate trainee in Personnel, I was paid so little that I could not afford to heat my council flat and there was ice on the inside of the windows. I’m sure I was paid less than the production workers but was expected to act as a manager, even if it meant breaking violent picket lines to get to work in the strike. It was a cold winter and my old car would not start in the mornings unless I brought the battery into the flat and charged it every single night. I was not happy. The world seemed brown that year; brown school uniforms, brown suits at work, brown rust on cars everywhere and brown piles of rubbish in the streets.
4) Many of the 5000 workers in the car factory hated their boring, repetitive jobs, but stuck at them as they were relatively well paid and they had families to support. However, a port/dock culture, and centuries of immigration in Liverpool meant staff were often proud, independent and had little respect for authority. Such staff were not naturals to work in an industry that controlled things like what to do and when to do it in the minutest of detail-any chance to create time off the job was taken. ‘Working the welt’ was a docklands custom that was common, doing your colleagues jobs for them while they had an extra break. This was disastrous for the quality of the cars produced in the longer term.
5) There were literally no women workers in the car body plant where I worked, outside the office block and the canteens. I don’t think there were even toilets for women in the car factory itself. Women never applied for the jobs as they were seen as ‘manual’ and required shift work. Yet upstairs in the office block, there was one massive room filled with dozens of women who were ‘Comptometer’ operators, a primitive form of computer used for the staff payroll. Any young men walking through this area would be wolf whistled in a good natured way, which was quite an experience. I found out later than none of the women were allowed to wear trousers, there was an unofficial rule that skirts had to be worn… how times have changed in one working lifetime!
Alan Dixon was born in Luton to a large family of coal miners and manufacturers. When Vauxhall Cars opened in Ellesmere Port, his father took a job as a foreman, moving the family north. Initially bullied for being a southerner, Dixon would develop a thirst for literature and learning; unlike his peers, Dixon became the first in his family to go to university, studying politics and sociology at Lancaster. Having completed an MA and been captivated by the Labour Party Young Socialists, he was fuelled by a desire for social justice as he entered the workplace. He was recruited as a graduate trainee with blue chip company Ford, working over three years in a variety of training and staff personnel roles. In 1982 he joined ICI Agrochemicals as Personnel Manager of the company’s main agrochemical formulation and packing plant. He became HR Director of UK manufacturing for Zeneca Pharmaceuticals in 1990 where he was responsible for three sites and 3500 people. In 2001 he left manufacturing to join Astra Zeneca Pharmaceuticals Commercial as a Regional HR Director. Today he works as a self-employed consultant and lives in Wilmslow, Cheshire, although a part of his heart still lives in Speke.