The British at Work s01e01 Episode Script

We Can Make It 1945-1964

From the huge factories and yards of the post-war world to our uncertain modern working lives, this is a history of the way we've worked.
It's a story of extraordinary change.
In the last seven decades we've seen how work has changed from being just what you doto who you are.
My own family have worked in shipbuilding and retail, in construction and clerical jobs and in confectionery.
My granny topped off your Walnut Whip.
We'll see how through the '60s and '70s many of our workplaces turned into war zones.
All right, we're all coming out then! You're all sacked! Right, you bastard! How in the '80s and '90s work was full of peril and pleasure.
Maybe it's time I took a few risks.
Look where playing safe has got me.
And how in the last few years our work could consume our lives but reap rich rewards.
The salesman out in the field has a 1.
4 LX Escort.
His boss, back at base, has a Cavalier.
But to understand today's British working lives you have to look back to the post-war years, when work was a shared and often scary experience.
Terror.
Absolute terror.
But also a happy place.
The reason that I'd gone in to do that job was because I'd fancied one of the man that worked in there.
The skills we have, the jobs we do, the choices we make about work today were forged in the clatter and clank of industrial Britain, in the way we worked.
Chances are that most of you watching right now will firmly believe that you, like me, have spent the day doing a job you enjoy, that your work says something about who you are.
That's nice.
But welcome to the post-war world of work.
Work was an absolute necessity, and you might not enjoy it very much but you had to go and do it and that was just that.
'What's it all for? What's the purpose of it all? What are we doing it for? Where are we going?' Where are we going? Waterloo.
And for those of you who think, like I do, that work should be a choice that suits you and fits with your lifestyle, here's a taste of what work meant in the years after the war.
It wasn't, er, like it is in my middle-class environment now, what sort of career do I really want? In my day it was, get a job, lazy bastard.
Get out the house, get a job.
I don't want anybody with heart or pride in their craftsmanship, or integrity, I just want somebody to pull a handle and turn a wheel.
And I'm pretty sure you feel that you're part of a workforce where everyone's treated with respect.
Well, cast a glance back to equality at work, post-war style.
Well, Miss Hopkins, I've just heard from Mr Huggett here that you'd like a post with us.
Oh, yes, I'd love that.
Are you used to office routine? Oh, definitely, Mr Campbell.
So I moved on a bit and he moved along a bit.
And I moved along a bit and then I felt his hand round my bottom and I thought, "I'm not stopping here.
" In some respects, the way we worked in the '40s and '50s seems a world apart but it's the start of a journey that ends in the jobs we do and the way we do them, right now.
We showed the world what we could do during the war.
Let's show it again now.
Let's pull together for prosperity.
In 1945, after six years of sacrifice, loss of life and livelihood, a battered Britain was emerging from the war and we were being urged to make the country a great industrial nation again.
When the Nazi spite was unleashed upon us here at home, we replied with the slogan, "Britain can take it.
" Now, with peace back again, and with a tremendous need to regain our lost position in the industrial world, we've got a new slogan.
In 1946, the Victoria and Albert Museum staged an exhibition called Britain Can Make It! It was stuffed full of all sorts of essential consumer goodies of the future, including the fully air conditioned bed What? No bed making in the morning? Very nice! .
.
the highly futuristic electric bicycle You can almost see John thinking about that long drag uphill to the local.
.
.
and, wait for it, every home should have one.
The fully inflatable rubber armchair.
Oh, yes, the goods were there all right.
There was so much they wanted.
Necessities with the luxury feeling.
Things to delight the hearts of both sexes.
But in reality the whole exhibition was really just a bit of a fantasy.
War had left the country up to its ears in debt.
Shops were virtually empty, factories were struggling, industry was in crisis.
It's little wonder that the press renamed the exhibition Britain Can't Have It.
And it's little wonder some people were sceptical.
The hardship of the war years had followed quick on the heels of the hungry '30s, when finding a good secure job was tough going.
Will there be jobs when the boys get home? Will there be jobs that last? Or will there be jobs for a few months, perhaps a year or two, and then unemployment? But in the late '40s we were entering a new era of work in Britain.
The men who ran the country had been gripped by an intellectual revolution, and flowing from that came a commitment from the political classes to the working classes - there would be full employment.
Lilian Clark worked in the East End of London in the 1940s.
There was always jobs.
You could always get a job, you'd never be out of work.
There was factories, huge factories, which are not there now and there'd be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of workers going into the factories, you know.
And I can see 'em all now, you've got all of the men with their caps on, young, old, all going to work.
You load 16 tonnes, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt Saint, Peter don't you call me, cos I can't go I owe my soul to the company store In this paternalistic age, not only would there be jobs for all, plenty would be in industries that the state would own.
I was born one morning when the sun didn't shine The Labour government's programme of nationalisation would embrace more than two million British workers.
And the store boss said, "Well, bless my soul" They supplied power, built planes and made the trains run on time.
Well, some of the time.
Saint Peter, don't you call me, cos I can't go 700,000 of them sweated underground in Britain's coal mines and national ownership offered a new deal.
For many, this was Labour's finest hour.
Old miners, now MPs, openly wept in the House of Commons as they voted for the nation to take control of the mines.
Norman Martin was just a boy when he first went down the pit at the Park Colliery in South Wales.
So you were 14.
Can you still remember your thoughts as you went down the mine for that first day of work? Terror.
Absolute terror.
If you could imagine I don't know, perhaps you can't.
I was only 14, and 14 years of age in those days Yeah, you're a little boy.
You were a boy, honestly.
You wasn't streetwise or anything like that, and when you come to go down the pit, when you saw that cage disappearing down the shaft, you say, "Oh, good gracious, what's going to happen to me?" So what changes did nationalisation bring for you and your mates down the pit? Well, it brought back a new a new ambience about the community.
You felt more free, you felt more hopeful, more happy.
There's a better future for us now.
It wasn't only in the nationalised sector that those in charge felt the need to build a feeling of common endeavour.
Many of the big employers of the private sector were not just workplaces, they were communities.
Richard Griffiths started work at a huge ICI plant in Birmingham in the early '50s.
It was one big happy family.
If you can think you've got 13,500 on site.
It was home, sweet home.
A home inside a factory.
And that's what it was about.
WOMEN SING We worked collectively together as one team and that's what it was about, being one team and producing the goods.
Gloria Guy's first job was at the head office of Lyons, the confectionery company.
What were Lyons like to work for? Did they look after you as an employee? Yes, I think they did, because we had a big social club.
Erm, I played hockey for them.
Er, I rode for them.
And we put on a show at Christmas every year.
Lyons used to hold beauty contests, did they not? Yes, they did, they held it every summer.
And did you, did you go in for any? Only once.
What happened? I was disappointed in the result so I didn't bother again! Harri Murrell was a young manager in a printing works in Kent.
Well, it was very much a family business and so the paternalism played a big part in our attitude, er, to the staff.
We used to rent the Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells and we put on a dance and a cabaret.
That was great fun.
I think it was very much appreciated.
It was a terrific crowd.
The giant sugar-refining company Tate & Lyle were also generous employers and Lilian Clark still fondly remembers their annual work days out to the seaside.
There was a time when one of the women had a piano accordion and played music, you sang, always stopped halfway, always half-time.
Lovely.
Then back on the coach, another sing-song, and when you got down to the seaside you'd make your way to the hats.
Nearly everyone had a sun hat, even if it was raining.
All had a good day, all tired out, and then on the way home you'd always stop at a pub.
You'd all get out, you'd all have a drink, all mixed, because there was other coaches there.
And it was on that coach I happened to meet my husband, which was one of the best things that happened to me, he made my life.
Rain, rain, go away Come again another day We've had a luvverly day today Blue sky's around the corner Walk round the corner with me In the years after the war, British workers saw their pay increase by, on average, about 200% from the 1930s.
Many now only had to work five days in the week and most were entitled to one week's paid holiday a year.
These were the halcyon times.
Your workplace might even get a visit from the BBC, who despatched the stars of the day to perform Workers' Playtime in staff canteens.
I'm a guy that's never going to roam again Once I'm in the old hometown By and by, I'll see my little home again Then I'm going to settle down Dave Rowell worked at the aircraft builders Vickers after the war.
It was brilliant entertainment and loads of people used to listen to it, lunchtime on the radio.
It was one of the BBC's successes, I think.
You went back feeling on top of the world, having had a laugh and a joke, you know, and it certainly perked you up anyway, you know.
But let's not get carried away.
For most people working in Britain their shift was a long way from a laugh and a sing-song.
The novelist Walter Greenwood wrote about Salford, "Here, in this birthplace of mine, "is the ugly, scrawled, illiterate signature of the Industrial Revolution.
"One can only stand appalled at the spectacle of man's handiwork.
"A raving maniac could not have dreamt up a more shocking place "had he been suffering the most outrageous nightmare.
" Industrial Britain was still smoking, a choking, raucous everyday reality that could dominate whole communities.
More than 70% of the British working population were labouring in hands-on, manual jobs.
They included my granddad, who worked as a riveter in a Glasgow shipyard.
The huge Sheffield steel industry welcomed into its ranks scrawny teenager Syd Morton.
Tell me about the first day.
Frightening, very frightening.
Because you weren't sure what you were going to do.
And somebody said, "Here, there's a mallet there.
"You see that bar coming on that plate? There's a knuckle in it.
Hit it, flatten it.
" That was your training? That were t'job.
Your body was drained, absolutely drained.
You were sweating, you were wet through all day.
You were smelly, you had blisters.
Syd, this is your poem, called The Mill, by Sydney Morton.
Can you read it to me? I will.
"The rumble and rattle of a tram going down the hill "Will surely take a young lad to the mill "The conveyor starts, a 300-pounder is on its way "Red hot as fury You see this, you don't want to stay "Your hands are blistered You try to be brave "You are captured You feel like a slave "Lad, get used to the heat, the sweat and the smell "At the end of the shift you'll have been through hell.
" For the young men thrown into this cauldron, heavy industry wasn't just hair raising, it could also be hazardous.
Health and safety was a rather underdeveloped feature of working life.
The average number of deaths in a year from industrial accidents in the 1940s and '50s was about 1,500, ten times as many as today.
Our coal mines were, of course, one of the most dangerous places to work.
Do you remember any accidents in particular? Well, the worst accident ever, of course, is a death.
So that happened when a chap was killed by a fall of roof and unfortunately that lad was Andanother chap was killed by the journey, which is aa journey of coal travelling out to be risen from the shaft and he was hit by the journey, like, so that was another death.
And when that happened, is the pit closed for the day, do you? Oh, no, no, they just attend him and transport him to the pit bottom and then he will be risen andyeah.
So production doesn't stop? No, no, no, production doesn't stop, no.
No.
These bleak and perilous conditions loomed over our working lives, closing down horizons.
This book, The British Worker, gives a rare glimpse into the hearts and minds of the working class after the Second World War.
It was written by a fascinating social anthropologist named Ferdynand Zweig, part of a series of books that he wrote, and in it he conducted hundreds of interviews and he finds that the British working class are a pretty pessimistic, not to say conservative bunch.
Here's a little sample of what one of them had to say.
"If you are born of poor parents and have an average brain, "you will be beaten all the time however hard you try.
"You can't beat the hand of destiny, I say.
" What do you think your mum and dad's expectations were for you, what do you think they wanted you to do? I've no idea.
They'd never discuss anything like that.
Did they not? No.
We're just a working family.
We didn't have education, we didn't have know-how or knowledge of doing 'owt.
I'll tell you what me dad said to me once.
"If you go to work, you've got a wage at the end of the week.
"And, you've got a wage at the end of t'week, you'll live.
" What about you? Did you have any ambition for yourself? No, I didn't.
I never thought about ambitions.
This lack of get up and go didn't just afflict the lives of frontline workers, it rippled through industry, hindering efficiency and productivity.
The editor of the Economist, Geoffrey Crowther, was moved to this grim diagnosis of British economic performance in 1950.
For many years, we British have told ourselves, until we've convinced ourselves, that production doesn't really matter.
For example, the workers of this country have convinced themselves that it is right to work less, for shorter hours, and still to get a higher level of real wages.
In the early '50s, Lance Dunkley worked in a forge in Wolverhampton.
What did you make of British workers, what was the efficiency like in the factories you worked in? The British workforce was primarily, er, working class who had limited education.
They were taught to do one job and that was the essence of the training.
They were just one-job people, and you would work on a machine for the rest of your life.
You would have a superintendent who was semi-literate.
He didn't know how to structure things.
Erm, what he would do anyway is that if you went to the gents or the toilet he would stand at the door and shout you.
What saying? "It's time to get out, you've got five minutes to do your bloody thing.
" Really? Yes.
To whatever your situation, if you didn't come out within five minutes, there would be a penalty.
So that was his contribution to British productivity? That was his contribution! Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run To fight this inefficiency, the authorities had already been forced to take desperate measures.
In 1947 the government was so furious at workers skiving off that they took the incredible step of banning greyhound racing from mid-week slots.
They even did the same with the big horse races, saying that the Grand National had to take place on the weekend.
Oh, what could be done to drag us out of this British nightmare? What about a dose of the American dream? In London, members of the Anglo-American Productivity Council get together before a nationwide tour of British industries, with its aim to increase production on the American pattern.
If, perchance, we can help Britain to increase its productivity we shall be both proud and happy.
The Americans thought that maybe they could make the British work a bit harder and that over here we were overpaid, underworked and frankly a bit idle.
With typical New World confidence, the American Productivity Council invited 900 of their British cousins to the States on a cultural exchange.
Their views are summed up by Leslie Skidmore.
This is a chance in a lifetime for me.
I hope to learn a lot in the United States and maybe I'll be able to tell them something too.
As a young manager in 1951, Harri Murrell went on one of those trips to America to learn about the printing trade, Stateside.
He quickly realised British workplaces were falling behind.
The relationship between the employees and theiremployers waspretty close in America, particularly on anything that would increase production.
That was quite a lesson for us.
The staff were always very well turned out, looked as if they'd all been bathed that morning, and the factories themselves were spotless.
But the British were a tough crowd for purveyors of the American way.
We rather liked looking back to more sedate times when we weren't being hustled into change by noisy Yanks.
What?! What a location for a factory! Couldn't you have found someplace nearer home? It wouldn't be easy to move the weavers.
We've been making tweed here for hundreds of years.
Oh, just get that picture.
Isn't that something? Don't bother to stop on my account, I've no time to be a tourist.
Let's press on to the tweed business.
Erthis is it.
But not all British workplaces were looking backwards.
Ah, Lyons tea shops, how splendidly British.
A business measured in bustling mornings and afternoons, sticky cakes and tinkling tea spoons and in the mid 1950s, ground-breaking work technology.
In it's back room, Lyons had introduced the world's first office computer.
Gloria Guy worked with this pioneering equipment.
It was called Leo, for Lyon's Electronics Office.
What did it look like? Oh, it was massive.
It was the size of two houses put together.
Right.
I had a sheet that showed the person's clock number, their tax code, their national insurance number, how many hours they'd worked, what the hourly rate was.
That all had to be fed into this machine.
It sounds incredibly antiquated now but at the time, you were at the forefront of technology.
Did you feel like a pioneer then? No, hadn't got a clue.
Not a clue! None of it made sense to you? No! I knew what we were doing but it didn't occur to me I was part of history.
As far as I was concerned, it was a job and the reason that I'd gone in to do that job was because I'd fancied one of the men that worked in there! It's as good a reason as any, Gloria.
By the mid '50s, there was only one office with this cutting-edge information technology but almost every office in the country had something just as vital.
I wonder if you've realised by now what my job is.
In the years since the war, the number of women going to work had increased to a third of the labour force.
And for this new generation of women workers, the most coveted posts were clerical.
In the 1950s, a million and a half women were in the typing pool or working as a secretary.
Just 3% of these kinds of jobs were filled by men.
Kay Millward started working in a solicitors' office in Birmingham in the mid '50s.
Mother said I should be a shorthand typist, learn shorthand and typing, and she said by doing that I would always be able to get a job.
Good.
Mother also said, if you're a secretary, you're respected.
The guys in the factory were factory workers, so therefore, you know, we were in the office.
It was something to be proud of.
It was a new age of opportunity at work, though it was sometimes struggling to emerge from the past.
Well, I was a junior learning the ropes in a solicitors' office.
The solicitor that I immediately worked for was about Well, he was nearly 100 years old.
He was in his middle 90s.
He was a decrepit old chap, really.
If you knocked on the door, which you had to do then, you never walked in and said "hi".
You knock on the door and wait.
I thought he'd said "come in" this one day and he was actually on the commode because he used to have a commode in his room.
So I backed out very hastily and that was my first experience.
In the mid '50s, Jeanette Brandon was working as a secretary in London when she came across an enticing invitation.
'This is Movietone.
'Leslie Mitchell reporting.
' Mr John Marshall, editor of the evening news, and his fellow judges must have had a difficult job.
There you are! There was so much attractive talent competing.
All the same, a decision had to be made.
You entered The Perfect Secretary Competition in 1953.
Explain a bit of that to me, a bit of the background.
Well, all I know is that a young man who was taking me out to lunch showed me this placard outside the Waldorf Astoria saying, "If you want to go to America, apply to be the Perfect Secretary.
"Have a holiday in America.
" Because that was the prize? That was the prize.
All you had to do was write what you thought the "Perfect Secretary" ought to be - not what you were.
You didn't have a test or anything.
So how did they judge it, then? Well, they judged it on your chat I think.
We have awarded this trip to Miss Jeannette Jandrin.
And so congratulations to the winner, who gets a free trip to America.
I don't mean to be in anyway disrespectful of your skills as a secretary but do you think it was quite a lot to do with the way you looked and the fact that you were a very charming girl? I think maybe charming Well, I know what it was, actually.
I could, well, answer.
You could think on your feet.
You know, I could cope with anybody, really.
I suppose I couldn't persuade you to work for me? Frankly, no.
I've already told you, I have the perfect boss.
Thank you.
Nice work if you can get it And you can get it if you try Clerical posts required staff with real skills and aptitudes and were critical to the smooth operation of every business in the land.
Hey, that's nice work If you can get it And you can get it if you try.
Once they were accustomed to the office technology, of course.
Elaine Howard started work as a secretary at Good Housekeeping Magazine in the late '50s.
Believe it or not, when I was a junior I was frightened of the telephone, when I first went to Good Housekeeping, yes.
And it's amazing, but a lot of people were.
Did you have a telephone at home? No.
Oh, right.
I didn't have one at home and it was quite strange to me to suddenly start doing orders and things over the phone.
I got over it but I got quite nervous Did you have a telephone voice? Yes.
Well, I had to put that on, you know.
Give me a sample of your telephone voice.
Hello, how may I help you? Very nice.
Thank you very much.
Very proper.
Lord Forester can see you for ten minutes at 3.
30 next Thursday.
Thank you, I'll book that.
Sometimes I feel I've got to Run away I've got to But not everything in this era was quite soappropriate.
The company secretary called me into his office.
He got up and he was talking to me one minute and he came so close to me.
I thought, "He's a bit too close" so I moved to the side.
He moved to the side.
I moved a bit further and he moved a bit further and I really don't like this and then I felt the hand come round the back of me, touching my bottom and I thought, "No, I can't have this.
" The funny thing was he was a man He had false teeth, which didn't do any favours because the top set dropped down and I just laughed.
'What makes the ideal shorthand typist? 'Presentable but not so glamorous that the big executive's mind goes round like a satellite.
'Nor yet so plain that he envies his colleagues who are away with Asian flu.
' Kay Millward also had her problems with a particular work's manager.
One of the girls said to me, "If he asks you to put your hand in his pocket, don't do it".
So I said "OK," like you do when you're young.
Completely forgot about it.
Anyway, I took some papers in and he had a book or something in his hands.
And he said to me, "Could you reach in my pocket and get my hanky?" or whatever out.
So I said yes.
So I puts the papers down on the desk and put my hand in his pocket.
I quickly withdrew it and left the room.
Despite these occupational hazards, secretarial work also offered glimpses of workplace power.
A chance to exert a bit of influence.
The secretary was the right-hand man of the managing director or the manager of the factory or whoever.
When the boss wasn't there, the secretary was the one who would see to everything.
'Do you know really important secretaries can earn 1,000 a year? 'Honestly, those millionaire tycoon fellows absolutely rely on their secretaries.
'Keep your eye on the future and one day, who knows?' The higher up you are, the more you've got to have knowledge of being very secretive and confidential.
You have to have that confidentiality cos you're entrusted with all sorts of things.
These privileged moments of access to authority were, of course, ultimately limited and for a coming generation of women, fundamentally frustrating.
I'm looking for an interesting job.
Me too.
There just aren't any exciting jobs for women.
You're so right.
It's a man's world.
Well, it's about time somebody did something about it.
I agree.
Come on! No, we can't go in there! 'Ere, 'ere, you can't come in 'ere.
Why not? I can do a man's job and I will too if it's interesting enough.
Me too.
Rowena Mills wanted to make use of her economics degree, but her careers advisor had other ideas.
She said, "What would you like to do?" I said, "Be a journalist".
"Oh, my dear, you can't be a journalist! "They're hard and they drink.
" I said, "Oh? Oh, well, that's all right.
" I didn't mind drinking.
And I said, "Well, what do you think I should do?" We have a large number of vacancies.
We have jobs in factories, warehouses, hotels, restaurants, hospitals Then she finally said, "What about being a secretary?" and I just leapt up to my full height, which was about twice hers, and I said, "Madam, I am not going to be a secretary, "I am going to have a secretary.
" But to have a secretary, you had to be a boss and in '50s Britain, joining the ranks of senior management was formidably difficult - and not only for ambitious women.
The nation's executives were selected from a rather shallow gene pool.
Of a survey that was done in 1950 of more than a thousand managing directors, they found that three fifths were the product of the British public school system.
And as well as lots of old boys, many of them were also the sons of previous managing directors.
That was the pattern.
I think all the members of my particular board were members of the three founding families, who joined together.
Dating back to the 1830s.
And they'd been in control ever since.
These cosy old-boys' clubs were packed with impenetrable hierarchies.
Brian Palmer started work as a young man in the young industry of advertising.
In any business, there was still an enormous amount of deference to authority.
Good morning, gentlemen.
Good morning, Sir.
The key to the director's lavatory was the ultimate in promotion in most businesses.
This apparent esteem was often based less on professional regard for the boss than fear, wrapped in up formality.
We all stopped talking when Mr Wilkinson When he walked in.
Because it was "Yes, Sir".
You didn't back-chat the boss in those days! It's all changed now.
Hello, Miss Smith.
I think I've got all I need.
Is there anything else I need to do? There are just these letters to be signed.
'I don't think it was Christian names at work until you knew people quite well.
' The boss of the unit I was in, who was called Ernest Chapel, was always known as Mr Chapel.
We were in Mr Chapel's group andthe girl that I subsequently married was Miss Atkins.
For all of the post-war talk about pulling together at work, the rigid barriers between bosses and workers just wouldn't go away.
There was a tremendous hierarchy of dress and of hats in particular, which nobody wears now.
City people, the posh City people, actually still wore top hats - the discount brokers and the people who worked at the Bank Of England.
Bowler hats was the next down.
Then there would be the cloth cap, which the common man wore to go to work.
You can't imagine that sort of hierarchy today.
Thank God.
This sartorial separateness topped off much deeper divisions.
It was a strict class division.
There was a canteen for factory-floor workers and there was one for the staff.
And it was strictly, "you are working class and I am staff class".
OK.
Staff being the management class? Yeah, the management class.
And the twain shall never meet.
Because of those privileges and because of the demanded respect, there was a simmering resentment? Oh, yes, always, always.
They didn't want to know members of the Staff members.
They didn't speak to them.
So, there was that simmering and latent hatred.
Hovering over the relationship between management and workers was the niggling question of efficiency.
And a new technique of measuring output imported from America was upsetting the applecart - The Time And Motion Study.
Time is the measure of all the millions of jobs that make the country tick.
Mr Llewellyn? Is it necessary to time every job? Yes, it is.
Well, I don't think it's very nice.
I don't think it's English - having a stopwatch over you.
What is it particularly you object to? Well, I think it's something foreign.
Bernie Passingham worked at the Ford Motor Factory in Dagenham throughout the '50s.
They used to have the guys with the stopwatches coming round, standing watching you, while you didn't know at times.
And every movement you do on the assembly, they clocked it.
Every second counted.
Every movement counted.
And they got it down to a fine art, didn't they? This forensic inspection and control of the working day antagonized the men who represented the workers - the trades union officials.
Membership of a union was, by the late 1950s, a mass experience, deeply embedded in the culture of British work.
Joining the brotherhood was a rite of passage.
Richard Griffiths joined the electricians' union in the late 1950s.
After the branch president had asked me, "Do you agree?", and I agreed, "Yes", to abide by the rules and regulations of the trade union movement, he would then ask the branch to welcome me in the right and proper manner.
And there's about 50 to 100 people sitting round the edge in this.
It was like a bit of a slow handclap, but it was very welcoming to see that you were part and parcel of the trade union movement.
Trade union cards! Right! Those against? For some, the unions were a cause, red-blooded socialism in action.
But in the industrial heartlands of working Britain, they were often far from radical.
They could be deeply conservative, defensive and resistant to changing the way things were done.
THEY SHOUT OVER ONE ANOTHER Can't touch that skirt for a start.
Why not? It's pinned-up pleating.
We haven't negotiated a rate for pinned-up pleating.
Now, look.
Look, girls Lily? No.
Carol? What a very becoming hairstyle.
Do you like it? Now, dear, look, could you do me a favour? Oh, well, perhaps if I No, you don't! The rules say clearly that no girl is to do the management a favour.
The unions all had little rule books just like this one crammed full of "dos" and "don'ts" for their members.
Understandably, they wanted to try to retain their hard-won rights.
Did they go too far? You can judge for yourself.
Here are some newspaper headlines from the time.
"A 45-year-old man is to appear before a court of ten shop stewards tonight "on a charge of working too long.
" This is a strike by meat porters who are saying nobody but them should get to pick up the goods at the markets, meaning that things are lying around for hours on end on the market floor.
And, finally, my personal favourite is about a dispute between two unions over who should get to draw a chalk line on a ship.
It first of all, has to be marked up by a joiner, but that's only from this side of the ship, the inside.
The same job has to be done from the outside by a shipwright, and he has to line it up with the other portholes.
Then a driller comes along and drills a hole about so big there in the centre.
When Dave Rowell was working in the aircraft industry he ran into problems with demarcation - the strict union rules about who could do what.
For instance, if you were working on an aircraft and in the cockpit there were bits of wood and things like that.
Now, if you, as a fitter, were to unscrew the screws in the piece of wood and take the piece of wood out then everybody would down tools because that was a chippy's job, you know? It wasn't a fitter's job.
You weren't allowed to do that.
And it got really silly.
I'm a blacksmith.
Now, I don't want anyone else doing my job, just the same as I don't want to do anybody else's job.
Doing something from their end.
I want a conference with both parties here.
By the late '50s a note of truculence had settled in British workplaces, a hostility to change and an antagonism between shopfloor and management.
It provoked one famously scathing cultural commentary on the way we worked.
I am obliged to point out that if you sack this man, the company is in breach of its union agreement.
Surely he's not a union member? But that is merely technical.
But didn't you say that he was incompetent and couldn't do his job properly? We do not and cannot accept the principle that incompetence justifies dismissal.
That is victimisation.
That's right.
Hear, hear.
There certainly was a feeling among the mass of workers that they had been kept down a bit and they didn't want to be kept down anymore.
And quite right, too, I think.
I think the attitude was that they'd been through so much, and they had, because those men had fought in the war, in a horrible war, and had horrible experiences, and I think that it, this is my philosophizing, that they felt they were entitled to more and they could see their bosses in their Bentleys and there was resentment.
A worker in the car industry wrote this anonymous poem.
"They bleed us white, they squeeze us dry, they treat us like a lemon, "they little know what ire they rouse, what hatred and what venom".
This bitterness was undermining the great post-war ideal that we were all in this together.
The number of strikes spikes in the late 50's.
The old days of cosy cooperation in the British workplace were well and truly over.
But it wasn't just the employers who were getting it in the neck.
The workers were turning on each other.
If someone was to step out of line with a union stance, it could result in the cold shoulder.
The refusal of a factory worker to join his colleagues in a series of petty disputes saw him shunned and humiliated in the 1960 film The Angry Silence.
Over here, Bill.
Well, this is just one part of the huge Ford motorworks at Dagenham.
It's a place where the shop stewards are extremely well organized and they've acquired the reputation for being tough and militant.
Bernie Passingham was one of those shop stewards and was hard on anyone who defied the union position.
'How long could somebody be sent to Coventry for?' Basically until they left.
Right, a long time? Yeah, and they would normally leave.
Would they? Yeah.
Well, what a life they got.
That's harsh, that seems quite harsh.
It is harsh.
It's about several hundred people agreeing that they're going to do this and they ain't going to lose a day's wage.
Why should somebody say they're not going to do it? They're stupid to say no.
If 1950's trade unionism could be bloody minded, it could also be narrow minded.
I'm a shop steward and I see the inside of it.
The truth is that these people work for longer hours and less wages than we could afford to.
That will undermine everything we fought for in the last century.
They ought to send them all back from where they all came from sharpish.
The face of the British worker in forges and hospitals and in transport was literally changing, and it provoked some bilious attitudes.
Ruel Moseley was recruited as a bus conductor from Barbados in the fifties.
What sort of reception did you get from the guys who were already working on the buses? It wasn't a very pleasant scene at all because sometimes you knew that they're not talking to you, but the sarcastic remarks that they would use.
Can you give me an example? For instance they'd say "They've got all these black bastards over here to work.
" You felt debased, to say the least.
It was terrible.
We fought for five years for decent living conditions and we can't get them now.
What chance have we got with all these blacks coming into the country? It's going to push everyone else out if you keep bringing them over in thousands, isn't it? From what I've seen of them they've always been all right to me.
I don't entertain them, they don't entertain me.
Lance Dunkley had come from Jamaica in 1955 to work in a forge in Wolverhampton.
It was a bleak experience.
Those you worked with would not, would treat you also as a stranger.
So you'd say to yourself, "What have I done?" But you couldn't return because the money you were earning was so small that you couldn't save enough to say, "All right, to hell with this place.
" So a lot of our people who came, and the Asians, because some of them were in their 40s and so on, they suffered from a great deal of depression - you want to go home, you can't go home.
Whatcha, Sambo.
Stone the crows, you nigs don't half pong.
What do you mean "pong"? Why don't you learn English? I warn you, Mister.
Gah! That's enough.
You try that lark, I'll kick your teeth in.
Let me go and I'll murder the little, black bastard.
That's enough, drop it! Ruel Moseley found that outside the bus depot, work could be a rough business.
The only thing that I resented is when I was threatened with violence.
And that happened a few times.
That's What's that for? This is part of your kit, right, as a conductor? Yes.
What's that actually for? Well, this is for changing the blinds on the buses, destination blinds.
Like when you crank the thing? Yes, but then when things get out of hand and they're going to beat me up I would have a helper.
With that, you'd clock them, did you? Of course.
Did you? I did.
Sort of like a knuckleduster then? Yes, to thump him.
Where would you? Any soft spot, because you don't want to leave any bruising.
For many immigrant workers, coming here to do a job could be a wounding experience.
But by the early 60's, for most of us, work was a better place.
We earned more money, we slogged fewer hours, we had a greater choice of jobs and we were better educated for employment.
In spite of all the niggles and obstacles, work seemed to have delivered the post-war dream of prosperity.
I now feel, actually, that was a sort of pivotal cusp moment, the moment when austerity switched over to prosperity, if you like, or the top-down society started changing to the demand society.
Well, pick up your feet Cos I've a deadline to meet I'm gonna see you make it on time Don't relax And this demand society was a restless place.
Cos you're working for the man In the growing service industries of the 60's, a fresh generation of employees was impatient with the old order.
Sid Roberson's dad had run a small dairy in London but he was forging a career as a creative in the advertising business.
I was fired by the fact that the people I worked for weren't as good as I was.
"How come I'm working for him when he's an idiot?" You know what I mean? So the thing to do is to get his job.
The attitude was, if you got a job and you worked hard and you paid attention, you'd make some progress.
So I'd sleep all day Without much pay I'm just biding my time Cos the company And the daughter you see They're both gonna be all mine Yeah, I'm gonna be the man I'm gonna be the man In advertising, the stagnant rules about who did what and knowing your place were under assault.
In those early days, what kind of people worked in advertising? Basically, it was divided into kind of camps really, divided strictly by class.
I mean the account-executives and the people that dealt with the clients were public school, university educated, posh gits.
And the creatives, the people that made the ads, were mostly oiks like my good self.
So there was a kind of class divide, and we basically bullied them.
And we were the first group of, ersort of people who .
.
took power into our own hands and we behaved very badly.
This workplace agitation wasn't just simmering away in advertising.
Our expectations of work and what work could bring us were changing.
It was no longer enough to just have a job, we wanted more.
You went to work and you liked going to work, you know, and you liked behaving badly and you liked making good money.
In the coming years, behaving badly and making good money were to become a national preoccupation.
No firm negotiates with the men at work! No firm, no firm! Next time, conflict, quarrel and ambition grip the British at work.