Organise a shipyard strike

sidsal
17th December 2008, 17:30
I have the rare disticntion of bringing 150 ( it may have been 250) joiners and carpenters out on strike in Vickers Armstrong's Barrow shipyard in 1947.
I joined a tanker there - the FJ WOLFE - German built in 1932 - twin MAN engines and taken over as reparations by the UK. The engines were rogue engines and were constanly breaking down.. She was brought to Barrow because there were German engineers from the MAN works working on developing hydrogen peroxide propulsion for submarines.. This development was however superceded by atomic power. We were at Barrow for 3 months and had a whale of a time - lovely girls, stacks of free time etc.
The foreman in charge of the joiners used to come and have a coffee in my cabin most days. The ship swarmed with workers and about 20 minutes before knocking off time they would gather on the big wooden gangway - four abreast until the hooter went and then it was like the London Maraathon.
Some years later one of these gangways broke under their weight and several workers killed.
One morning after breakfast I went to the chartroom to correct charts. Sitting on the settee was a woirkman with a bag of tools and we passed the time of day. After an hour or so I asked him what he was doing and he said he was an electrician and needed to get at the wiring to the gyro compass which was behind the panelling on the bulkhead. I asked him what was holdin him up and he said he was expecting a joiner to remove about ten screws from the panels. I asked him why he couldn't remove them and he said he dare not as he would be doing a joiner's job. I said I would remove them and he remonstrated with me. Being the bolshie sort I said I wasn't in the union and it was my chartroom and I would take all the panels off if I so wished. I then removed the screws and panels and the chap got to work.
After lunch I went up to the chartroom again and a joiner arrived and asked who the ***** had removed the panels. I said that I had and he laid into me verbally so I repeated that I wasn;t in their union and would dismantle the
whole ship if I felt like it. "We'll see about that " he said and departed in high dudgeon.
Next thing - all the shipyard joiners downed tools and there was a big meeting where my friend the head joiner explained that it was this blooming mate who had removed the panels and they should forget it. Reluctantly they returend to work having wasted a couple of hours. The foreman pleaded with me - never to stir things like that again.
This, of course is an example of why the shipbuilding industry collapsed and went to Japan and Korea.
I was delighted to read however that Cammel Lairds is on the up again and has big orders. I think the British worker has learnt the hard facts of life.
P.S The engines were every bit as bad after all that !

Derek Roger
17th December 2008, 18:26
Nice one Sid ; by the way your post came up twice so I have deleted the duplicate .

Regards Derek

stan mayes
17th December 2008, 18:42
Hello Sid - Did you not know that F.J.Wolfe was a jinx ship- well known during the war..
She was not a reparations ship. Six of her class were built in Germany prewar for Standard Oil New Jersey and flew the Panama flag.
She was registered in the UK in 1940 I think.
She was involved in many incidents and my ship Neritina was one of them..
On 16.9.1942 she had a collision with Empire Soldier which sank.
I was in Neritina - Anglo Saxon tanker on maiden voyage...in convoy ON 125 end December 1943 we had problems with the steering gear and in atrocious weather we were blown accross the sea and were in collision in next column with F.J.Wolfe...Our bows cut a huge gash into her port quarter and our bows were crushed back 30 feet -the 12 lb gun on focs'le head disappeared overboard.
We arrived in New York on 28th December and had four weeks in Brooklyn drydock undergoing repairs.
Many seamen from Tilbury area sailed in F.J.Wolfe and all have a story to tell.
Regards Stan

trucker
17th December 2008, 19:08
I have the rare disticntion of bringing 150 ( it may have been 250) joiners and carpenters out on strike in Vickers Armstrong's Barrow shipyard in 1947.
I joined a tanker there - the FJ WOLFE - German built in 1932 - twin MAN engines and taken over as reparations by the UK. The engines were rogue engines and were constanly breaking down.. She was brought to Barrow because there were German engineers from the MAN works working on developing hydrogen peroxide propulsion for submarines.. This development was however superceded by atomic power. We were at Barrow for 3 months and had a whale of a time - lovely girls, stacks of free time etc.
The foreman in charge of the joiners used to come and have a coffee in my cabin most days. The ship swarmed with workers and about 20 minutes before knocking off time they would gather on the big wooden gangway - four abreast until the hooter went and then it was like the London Maraathon.
Some years later one of these gangways broke under their weight and several workers killed.
One morning after breakfast I went to the chartroom to correct charts. Sitting on the settee was a woirkman with a bag of tools and we passed the time of day. After an hour or so I asked him what he was doing and he said he was an electrician and needed to get at the wiring to the gyro compass which was behind the panelling on the bulkhead. I asked him what was holdin him up and he said he was expecting a joiner to remove about ten screws from the panels. I asked him why he couldn't remove them and he said he dare not as he would be doing a joiner's job. I said I would remove them and he remonstrated with me. Being the bolshie sort I said I wasn't in the union and it was my chartroom and I would take all the panels off if I so wished. I then removed the screws and panels and the chap got to work.
After lunch I went up to the chartroom again and a joiner arrived and asked who the ***** had removed the panels. I said that I had and he laid into me verbally so I repeated that I wasn;t in their union and would dismantle the
whole ship if I felt like it. "We'll see about that " he said and departed in high dudgeon.
Next thing - all the shipyard joiners downed tools and there was a big meeting where my friend the head joiner explained that it was this blooming mate who had removed the panels and they should forget it. Reluctantly they returend to work having wasted a couple of hours. The foreman pleaded with me - never to stir things like that again.
This, of course is an example of why the shipbuilding industry collapsed and went to Japan and Korea.
I was delighted to read however that Cammel Lairds is on the up again and has big orders. I think the British worker has learnt the hard facts of life.
P.S The engines were every bit as bad after all that !

did you not carry out a risk assesment first,before removing the paneling.it might have been the lecky was a latter day elf and safety nut.(Thumb)nice one.

andysk
22nd December 2008, 11:02
...... I think the British worker has learnt the hard facts of life.

Good story Sidsal. but sadly I rather think all lessons have to be relearnt by each generation themselves !

GWB
22nd December 2008, 11:36
Great story Sidsal but must agree with Andy don't think the lessons of experience has been passed on to the Y generation or the ability to save and not live on credit.

GWB

sidsal
22nd December 2008, 13:49
Stan Mayes
Amazing that you knew the FJ WOLFE during the war ! She was certainly jinxed - as were her sister ships. The D L HARPER was astern of us in a convoy NY _UK and she had great difficulty in keeping station as she had a critical speed which made her a pain in the Butt. We blocked the Suez canal once - ending up across it - bow one side - stern the other.
If you remeber the steering gear was electric and it had a quadrant in front of the wheel which went across electric contacts. The quadrant would catch the wires and cause a short which put the wheel hard over , one way or the other. After leaving Barrow we went to Cammel Lairds at Birkenhead to dry dock. On leaving this happened as we were passing Woodside ferry landing stage. Both anchors were dropped and we rounded and came alongside the pontoon quite gently. The. awaiting passengers had fled up the walkway on seeing this monster approaching.
We had the "not under command" balls and lights permanently rove to use immediately. One night going west through the Straits of Gib she went hard astarboard and missed the stern of the Dutch liner Wilhelm Ruys which was steaming east, by a matter of yards.
Once we arrived at the Nab tower en route for Fawley running on 2 cylinders of 1 engine and tugs met us and towed us home.
Happy days
Sid

andysk
22nd December 2008, 15:52
..... or the ability to save and not live on credit.

GWB

Methinks this has been encouraged by Governments to get us all onto debt for one reason.

With the banks now under their control, at least in the UK, they have more knowledge about the plebs, and can keep them under control more ......

Cynical or what ?

sparkie2182
22nd December 2008, 19:15
perhaps some research into the working conditions in V.A Barrow prior to the recognition of trades unions may help explain how hard won rights were not easily given away.
had it been the "black trades" union which was involved ......boilermakers, welders, gougers ,caulkers and not the joiners union.......the F.J. Wolfe would still be lying there.

Barrow has been the lead yard for the construction of Royal Navy nuclear submarines for 50 years, and the contract has not yet gone to Japan or Korea.

sidsal
22nd December 2008, 21:52
There was a chap called Hill who was president of the Boilermakers Union for years and hastened the demise of the British shipnuilding industry. I remember seeing him in his robes when he was made a Lord. There was a Frank Cousins also who was president of the Engineering union and spent more time on politics than he did looking after his members interests.
The engineers of this country have, in my humble opinion never been given the recognition they deserve. It's the money shufflers and accountants that have had all the kudos - and look where it's got us.
I was told a while ago that the only firm in the UK capable of making big ship propellors had closed.
Also a few years ago a chapfrom the firm that made the machines to drill the channel tunnel said that the Doncaster based frim had been sold to the Germans and promptly shut down.
One of the amazing things he told us was that the 2 machines digging from each end were directed downwards when they met and still lie there.
Which reminds me of the joke current at the time about tenders being invited for digging the Channel tunnel. Al the tenders were for hundreds of millions except for Murphy and Son who were only 50,000. The authorities sent for Murphy and asked him how he would set about it and he said _ "Sure, I'll send my son Michael over on the ferry with a pick and shovel and a wheelbarrow and he's start digging from France. I will start digging from Dover and we'll meet in the middle "
The government chap said - "What happens if you don't meet in the middle"
Murphy replied - " In that case, Sorr - you'll get two tunnels for the price on one " !!!

sparkie2182
22nd December 2008, 22:07
there were not too many members of the house of lords to be found on the slips.
furthermore....any trades union official could be voted out of office.

Ron Stringer
23rd December 2008, 08:42
[QUOTE=sidsal;275652]One of the amazing things he told us was that the 2 machines digging from each end were directed downwards when they met and still lie there.QUOTE]

I know that story is a myth because for some years after the Chunnel opened, there used to be one of the boring machines sitting on the top of an embankment alongside the M20 motorway near Folkestone. Draped along the side of it was a banner with a message to the effect of ''For Sale - Only Used Once''.

R58484956
23rd December 2008, 15:04
Joined a ship yard as a fitter, they wanted an electrician, so would I be a leckie. Yes I said. After about a year or so the boilermakers found out I was not an electrician, "ALL OUT" Yard came to a complete standstill. I was transferred to the fitting shop under the watchful eye of boiler maker shop steward. All back to work. They had been welding my cable tray with me holding it ever since I started. The BM steward always carried his " Detache case"

sidsal
23rd December 2008, 15:16
Ron:
I don't believe the story is a myth because a chap who was pretty senior in the firm who made the machines gave us a talk at our Rotary Club a few years ago. The firm was in Doncaster if I remember rightly. It was he who said about the firm being closed down and how the machines are still there in mid Channel. Perhaps the machine you saw is part of the whole project.. I will try and verify the facts !
Merry Chrsitmas !

R58484956
23rd December 2008, 15:30
Go to http://www.geologyshop.co.uk/chtunfacts.htm.
Apparently there were 11 boring m/c's 6 on uk side and 5 on French side.
One has recently appeared on e-bay (B6) latest price 10m
Does not say where all m/c's are now.
one outside Dover.

sidsal
23rd December 2008, 15:35
Sparkie 2182:
Ted Hill, President of the Boiler Markers Union turned out to have feet of clay. I can see him now in his ermine - looking a right pratt. How could a red hot labour activist become a Lord ? The establishment used this ploy often to compromise activists. However the harm of he did through restrictive practices was immense. That is not to say that the shipbuilding industry would not move to the east anyway because of cheap labour but people like him certainly hastened the end.
My time at VA in Barrow was typical. After 4pm the workers would leave thier posts and beging to gather on the gangways off the ships. They would not step ashore because of agreements until the hooter went at 5. Then the stampede was under way. I would say the whole last hour of the workforce was lost. Sadly some years later a gangway collapsed under the weight of hundreds of men waiting for the hooter and several were killed.
I am a supporter of unions when they co-operate with employers to make life better for all but Red Robbo of British Leyland and Ted Hill and their ilk ruined the trade union movement as well as the organisations in which they were active.

BlythSpirit
23rd December 2008, 16:05
Ron,
I know that story is a myth because for some years after the Chunnel opened, there used to be one of the boring machines sitting on the top of an embankment alongside the M20 motorway near Folkestone. Draped along the side of it was a banner with a message to the effect of ''For Sale - Only Used Once''.


You are wrong I'm afraid, there are at least three separate tunnels under the sea, (Two main ones and a service tunnel) - each required two boring machines, one each now displayed at the English and French sides and at least two boring machines were sidetracked into their burial spaces and remain there today.

sidsal
23rd December 2008, 16:54
Blyth Spirit
Thanks for info. That's the beauty of SN - there is a fund of knowledge out there !

Mactaf
23rd December 2008, 18:59
To set the record straight. I believe Frank Cousins was Leader of the TGWU & refused the "Judas Bauble" aka a seat in the undemocratic house of Lords. With regard to cooperation with employers? Did you mean to say capitulate? To blame the TU's for industries heading east is a complete fallacy. many industries with very little history of TU's are to this very day outsourcing to China & India .Even the relatively modern concept of call centres have gone that way.
If a mistake was made it was to ignore the warnings of Messrs Red Robbo, Scargill & Co. History has proved that they were the men of truth. It was listening to the words of Thatcher & the scab Union (Covert Tory) leaders that hastened the demise of industry in this country. Not forgetting that many of those same scab leaders all ended up clothed in House of Lords Ermine provided by the Tories. If there is blame to be levelled, then may I suggest that it is laid at the correct door. That of the capitulating scab Union Leaders.

sidsal
23rd December 2008, 19:57
Yes _ I have looked on Wikepedia and I see Frank Cousins turned down elevation to the House of Lords - unlike some of the others. I see Red Robbo caused 523 walkouts at British Leyland costing 200 million in lost production.
No way to run a business. However I believe British industry had suffered from weak management and it is, as usual half a dozen of one and half a dozen of the other.
It never ceased to amaze me how we could loose most of our manufacturing industry and still posper - UNTIL NOW !!
I suspect the chickens have come home to roost !!

John Williams 56-65
23rd December 2008, 20:37
I have the rare disticntion of bringing 150 ( it may have been 250) joiners and carpenters out on strike in Vickers Armstrong's Barrow shipyard in 1947.
I joined a tanker there - the FJ WOLFE - German built in 1932 - twin MAN engines and taken over as reparations by the UK. The engines were rogue engines and were constanly breaking down.. She was brought to Barrow because there were German engineers from the MAN works working on developing hydrogen peroxide propulsion for submarines.. This development was however superceded by atomic power. We were at Barrow for 3 months and had a whale of a time - lovely girls, stacks of free time etc.
The foreman in charge of the joiners used to come and have a coffee in my cabin most days. The ship swarmed with workers and about 20 minutes before knocking off time they would gather on the big wooden gangway - four abreast until the hooter went and then it was like the London Maraathon.
Some years later one of these gangways broke under their weight and several workers killed.
One morning after breakfast I went to the chartroom to correct charts. Sitting on the settee was a woirkman with a bag of tools and we passed the time of day. After an hour or so I asked him what he was doing and he said he was an electrician and needed to get at the wiring to the gyro compass which was behind the panelling on the bulkhead. I asked him what was holdin him up and he said he was expecting a joiner to remove about ten screws from the panels. I asked him why he couldn't remove them and he said he dare not as he would be doing a joiner's job. I said I would remove them and he remonstrated with me. Being the bolshie sort I said I wasn't in the union and it was my chartroom and I would take all the panels off if I so wished. I then removed the screws and panels and the chap got to work.
After lunch I went up to the chartroom again and a joiner arrived and asked who the ***** had removed the panels. I said that I had and he laid into me verbally so I repeated that I wasn;t in their union and would dismantle the
whole ship if I felt like it. "We'll see about that " he said and departed in high dudgeon.
Next thing - all the shipyard joiners downed tools and there was a big meeting where my friend the head joiner explained that it was this blooming mate who had removed the panels and they should forget it. Reluctantly they returend to work having wasted a couple of hours. The foreman pleaded with me - never to stir things like that again.
This, of course is an example of why the shipbuilding industry collapsed and went to Japan and Korea.
I was delighted to read however that Cammel Lairds is on the up again and has big orders. I think the British worker has learnt the hard facts of life.
P.S The engines were every bit as bad after all that !

Sidsal; There was a strike at Cammel Laird in Birkenhead in the early sixties similar to the one you described. Unlike most strikes it was not a dispute between management and unions, but between two unions and was about demarcation and who does what. The warring unions were the joiners and the sheet metal workers. A new material was being used on one ship, which consisted of plywood encased in sheet metal. Both unions claimed it was their job to fix it. It became known as the Screwy Strike and became quite a cause celebre, even being mentioned in parliament. I don`t know who became the victor in this dispute but it wasn`t the shipyard.

sidsal
23rd December 2008, 20:52
John: What a strike !
Now that unions are more sensible it seems to me that the Elf and Safety mob have taken over and clogged the works. We Brits seem pre-disposed to making things difficult for ourselves.
Some yers ago after retiring I did a stint with the probation service supervising young men who had bee given community service hours as a punishment. It was a farce - there were no worthwhile jobs to be done and many would be late turning up. At one stage I was told to go on a day course in Health and Safety. The chap ( ex 2nd Mate) lectured us. He aksed us to imagine that we had a job to tidy up an overgrown old ladies garden.
What will youy need to kit out the squad ?
1st reply - Hard hats
V.Good - anything else ?
Steel capped heavy boots
Good - anything else ?
Goggles if striiming
Good - anything else?
Long gauntlets
Good - anything else ?
Dayglo overalls for safety
Good - anything else ?
First aid box
Good - anything else?
And so it went on until soembody pointed out that the old lady would probably have a seizure if she saw this mob dressed like Martians appear.
When you see that somebody had been given so many hours of community service , believe me it is no punishment at all and just a way to keep the prisons from overflowing.