The demise of British Shipbuilding - Ships Nostalgia
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The demise of British Shipbuilding

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  #1  
Old 13th January 2006, 15:33
dsftm dsftm is offline  
 
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The demise of British Shipbuilding

Just why have most of the yards shut. It's very easy to blame Thatcher et al but there must be a more specific reason. Nationalisation perhaps, unions taking liberties?

It is interesting talking to my father (80 years old) he started out as a rivet catcher then a riverter on the Wear, worked piece(sp?) work and says that he grafted all day for his money.

My brother on the other hand worked in the yards in the 70s/80s and tells tales of nightshift consisting of going to work, messing around for a couple of hours then getting changed to go to the town clubbing. Return to the yard at 3am, sleep for a couple of hours then go home.

What on earth went wrong??
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Old 13th January 2006, 17:54
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Union unrest (particularly in the 70s and 80s) was certainly a nail in the coffin, but it wasn't the beginning of the end or the end, just a contributing factor (and one of those which caused my company to finally bite the bullet and go foreign).
The major problem was, and still is low cost competition from foreign yards, predominantly in the Far East (Korea, Japan and China) where the cost of labour is far lower than the likes of the UK.
There is also the fact that when UK yards are compared to their Korean couterparts, well, there is no comparison. Your average UK yard looks like a museum piece whereas the scale of operations at the huge yards of Hyundai, Samsung and Mitsubishi has to be seen to be believed.
The only yard which came close (still a mountain range of difference though) was Harland & Wolffs, but even that has shut down it's shipbuilding operations, with most of the yard to become houses (surprise surprise).
In short, the UK couldn't compete on price, had it's well documented industrial problems, had woefully inefficent yards and working practices, and more importantly, simply didn't modernise quickly enough to take advantage of the high value niche market for the likes of Passenger ships and specialist vessels.
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Old 13th January 2006, 18:01
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James C hit the nail squarely on the head. In Harland's we tried our best and diversified where we could but it was like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling, totally fruitless. We were competing against far east yards who could deliver a 100,000 tankers for a price less than we could buy the steel for. In the end the land the yard stood on was worth more than the business and so it was sold for re-development. Over 150 years of shipbuilding history, gone at the stroke of a pen.
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Old 13th January 2006, 21:56
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dsftm
Just why have most of the yards shut. It's very easy to blame Thatcher et al but there must be a more specific reason. Nationalisation perhaps, unions taking liberties?

It is interesting talking to my father (80 years old) he started out as a rivet catcher then a riverter on the Wear, worked piece(sp?) work and says that he grafted all day for his money.

My brother on the other hand worked in the yards in the 70s/80s and tells tales of nightshift consisting of going to work, messing around for a couple of hours then getting changed to go to the town clubbing. Return to the yard at 3am, sleep for a couple of hours then go home.

What on earth went wrong??
What went wrong was that there were too many lazy b*****ds supposedly "working" in the shipyards and not producing the goods.....
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Old 15th January 2006, 21:10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by william dillon
What went wrong was that there were too many lazy b*****ds supposedly "working" in the shipyards and not producing the goods.....
Well said Billy, obviously spoken as a man with years of experience in shipbuilding. The guys in the yards speak well of you too! Can't help wonder though, just who did build all those magnificent vessels?
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Old 16th January 2006, 18:21
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I worked for 30 years in the shipbuilding industry, of which almost ten in Riva Trigoso Fincantieri's yard, and also if Unions didn't help, the blame is not all on them.
The shipbuilding industry product is "poor", and the chances of automatization are almost naught, so all the costs are strictly connected with the manpower cost.
Since it isn't possible to reduce the hours needed to built a ship "ad infinitum", a time arrives in which it isn't possible to compete with Far East yards, in which the labour costs infinitely less than in Italy or in UK.
The only way to survive is to specialize the products keeping only the ones with high technological level: in Fincantieri the 90 % of the production is cruise ships or fast ferries, letting alone the naval production.
By the way, in yards there are surely good or bad workmen as everywhere, but I can assure Billy that I didn't meet a single "lazy b*****d" in 30 years.
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Old 16th January 2006, 20:29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tmac1720
Well said Billy, obviously spoken as a man with years of experience in shipbuilding. The guys in the yards speak well of you too! Can't help wonder though, just who did build all those magnificent vessels?
I had experience of working practices in "John Browns" in Clydebank many years ago, I wonder how they ever managed to build anything far less ships, talk about dead slow & stop, it was unbelieveable................
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Old 17th January 2006, 22:16
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Funny you should mention "John Browns". Having worked in Harland and Wolff for almost 30 years the only lazy b*****ds that I experienced were a considerable number of Scottish sub-contactors chasing the money during one of our recent contracts. I like many others are proud of what Harland and Wolff and the British shipbuilding industry in general has achieved. James_c is 100% correct regarding the demise of the British shipbuilding industry - economics took over and that's that! I wonder how long yards like Hyundai, Samsung and Mitsubishi would survive using sub-contract labour at the rates that were demanded by lazy greedy skivers ?
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Old 17th January 2006, 22:50
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Quote:
Originally Posted by the yard
Funny you should mention "John Browns". Having worked in Harland and Wolff for almost 30 years the only lazy b*****ds that I experienced were a considerable number of Scottish sub-contactors chasing the money during one of our recent contracts. I like many others are proud of what Harland and Wolff and the British shipbuilding industry in general has achieved. James_c is 100% correct regarding the demise of the British shipbuilding industry - economics took over and that's that! I wonder how long yards like Hyundai, Samsung and Mitsubishi would survive using sub-contract labour at the rates that were demanded by lazy greedy skivers ?
What I am trying to say is that restrictive practices i.e. "I'm a Plater, it's not my job to bore a hole through wood, get a Carpenter" crucified the yards whereas the Japs & Koreans got on with it.
I was once in "John Browns" to install a new fuel pump, the suction entry to the pump unit was 1.5" B.S.P. unfortunately the suction pipework to the tank was 1.5" Copper, a procession of Plumbers & Coppersmiths + their mates & Gaffers came to look at the job (to alter the copper pipe to accept a Steel to Copper adaptor).
The alteration which took about 10 minutes to complete was eventually carried out 5.5 hours later, quite frustrating to say the least.
I'm not implying that all the British shipyards were like this, although they could have been.
I can only assume that all the great ships were completed by a workforce with "one hand tied behind their backs".
I'm not trying to de-cry the workforce, I think the unions have a lot to answer for.
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Old 17th January 2006, 22:57
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Quote:
Originally Posted by william dillon
What I am trying to say is that restrictive practices i.e. "I'm a Plater, it's not my job to bore a hole through wood, get a Carpenter" crucified the yards whereas the Japs & Koreans got on with it.
I was once in "John Browns" to install a new fuel pump, the suction entry to the pump unit was 1.5" B.S.P. unfortunately the suction pipework to the tank was 1.5" Copper, a procession of Plumbers & Coppersmiths + their mates & Gaffers came to look at the job (to alter the copper pipe to accept a Steel to Copper adaptor).
The alteration which took about 10 minutes to complete was eventually carried out 5.5 hours later, quite frustrating to say the least.
I'm not implying that all the British shipyards were like this, although they could have been.
I can only assume that all the great ships were completed by a workforce with "one hand tied behind their backs".
I'm not trying to de-cry the workforce, I think the unions have a lot to answer for.
P.S. I could have done the alteration myself, not allowed, " that's a Coppersmiths job".
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Old 23rd January 2006, 23:22
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In the 1960's I was on a ship in Liverpool, the contract engineers had a Doxford top piston hanging on the crane and had to wait the rest of the day to get a plater to lift one floor plate to access the piston stowage. We were not allowed to lift it on pain of the contractors walking off the ship! This is only one example of the restrictive practices imposed by the unions in UK ports at the time.
It's a good job ship's crews did not follow these practices or we would have got nowhere fast.
Derek
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Old 24th January 2006, 21:48
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For about three weeks worked for a ship repair firm in ST Catherines dock London.The demarcation rules were soul destroying.When I removed the drip shield over a generator I was to overhaul one would have thought it was an act of terroism the fuss it caused.It apparently was a plumbers job to remove the six bolts & lift it aside.Nothing like the icy,hostile & scary silence I caused,when at a union meeting my reply to a question"Did you attend Union Meetings in NZ?" was" Only one. To stop the Commos getting control".How was I an ignorant colonial to know that the ETU Secretary was in Moscow as much as the UK.The demise of British shipbuilding though regretable was no surprise. KIWI
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Old 24th January 2006, 22:17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dsftm
Just why have most of the yards shut. It's very easy to blame Thatcher et al but there must be a more specific reason. Nationalisation perhaps, unions taking liberties?

It is interesting talking to my father (80 years old) he started out as a rivet catcher then a riverter on the Wear, worked piece(sp?) work and says that he grafted all day for his money.

My brother on the other hand worked in the yards in the 70s/80s and tells tales of nightshift consisting of going to work, messing around for a couple of hours then getting changed to go to the town clubbing. Return to the yard at 3am, sleep for a couple of hours then go home.

What on earth went wrong??
I bet your Dad worked with mine. John McCardle
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Old 24th January 2006, 22:23
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Originally Posted by the yard
Funny you should mention "John Browns". Having worked in Harland and Wolff for almost 30 years the only lazy b*****ds that I experienced were a considerable number of Scottish sub-contactors chasing the money during one of our recent contracts. I like many others are proud of what Harland and Wolff and the British shipbuilding industry in general has achieved. James_c is 100% correct regarding the demise of the British shipbuilding industry - economics took over and that's that! I wonder how long yards like Hyundai, Samsung and Mitsubishi would survive using sub-contract labour at the rates that were demanded by lazy greedy skivers ?
H&W would have closed in the early 70's had it not been for the millions the Government put into the yard. That yard would have closed well before any on the Wear, Clyde or Tyneside but it was all down to politics
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Old 25th January 2006, 00:37
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My dad was a ship rivetter like his dad, but he left after the great depression in the 20's, In the 50's he went back, this time as a platers helper in the yards on the Tees. They wouldn't let him do much, "take it easy pop" they told him "make some tea". He was greatly saddened about "what the unions had done to the yards" and stopped voting Labour as a result.

I remember the fuss when composite materials were brought in to the yards and the furore over who was going to drill holes in it.
After the sea I went into TV studios, the behaviour of the ETU was astonishing, the electricians shop steward took his holidays in Moscow, was actually called Karl. They held the studios to ransom, were no better than Chicago gangsters operating a protection racket. I hate saying this but it was Thatcher who sorted them out. But we made the best TV in the world despite those grasping idle sods and no doubt it was the same in the Yards, there were enough people determined to make a good product and who had some dignity and pride.
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Old 25th January 2006, 00:46
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eldersuk
In the 1960's I was on a ship in Liverpool, the contract engineers had a Doxford top piston hanging on the crane and had to wait the rest of the day to get a plater to lift one floor plate to access the piston stowage. We were not allowed to lift it on pain of the contractors walking off the ship! This is only one example of the restrictive practices imposed by the unions in UK ports at the time.
It's a good job ship's crews did not follow these practices or we would have got nowhere fast.
Derek
Yes the demarcation was a problem in Londons KGV we had the shore crowd in to change a liner, on a BW opposed piston 2 stroke. It took them 3 days, as they had to wait for brasss fitters to arrive to remove the lubricators the plumbers to remove the water pipes then riggers to sling it up and get it ashore.We did one the previous trip at sea in 8hrs with the ship wallowing in a fairly heavy sea,and of course you were not allowed to assist the shore crowd, as the ships staff were able only to do work classifed as necessary to the safety of ship.

Mcglash
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Old 25th January 2006, 01:35
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Exclamation workers worst enemy is the worker

sounds like the same old "blame the Unions syndrome" listening to you all? it is invariably down to government policies that our industries fail, lack of gov supsodies when realy needed is one. knocking the unions is usually propaganda spurred on by managments and governments, believe it or not when you knock your fellow workers just think of your own salaries or benefits you may recieve do you think you deserve them, you probably do? but how did you get them? I have never heard of any large employer or Government falling over backwards to give the working masses what they may deserve.... Any way Women Religion & Politics should never be discussed on board, as I remenber.
(Welder GMB Union fully payed up member)(Boilermakers Union)
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Old 25th January 2006, 02:07
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Originally Posted by jim barnes
sounds like the same old "blame the Unions syndrome" listening to you all? it is invariably down to government policies that our industries fail, lack of gov supsodies when realy needed is one. knocking the unions is usually propaganda spurred on by managments and governments, believe it or not when you knock your fellow workers just think of your own salaries or benefits you may recieve do you think you deserve them, you probably do? but how did you get them? I have never heard of any large employer or Government falling over backwards to give the working masses what they may deserve.... Any way Women Religion & Politics should never be discussed on board, as I remenber.
(Welder GMB Union fully payed up member)(Boilermakers Union)
I dont think it is union bashing I have been a union member most of my working life the point I am trying to make is that there were too many unions covering the one industry.
Germany for example had about 3or4 unions that covered their many and various Industries.

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Old 25th January 2006, 10:54
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I was also a union member and followed the members out of the gate from time to time. I believe in the unions having seen what some management can be like.
But I spent 28 years in TV and saw the best and the worst of it. The ETU before it was reformed could stand and support its members doing the following, (and the membership could have the lack of self respect to live with it):
Yorkshire TV sent a film crew to the Egyptian desert to shoot a documentary. There was no night shoot, lights were not needed. The Etu deal was that even so a chargehand electrician + two assistants must accompany the crew even though they were not needed. Those three spent a week in a Cairo hotel while the crew were in the desert. After the shoot the electricians insisted on knowing if the shoot had gone into overtime so they could claim the same.
It was a fact that with overtime and expenses our tv electricians at the time earned more that the director and producer despite being grossly overmanned and having little hard work to do. The car park consisted of their new Volvos and everyone elses odds and ends.
It doesn't do my mental states any good at all when I recall this.
Anyway I'm pleased to say their power was broken and now they are only too happy to have a job and work harder with only the crew that is needed. I'm embarrassed to say that it was Mrs Thatcher who did that, after she'd sorted out Fleet Street she went gunning for the TV industry.
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Old 25th January 2006, 11:39
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Shipyard Unions

In 1967, when working ashore for Marconi Marine in Palmer's shipyard in Hebburn, on Tyneside, one of the jobs that I was given was to replace a transmitter aboard an elderly New Zealand Shipping Co. vessel, "Pipiriki". This was a job that could be done in half a day. On older vessels the openings (doors, portholes etc.) in bulkheads were much smaller than modern vessels and the door of the radio room was only 21 inches wide. This posed a problem because the Marconi "Oceanspan VII" transmitter that I was to fit had a smallest dimension of 24 inches. However the side panels could be unbolted to expose the tubular frame which was a couple of inches smaller. The plan was to remove the dor and its wooden frame and then, by careful manipulation, the transmitter could be manoeuvred through the enlarged opening.

Second problem: the transmitter was to be mounted on a steel cabinet, also supplied by Marconi Marine, which raised the transmitter to bench height. This transmitter was of all-welded construction and had a minimum dimension of 27 inches. Buggered!

Solution: Unscrew the door and its frame, burn away some bulkhead steelwork at one side of the doorway so that the cabinet could be slipped through the enlarged hole. Replace the piece of plate removed earlier and screw back the door and frame. There began the fun.

The yard started work at 7:00 or 7:30 am (after all this time I don't remember), at which time the men would be allocated their jobs for the morning by their foremen. Marconi Marine started at 08:30 but that had to be at our base in South Shields, some miles from the yard. On Day 1, after waiting until 9:00 am, to ensure that no emergency jobs had come up overnight, I was released to go to the yard to begin work. Arriving in the yard before 9:30 am, I sought out the foreman joiner, to get him to arrange for the door and frame to be removed. Ufortunately by this time, all the joiners had been despatched about their allocated jobs. He assured me that he would sort something out after the midday meal break.

I went to see the foreman welder to arrange for the hole to be marked out and burned. His men were also already working on their morning jobs and he wasn't willing to detach anyone "on spec" so asked me to come back when the door was removed. I busied myself in the radio room ensuring that the various cables were correctly positioned and identified and adding additional wiring where needed; NB by special concession of the ETU we were allowed to run electrical cables within the radio room in spite of not being ETU members.

After lunch I sought out the foreman joiner again and he informed me that someone would be along about 3:00 pm to take off the door. I went off to look for the foreman welder and passed on the message. He was not prepared to do anything until the door was off and his men had a clear field in which to work. He again asked me to come back when the door was removed.

I went in search of the foreman electrician to see when his labourers could move the transmitter and the cabinet (from the electrician's store in the yard) up to the radio room. The goods were in the safe keeping of the yard stores and could not be released until they could be delivered into the radio room where they were to be fitted. Come back when the doorway had been enlarged so that they could be left in the radio room.

About 3:15 pm a joiner and his mate arrived and unscrewed the radio room door hinges and placed the door in the radio room. They were starting to remove the frame when I asked if they would be waiting for the welders to finish their work so that the door and frame could be replaced ahead of "knocking off" time. This was because the radio room was full of spare parts and other equipment belonging to the shipowners, who had requested that it be kept secure at all times. I couldn't go home and leave the place unlocked, or most of the contents would have gone by the time I returned at 9:30 am next day. They assured me that this was not possible because they had several other jobs to do that afternoon. So the door had to be replaced and the room secured. There was nothing else that I could do. I again walked around the yard to find the foreman joiner to ask him for advice. I couldn't allow the radio room to be left open overnight, nor could it be opened at 7:30 am and left open until I arrived at 9:30 am. I might get sent off to an ememrgency repair for a ship due to sail, or have to go out to calibrate a ship's DF. Could he allocate a man to be at the radio room for 9.30 to remove the door? Could I guarantee to be there? Since my answer was no, so was his.

Day 2 was a repeat of Day 1, except that I had nothing to do whilst waiting for "trades". At the end of the day, in frustration I asked my boss if I could start in the yard at 7:00 am (after all I had to pass the yard on my way into work at South Shields) and either claim the overtime until 8:30 am or knock off early in compensation. Not possible; how would my employers know I had actually turned up at that time? How would they know that I hadn't left early, taking more time in compensation than Iwas due? What would they do if they needed me at 8:30 for another job? Back to the yard.

Day 3 - the same.

Day 4. After checking in at South Shields I arrived at the yard at 9:15 and found the foreman joiner. He arranged to get a man to me straight after midday. True to his word, a joiner and his mate arrived on time. I rushed off to find the foreman welder and he agreed to send someone to mark up the job "in a few minutes". As the joiners were putting the dismantled door frame into the radio room two guys arrived, listened to my requirements and drew chalk lines on the steel bulkhead where the hole was to be burned.

Snag, there was no one to burn the metal until after smoko. I was getting more anxious by the minute. However after smoko a welder and his mate arrived to burn off the plate. Now I rushed off to get the foreman electrician to arrange for his labourers to move the transmitter and the cabinet up to the radio room. Sorry not possible, everyone was already working on a job. As a favour though, he would make sure that they were moved first thing in the morning. Back to find the foreman welder to tell of the hitch. No problem, come back in the morning to arrange to have the plate welded back on.

Now find the foreman joiner to explain the changed circumstances and plead with him to send his men back to replace the door and its frame so that I could secure the room for the night. He was obviously feeling sorry for me by now and just after 4:00 pm this was done. OK there was a hole about 30 inches by 9 inches running alongside the doorframe, but by this time I was past caring.

Day 5 I arrived on board to find the alleyway outside the radio room blocked by the packages containing the transmitter and the cabinet. The foreman electrician had been as good as his word. Now to find the foreman joiner and the foreman welder to give them the good news. Nothing possible that morning butů. I spent my time removing all the packing and readying the units for fitting.

Straight after lunch the joiners removed the door and (don't tell the electricians) gave me a hand to get the units inside the radio room before going off on another job. I also went off and found the foreman welder and reminded him that I needed his men to replace the missing piece of plate in the bulkhead. Then I went back and started to fit the equipment.

After smoko the welders arrived and closed the hole, leaving the radio room full of acrid fumes and smoke. I asked the foreman joiner if his men could now replace the door and got the usual "they will be along in a few minutes". After finishing fitting the equipment and testing everything on the dummy antennas, I tidied up the radio room, completed all the paperwork and prepared to go home. At a little after 4:00 pm the joiners arrived and replaced the door and its frame. All that was left was to arrange for the painters to repair the damage to the bulkhead.

What had taken me about 3 hours of work had occupied a whole working week. Who was to blame? Was it me because I wasn't prepared to give up a couple of hours of my own time by turning up early for a couple of days? Was it my employers because they were inflexible by not allowing me to start or finish work outside the contracted times? Was it their fault because they did not work the same hours as the shipyards? Was it the shipyard for not having any procedures for arranging work ahead of time, rather than leaving it to be arranged ad hoc each day by the foremen? Was it the unions? If I had been at home, or working on the ship overseas, I would have unscrewed the door and its frame, got a welder to cut out the plate and wait a few minutes while I put the equipment in the room before he welded up the hole. I would have replaced the doorframe and door. This would have taken less than a day.

On the Saturday night I was in the pub having a drink with the foreman electrician and was bemoaning the state of affairs that led to my "wasted week". "You should think yourself lucky," he said, "if it had been a ship with lined bulkheads, or if the door had been in an external bulkhead, you would have had to involve carpenters and shipwrights as well."

Last edited by Ron Stringer; 25th January 2006 at 11:48.. Reason: Correction of typo
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  #21  
Old 25th January 2006, 11:48
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ha ha. nice story Ron. had similar at Husbands shipyard once. took a boilermaker to drill holes in the metal, carpenter to drill holes in the wood paneling and two fitters to attach the skippers new clock to the forard bulkheadin the officers mess.
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Old 25th January 2006, 14:01
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There used to be a story in Cammell Lairds that to cut a bulkhead and fit a port hole took seven trades. All of course with a labourer.
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Old 25th January 2006, 20:47
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I think all the previous stories regarding shipyards strengthens my original comments.
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  #24  
Old 25th January 2006, 21:38
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jim barnes jim barnes is offline  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcglash
I dont think it is union bashing I have been a union member most of my working life the point I am trying to make is that there were too many unions covering the one industry.
Germany for example had about 3or4 unions that covered their many and various Industries.

Mcglash
and why are there so few unions in Germany "did'nt Adolph Hitler have a great deal to do with that? ??
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  #25  
Old 26th January 2006, 02:49
mcglash mcglash is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jim barnes
and why are there so few unions in Germany "did'nt Adolph Hitler have a great deal to do with that? ??

You may be right Jim but the Communists had a very strong influence on your Union!!
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