Interview about an outsider's view of working at the Wolverton Works.
George’s first two days at the Works were stressful ‘I never took me coat off’ his new co-workers told him ‘nothing personal against you… but we don’t want you with us.’ So I said, ‘ok, fair enough.’ So I stood there until half past four with me Mac on’. The next day again, ‘Oh no, no nothing against you but we’re not going to train anybody for this job’. The problem was eventually resolved; he stayed on and at a later date was elected by his fellow workers to the Works Council, representing the thirteen unions on the site. He saw no difficulty in having so many unions as he thought that the British Rail system ‘was pretty good with this Work’s committee kind of thing, because you’ve got all the unions on it’. ‘Safety-wise it’s pretty good’ at the Works ‘considering the heavy things… that are moved about, coaches, rolling stock and things like that’
He described his job as ‘dead end’, fitting steam-pipe fittings on old carriages, ‘about twenty years old, all the guts ripped out and just new stuff going on it like.’ They were destined to be ‘rolling stock for Ireland’ and in his opinion ‘if they’re going to be blown up you can give them the old stuff’!
After two years at British Rail, ‘you get into a rut…for your first six weeks you work like hell, then after that it tapers off gradually… one of these sorts of jobs where I can imagine how car workers go on strike regularly for doing a monotonous job, day in and day out, you know, boredom, sheer boredom’. He wasn’t sure whether the responsibility for poor productivity was with the unions or the management. He was a socialist and a supporter of nationalisation, ‘it’s a good thing but practical, no’.
He felt no empathy with some of his co-workers who always supported management and were totally loyal to British Rail, ‘they live, eat and sleep it some of them’. He demonstrated his worth to his employers though: on one occasion he had a cold two-inch pipe believed to be unbendable, he told his mates, ‘we’ll bend it …cold’ and proceeded to do so. Despite the monotony they had fun ‘I’d go daft if… there wasn’t any fun. They’re always taking the Mickey out of one another… I got ‘the shop red’ all over me overalls and locker…I don’t bother over that if they want to think I’m a commie’.
The company provided a canteen ‘pretty good food’, and a social club, and there were football and cricket matches between workers, plus an annual flower show, ‘I see it every day of the week the Works, so I don’t go down there of a weekend’.
He comments on how Wolverton was becoming multi-cultural , ‘you’ve got Scotsmen, everything there; you’ve got Pakistanis, Hindus…West Indians…really cosmopolitan’.