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Colin Barker

Working for Ford

(October 1973)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 63, Mid-October 1973, p. 30.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Working For Ford
Huw Beynon
Allen Lane, hardback £2.50
Penguin, paper 90p.

VERY, VERY occasionally someone writes a book that everyone ought to read. Huw Beynon has done just that. Working For Ford is a must. It’s the sort of book you don’t just read yourself, you tell your mates about it, you lend it out or it gets pinched so you get another copy. In the building trade, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is such a book. The reason for its success its honesty, which gives it its humour and its pathos. Beynon’s book is like that.

His achievement is considerable. Beynon never worked for Ford, only hung round the Halewood plant, with management’s permission, doing ‘industrial sociological research’. He talked to the lads, especially the stewards, and above all he listened. And wrote it all down. A hundred other sociologists have done the same, and produced boredom. Beynon, who is some kind of a revolutionary socialist, mined gold.

The central figure in his book is the shop steward, the militant, the key to the present crisis. There have been articles and books galore about the shop steward, but not like this. It’s not only that Beynon has written in English – and that’s quite something in itself – but his grasp of what it takes to be a steward in a car plant, his readiness to listen. It’s a total portrait, warts and all. Many militants will learn little from this book, but most will recognise themselves and their dilemmas in it, on page after page. What the Halewood stewards think of the book I don’t know, nor what they made of Beynon, but I doubt if they could have found themselves a better biographer.

One might criticise the book in one respect, for not suggesting finally how the stewards might and should break out of their political isolation. Beynon knows it’s necessary, but doesn’t know how. That’s his problem, but it doesn’t spoil the book, only leaves it up to us.

If this review seems excessive, take a look at its competitors. It is, by comparison, excessively good.

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Last updated: 12 February 2020