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Herbie Bell

Convenor Victimised at Armstrong-Whitworth

(April 1958)

From Socialist Fight, Vol. 1 No. 4, April 1958, p. 2.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


Employers all over the country are using the developing recession as a means of ridding themselves of convenors, shop stewards, and any militants prepared to defend standards and conditions.

In the years since the war, under boom conditions and subject to constant working-class pressure through these same militants, the employers were forced into certain grudging concessions. Now reports are coming in from all parts of the country – Newcastle, Sheffield, London, Glasgow – of workers being compelled to take strike action to defend shop organisation and prevent the victimisation of militants.

At Armstrong-Whitworth (Pneumatic Tools) Limited in North Shields, the management dismissed the convenor, Bro. Albert Ogle, in connection with a dispute about “machine-washing.” This is normally a job done by labourers; but in an attempt to dispense with unskilled labour, the employers tried to force semi-skilled and even skilled men to do this work, thereby depriving the labourers of their employment.

The cleaning materials supplied, as the strike bulletin issued by the workers declares, “consist of a bucket of chemical solution (proved injurious to the skin) and the usual cotton waste.” A skilled operator, instructed to do this work, objected and approached the convenor. When the convenor complained to the management, he was given a week’s notice.

This was on the Friday. On the following Monday, Bro. Ogle was forcibly ejected from the shop – that is, before he had worked his week’s notice. This was, obviously, against all accepted union procedures and agreements. Incidentally, three convenors have been dismissed in the past few years.

When the workers saw what was happening, they struck work immediately and walked out of the factory. The strike was 100 per cent. The union offered to negotiate on the basis of a return to work with the convenor under a week’s notice. The management refused.

Meanwhile the management prosecuted the convenor for alleged trespass. He was bound over for six months for alleged assault (in trying to get in to the premises)! This despite the fact that, when given notice, he had not been told that he should not return; this was only pressed by the management on the Monday. His counter-summons for assault was dismissed!

Workers solid

This has incensed the workers all the more, and they have remained solid throughout the six weeks of the strike. This although only 140 workers are employed.

Labourers, skilled and semi-skilled are all involved; members of the AEU, shipwrights, NUGMW, boilermarkers and ETU. After three weeks, the strike was officially recognised.

A feature of the strike is that 14 women are involved, all out and all in the union. They have participated in the strike meetings. There has been unanimous endorsement and full support by the district committee of the AEU. No pickets were necessary, and the whole district has declared work at the factory black.

After six weeks, the management climbed down to the extent of offering to take all the workers back on the basis of the convenor working a week’s notice while negotiations proceeded. The workers unanimously rejected this, and the unions have demanded the unconditional reinstatement of Bro. Ogle and all the other workers.

The AEU is organising a ballot among the 28,000 engineers on Tyneside on the question of the Armstrong-Whitworth strikers.

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Last updated: 13 July 2017