Why is it some strikes, many of them defeats for the labour movement, are constantly being replayed ie Miners Strike, Grunwicks and Ford Dagenham women but successful strikes such as Trico have been forgotten. One of the big problems is that the people who need to write up that history are often excluded from the means of doing so. Or they, often women again, don’t think what they did was that important.
It has taken over forty years but Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt have produced this landmark history of a most successful strike; Trico. The women not only won equal pay, they also showed that the new Equal Pay Act was about decreasing pay levels rather than raising up women’s pay, and that a community-based strike with strong trade union support could defeat an American multinational company.
Sally comments; “The Trico women’s strike has an important place in history: the strikers were remarkable role models in the struggle for equality, and understood the importance of building alliances of solidarity and inclusiveness.”
Written by Sally, who was the Publicity Officer for the strike, and Vernon , who was a supporter, it is a brilliant example of taking a very important history and producing a well written and well produced book. Central to the book are the words of the women strikers and some beautiful photographs.
On the afternoon of 24 May 1976 400 women walked out of the Trico factory in Brentford, West London demanding their right to equal pay with their male colleagues for doing the same work. Supported by 150 men they won one of the most important, if now largely forgotten, equal pay campaigns.
This was the 1970s with a Labour Government while trade unions still existed in a large manufacturing base with whole communities working in factories close to their home. Trico had a large female workforce working on the assembly line which was separate from the men. It was a workforce that was multi racial, including the Irish, Afro Caribbean, Indian, Spanish, Maltese and French.
Trico, like many companies, were trying to keep their costs down and saw women as a good source of cheap labour (or so they thought). But they had a trade union, the AUEW, that was prepared to back the women over 21 weeks to ensure that they achieved victory.
The strike at Grunwick film processing factory was only eight miles from Trico and they came out only a few months after their strike began. Unlike Trico they did not have a union to support them. Solidarity between the two groups of workers led to the poorer Grunwick strikers offering a donation to the Trico women.
The Trico women, unlike Grunwicks, won their strike because they had a strong union with local officials from the left and they kept all the negotiations in their own hands. As Sally points out; “The Strike Committee and their officials understood the dangers inherent in relying on a law rigged in favour of the employers (in our case the Equal Pay Act) and they knew the power of working class collective action for the securing of a just result.”
Reading the story of the strike is a reminder of how organised and supportive the trade union movement was in the 1970s. We casually use the words solidarity and community, but the story of the Trico strike shows the real meaning of the word. Trade unions up and down the country donated to the strike fund, as well as organising the boycott of Trico goods. Locally people supported the picket line and provided food and money. Sally says; “We found that it was working class people, ordinary folk, even down to pensioners who could only afford to send a few stamps to help-it was these people that were our backbone.”
The heroines were, of course, the working class women who led the strike against all odds – and won. Here are some of their comments.
Bella (Davis) Young , “I knew I was in the right. No man could do the same job I do and get more money than me when I’m working hard. If I had to do it again I’d do it again.”
Rhoda (Fraser) Williams said “I was proud of what I did. You never know, when people read the book, it might inspire them to do something if they are in trouble.”
Phyllis Green “It was a good time. I enjoyed the strike. I was glad I was part of women getting equal pay, well equal pay as far as it went – there’s still a way to go yet.”
Sally Groves, the Publicity Officer for the strike, speaks at the WCML on Wednesday April 10 at 2pm.