Part One: History and background
The occupation of their workplace by working people is certainly dramatic but it is not a new tactic of trade union struggle.
The most dramatic occupations to occur were the seizure of factories by workers during the Russian revolution in 1917, and the widespread occupations that took place in Italy in 1920.
Groups of British miners and railwaymen staged stay-down or stay-in strikes in the 1920s and 1930s. In America, also in the 1930s, car workers of the emerging CIO union organisation were involved in a number of sit-ins. In France around the same time large numbers of industrial workers barricaded themselves in their workplaces during widespread strike activity.
In post-war Britain, before 1970, there were a number of short stay-in strikes, or “downers” in the car industry. One of the first occupations of any length occurred in Belfast in April 1958 when 6,000 shipyard workers staged a “24 hour stay-in strike” in protest against the sacking of over 1,000 workers from the yards.
The first major “wave” of occupations in the mid-60s to mid-70s was occurred in Belgium. In 1967 workers resisted redundancies at an Anglo-German metalworks; in 1970 a cloth factory and stove factory occupied against closure plans. In 1972 a Brussels department store — the Union Economique — was occupied, resisting redundancies. In mid-March 1976 Nato civil servants staged a 24-hour “desk in” in pursuit of a wage claim.
Belgium workers also resorted to the use of the work-in in defence of their jobs. In 1975 a work-in was established at crystal factory. The factory was eventually taken over and kept in production by the Belgian government.
France of May 1968 saw the first post-war mass use of the occupation tactic. In a series of strikes culminating in a nationwide stoppage, almost nine million workers occupied their workplaces. To begin with, only two and a half million French workers were trade union members. Nonetheless it was the organised workers who began the occupations — Sud Aviation and Renault workers being among the very first to take action on 14 and 15 May.
After that period, French workers; both trade unionists and non-unionists adopted the occupation as standard industrial practice. And the use of the work-in seems to have been adopted on a number of occasions. In June 1973, the workers at the Lip watch factory at Besancon staged an occupation when it seemed likely that the factory was to close. Very quickly a work-in was put under way with production continuing until the workers own control. The finished products, plus stock taken out of the warehouses were sold on the streets of the local town. Throughout the dispute the workers were careful to keep precise records of all sales and production and of monies received and paid out. With massive support from fellow trade unionists the work-in continued until it was eventually taken over by a combination of Government aid and private investment.
The Lip work-in generated a tremendous amount of support and a spate of successors. One such case involved a British owned factory — Everware Candlewick SA — in south eastern France. Faced with closure the 120 workers staged a work-in and continued to produce breadspreads, which they then sold on the streets of local towns and villages of the region.
As in Britain, French workers developed the occupation tactic, over a number of years.
Redundancy was the central theme. In April 1976 a demonstration was staged under the banner of “unemployed workers in battle” and involved both unemployed workers and those occupying their factories to prevent themselves joining the ranks of the unemployed. Among those demonstrating were workers from Le Parisien Libere which had been under occupation for nearly two years; they distributed pirate editions of their newspaper.
The occupation tactic became a European phenomenon, spreading through Belgium, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Britain. In Portugal the tactic was used in a wider struggle against the fascist regime.
2. Development of the tactic in Britain
Underlying factors. A particular political and economic climate was required for sections of trade unionists to embark on such a unique and dramatic course of action. The early 1970s was such a period.
Wage restraint had been couched in government appeals and threats, but again, rarely in the form of over-riding legal restraint.
All this began to change from around 1962 when successive governments began to think in terms of both legal constraints on wages and of legislation to curb the activities of the unions. From the beginning of a Labour government in 1964, through to its re-election in 1966, to its defeat in 1970 a number of policies were put in place that came to fruition during the 1970-74 Conservative Government.
A number of government boards were brought into being to monitor and control wage levels through the restraints of the Prices and Incomes Board established in 1965 to the Tory government’s Phases 1, 2 & 3 with all its power of encoforcement backed with an Industrial Relations Act.
It was in the introduction of such legal wage restrictions and the initial attempt by the Labour Government to introduce an Act to restrict trade union activities that led to the first political strikes in almost 40 years.
On May Day 1969 Labour introduced its “In Place of Strife” White Paper with its threat against the trade union movement. It met with a strike in which over one-quarter of a million workers responded. This strike played a major contribution to a campaign which forced the Government to withdraw the Bill.
One year later, however, a new Conservative Government forged ahead with its plan to introduce even more stringent curbs on the unions. It was met with an even bigger strike on 8 December 1970. Over half a million struck. The following year in March two more strikes occurred, aimed a forcing the government to withdraw its plans. On 1 March two million struck, on 18 March three million struck.
The Act was killed off in the following year when five dockers — acting in defence of their jobs — were arrested under the terms of the Act (for picketing). Almost immediately upwards of 1 million workers throughout the country downed tools, thousands demonstrated outside Pentonville prison where the five were locked up. Within a few days the TUC had given an ultimatum of a general strike failing the men’s release.
Using the face-saving device of the intervention of the Official Solicitor, the government had the men released. It was a tremendous victory.
A similar fate was to befall the government’s pay policy (and led to their electoral defeat) less than two years later, when the National Union of Miners went on strike. The NUM refused to be bound by the Government’s wage norms. A “three day week” was imposed to attempt to isolate the miners and force them into submission, with the end result that other sections of the trade union movement were stiffened into resolve, forcing a situation where the Tories lost an election on the issue of “Who Rule Britain”.
At this time it was not a huge leap in trade union thinking to embark on an occupation for workers who had had to take on the law in order to defend their living standards. It was not a great leap in political imagination to occupy a factory or shipyard for trade unionists who had had to strike against the government in order to carry on their usual trade union activities.
If we look at the strike of December 1970 we find the following groups of workers on strike who themselves went on to occupy their workplace over the next years:
Balfour Darwin (Sheffield); Vauxhall (Ellesmere Port); Cammell Laird Shipyard (Birkenhead); Massey Ferguson (Coventry); Hawker-Siddeley (Woodford and Hatfield); Plessey (Merseyside); Upper Clyde Shipyard (Clydebank).
Supporting the 8 December strikes included the Manchester and Sheffield District Committees of the AEU which were to give supportive action to occupations of their members in the near future.
A number of trades councils who supported the 8 December strike were to go on to give substantial support to occupations within their locality. The Liverpool trades council for example gave help to who number of occupations including one at Fisher Bendix.
From the early 1960s Britain was facing a deepening economic crisis. Nationalised industries were ran at a loss to serve private industry.
The Labour government decided it has to “modernise” British industry. The policy was to place the major burden on working people while offering financial inducements to industry to improve its efficiency and profitability. To this end the Labour Government set up the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation in December 1966.
The IRC’s job was to promote rationalisation schemes and mergers, having available up to £100 million in the form of loans and £50 million on which a dividend was paid.
The government also introduced the Redundancy Payments Act (1965) and encouraged through the Prices and Incomes Board the spread of productivity bargaining, both designed among other things to increase labour mobility.
From 1966 on mergers and productivity deals went on at a tremendous rate. Thus while the average value of mergers was about £100 million a year over the period 1954-58, it was £477 million in 1966 alone. It was £781 million in 1967 and a record £2,311 million in 1968. Well over 8,000 companies were involved in mergers over the period 1964-72. Productivity deals which had covered less than half a million workers prior to 1966 added another 1,145,000 workers covered by them in 1967, with a further three and a quarter million added in 1968 and three and three-quarters more in 1969.
While profits were made, the practical effects of mergers for workers was a large upsurge in the threat to their jobs and working conditions.
A number of workers found themselves facing merger and redundancy almost at one and the same time.
The merger of the General Electrical Company and English Electric (to form GEC-EE) had been none of the record mergers of 1968. They established a new record for the number of redundancies they created – a total of over 12,000 workers were thrown out of work up to the end of 1969.
Arnold Weinstock, the company managing director, had a firm policy of “If it doesn’t pay then it doesn’t stay.” If desired profit levels were not being achieved then that section or factory would be closed and the workers involved made redundant.
Similar pressures from mergers and the pruning down of sectors of large companies faced the workers at Fisher-Bendix; the BLMC plant at Basingstoke; Blafour Darwin (Sheffield); Baynard Press (London); BP (Stroud); Crossfield Electronics (London); Gainsborough Cornford (Great Yarmouth); Imperial Typewriters (Hull); Linpac Plastics (Liverpool); Sealed Motor Construction (Somerset); Sumlock Anita; Coles Cranes (Sunderland). In all these cases redundancies were declared following either a take-over by another company or in anticipation of a take-over. But in all theses factories occupations were staged in resistance.
In every case redundancy has to be seen in the context of the overall high levels of unemployment that occurred after 1967 (half a million in that year, up from around 300,000 in previous few years). By 1969 the rate was 600,000 nationally.
The situation was even more grim when then workers at the Upper Clyde Shipyard came under threat in 1971. Over 829,000 workers were unemployed in Britain as a whole. In Scotland there were 23 unemployed workers chasing every vacancy.
A number of facts stand out in understanding the evolvement and development of occupations in Britain. Firstly, that the tactic arose at shop floor level and only later became accepted as a normal practice at national trade union level. That those trade unions with a strong shop steward tradition the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AEUW) [later absorbed into Amicus and finally Unite], and the Transport and General Workers’ Union [also now absorbed into Unite], were instrumental in backing the tactic. In the early stages, a number of politically left activists were to the fore. That a number of occupations were developed and supported by other occupations among with the UCS played an important role. Occupations were also spread within towns and areas.
The growth of shop stewards representatives has occupied a central position in all industrial relations discussions and analysis since the early 1960s.
The Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations (1968) expressed concern at the fact that shop floor negotiations at plant level had become a key part of industrial relations in Britain. Negotiations and militancy at this level had been responsible for pushing up the earnings of large numbers of workers to double the average achieved through negotiations at national level between top management and trade union officials. This was a reversal of the situation that existed after the defeat of the 1926 General Strike and had been aided by wartime conditions and post-war relative high employment.
By the early 60s shop floor militancy had become a key factor to be tackled by any Company and Government wishing to hold down wages and shake out the labour force.
It was many of the shop floor organisations that were to form the backbone of the opposition to wage freezes and anti-trade union laws. In 1966 the Liason Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions was set up [by the then bigger and more influential Stalinist Communist Party].
The AUEW had a long tradition of shop floor representation through its forerunners. In the period of the late 1950s to early 60s the number of AEU shop stewards grew at an extremely high rate: rising by 56% during the period 1947-61. In 1966 it was estimated that there were between 90,000 and 200,000 shop stewards in total in Britain, of which at least half-belonged to just four trade unions — the AEU, TGWU, NUGMW (National Union of General and Municipal Workers' Union) and ETU (Electrical Trade Union). One estimate put the number at 30,000 shop stewards belonging to the AUEW.
Shop stewards from the AUEW were involved in 133 of the 200 plus occupations that occurred up to 1976, including UCS, Plessey, River Don Works and Snow Engineering.
The AUEW were one of the main targets of the National Industrial Relations Court. In the various strikes against the Industrial Relations Act, AUEW district committees were prominent. [The AUEW’s President from 1968 was Hugh Scanlon a long-time member of the Communist Party. That did not stop him from helping the 1974-79 Labour government from implementing the Social Contract].
TGWU shop stewards were to the fore in several early occupations: River Don (October 1971), Fisther-Bendix (January 1972), Linpac, Liverpool (March 1972), BLMC, Cowley (April 1972), Lovell’s London, (May 1972), and Westinghouse Brake and Signal Co., Wiltshire (May 1972).
White collar workers and unions have also played important roles. As have the print unions.
Left activists played some significant role. One of very early pioneering occupations of 1971, Briants, had among its leadership show stewards were where left Labour Party members. The convenor and a steward eventually joined the Communist Party; another joined the Workers’ Revolutionary Party.
At the UCS, left Labour Party members, along with Communist Party members played leading roles in the work-in’s initiation: men like Sammy Barr (CP member) who is said to have put the idea forward and CP members such as Airlie and Reid who occupied key roles throughout. And men like Roddy McKenzie who was chairman of the UCS finance committee and a life long member of the Labour Party.
At the River Don the leading stewards were a mixture of Labour and Communist Party. At Snow Engineering left Labour shop stewards gave a lead.
The UCS acted as a supreme example and enouragement to many occupations. The UCS workforce have given a tremendous amount of practical and financial assistance to other workers involved in occupation.
Piror to the UCS work-in there were a few occasions when groups of workers who were eventually to become involved in occupations, were to meet and possibly exchange ideas on the struggles facing them. The GEC-EE workforce in Liverpool did not stage a planned work-in (August 1969) but in the course of their campaigning managed to raise the ideas with their fellow GEC workers at other plants. This will have had a discernable influence on the eventual occupations at four of the company’s factories in the Manchester area in April and May 1972 during the engineering pay battles: on the occupation at their factory in Sheffield during the same period and over the same issue; and at the company’s SEU plant in Heywood in October 1974 over an equal pay for women dispute.
Groups of workers later to be involved in occupations were united in the strikes against the anti-union laws.
With the onset of the UCS work-in, many groups of workers directly referred to them as inspiring their own action in defence of working conditions. Thus, the very next occupation — Plessey’s Alexandria — drew not only from the example but from being in the same immediate area, from one of the same major unions (AUEW in both cases) and from the same industry (shipbuilding and marine engineering).
At the second post-UCS occupation — River Don — the UCS shop stewards were consulted in advance about the mechanisms of an occupation. And, only days before the Don occupation began, UCS shop stewards and Don stewards were united on a TUC regional demonstration against unemployment held in Sheffield. The UCS shop stewards were to advise and give financial assistance to several other groups in occupation.
Fisher Bendix workers visited the Clyde for information prior to their occupation and exchange visits were made between the UCS and Briant’s workers.
The UCS itself, of course, received considerable support in practical donations, many from groups of workers in advance of their own occupations.
[Later, support was organised between the ongoing occupations, and between workers who had occupied for workers going into occupation.]
Not surprisingly most the occupations occurred in the major industrial areas. Occupations such as that at Sextons in Fakenham and Gainsborough Cornford in Great Yarmouth were certainly rare. Almost three quarters of all occupations occurred in and around only five cities — Manchester, Liverpool, London, Glasgwo and Sheffield in that order.
Much more than half the occupations have been confined to only three major industries — Vehicles, Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering. A further quarter of all occupations occurred in Construction, Metal Manufacture, Paper with Printing and Publishing, Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering and Metal Goods.
The least number of occupations has been in those industries which, although subject to high unemployment in many cases, are among the most weakly organised. Thus less than 10 occupations occurred in the combined service and textile industries of Food with Drink and Tobacco, Textiles, Leather, Cloth, Timber and Furniture and Bricks with pottery and glass etc.
The remaining industries have had little or no occupations for a number of reasons — either they are weakly organised, are status or professional jobs with little history of any militant action and/or they are inappropriate for occupation. In the latter case would be counted Mining and Quarrying. Insurance and banking and finance are marked by their lack of trade unionism, let alone militancy.
Part Two: the British occupations
On 13 August 1969 a mass meeting of workers from the Liverpool factories of GEC-EE voted “to take any further steps necessary, including sit-ins and other measures” to prevent threatened large scale redundancies. The occupation was from there planned to take place at the three factories.
The idea stimulated discussion at various levels. The national press predictably forcasted the worst. However, groups of workers, particularly in the immediate locality rose to the idea. But the idea had been accepted without the necessary thinking through of the problems involved, in both its implementation and of obtaining a real commitment form the workforce to it.
When redundancies had been announced the shop stewards’ Action Committee had met to thrash out a plan of resistance. It appeared that the idea never had the full backing of the Action Committee, nor was more than a token work-in planned and even that was never fully developed. Nevertheless, the idea was put to a mass meeting of the workforce but only as part of a seven point list of demands and commitments to action. Seemingly the idea of an occupation was not made into any main point of the overall strategy. It has been argued that, if anything, the idea arose out of a point of weakness: faced with the non-existence of any national GEC-EE shop stewards combine; and the weaknesses within their own organisation.
As time went by the idea did gain some popularity but again a number or weaknesses combined to defeat its implementation. From the beginning one major problem lay in the different levels of organisation within the three plants combined with the way the redundancies were to be spread. The best organised and more militant plant — Netherton — was to be closed down with the exception of the aircraft section. While at the least organised — EE East Lancs Road — about 300 redundancies were planned out of a workforce of 8,000.
Eventually, when the workforce reversed their decision to occupy it was those at the East Lancs Road factory who decided first and by a substantial majority. There may have been a chance to overcome these problems if it had not been for a level of inexperience among the Action Committee. Much would have been expected of them. They would have had to hae been fully willing and capable fo mounting a unique form of action; an action of which there was [very little] experience to draw upon in the whole of Western Europe.
Having taken the decision and fixed a date the shop stewards set about winning support. In addition to doing a normal day’s work, many of them were involved in meetings and discussion up and down the country out of which some support began to grow. However, as the situation developed, it became obvious that support for the action was lacking among the workforce itself. The work necessary to win such support was to a large extent not done. No further mass meetings were arranged after 13 August. No regular newssheet or information bulletin was produced; and generally, little was done either to get the workforce discussion, in a co-ordinated fashion, the practical problems involved in implementing their decision or to overcome various doubts the workers had about the legal difficulties of such action.
Eventually, a management letter was sent to each one of the workforce and the commitment to an occupation began to crack. The management letter — which was produced at the same time in the Liverpool Echo — called the proposal to occupy “irresponsible” and “unconstitutional” and called on the workforce to “refrain from using physical force in order to gain access to their place of work”. The letter did have some effect.
Two days before the planned occupation the Action Committee called a meeting at the East Lancs Road plant to discuss the take-over, but soon found it taken over by a group of workers and staff from a section not under threat of closure. This group of workers with posters and megaphone equipment gained access to the platform and successfully moved a resolution calling for the abandonment of the occupation; an end to an overtime ban which was in progress and a vote of no confidence in the Action Committee. The damage was now done at the largest of the plans, which, ironically, had only days previously earned itself a place in the history of occupations when the workers staged a successful sit-in in response to a management attempt to break the overtime ban. However the situation had changed, and its mood was reflected in the voting at East Lancs Road and the other plants where roughly 60% voted for the resolution.
The planned work-in did not take place but the idea of it had been put on the agenda of the British trade union movement.
Briants’ Colour Printing. In April 1971 the first occupation of any substantial success occurred. This was at the tiny printing works of Briants in London’s Old Kent Road. The workers staged the occupation to prevent redundancies; the management was intent on sacking 60 out of a total workforce of 190. The workers began the occupation with the intention of holding onto the premises for a considerable time, i.e., beyond a token protest. After just 24 hours the management agreed to postpone the redundancies until further discussions had taken place, and the workers had won at least temporary victory. Interestingly, despite the unique and dramatic nature of the action it was only recorded in a small item in the local South London Press.
Upper Clyde Shipyard. The UCS occupation when it came in July 1971 held certain new features; in its ability to act as an example and inspiration to very many other occupations; in the fact that it was waged over a period of months; in the fact that the workers made redundant continued to work. As a “work-in” those sacked were retained in their jobs by the rest of the workforce who were now, in many ways, in effective control of the day to day running of the yards.
The UCS consortium was established in 1968 out of five yeards on the upper reaches of the Clyde — John Browns (Clydebank); Fairfield (Govan); Stephens (Linthouse); Connells and the naval shipyard of Yarrow, both in the western part of the city. The merger was part of a government drive for the amalgamation of shipyards as recommended by the Geddes report of 1966 and was encouraged by the Shipbuilding Industry Board which extended large amounts of credit to the industry.
However, by late 1969 the Opposition spokesman for Technology, Nicolas Ridley, was recommending to his party that UCS be carved up with Yarrows being hived off and the remainder to be sold off cheaply to private companies. John Davies, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, proceeded to implement a similar plan when the Tories came to power the following year. Yarrow was hived off in February 1971 and it became clear that closure and extensive redundancies were to occur in the remaining four yards. Something like 6,000 out of 8,500 jobs were to go. The workers’ reacted strongly. Some 10-20,000 workers on the upper Clyde were dependent on shipbuilding – including the families, some 50,000 were dependent.
On 13 June 1971 a meeting of stop stewards from all four yards was convened. Sam Barr [CP member], convenor of the shop stewards at Scotstoun proposed a “work-in”. This idea was received with a mixture of consideration, scepticism and even ridicule. However after discussion the idea was adopted. A traditional strike action had been proposed but this was rejected as helping to speed up the work of the liquidator; allowing them an early opportunity to lock the gates once and for all. A sit-in strike was also proposed on the estimation that the struggle would probably be a long one and would be difficult to maintain, given the geographical spread of the workforce. A work-in would allow the workers to exercise control over the yards without the problems involved in picketing or maintaining a long sit-down strike. And it would publicise the struggle in the most dramatic fashion. In the following days the work-in proposal was put to mass meetings of the workers in the yards and was voted for.
On 29 July the government declared that its decision was irreversible. The following day the take-over of the yards occurred. The security men were informed that their duties were being taken over by the shop stewards who manned the gates on a our hour rota basis. All those entering or leaving the yards were to be under the supervision of the shop stewards. The police had agreed in advance that they would not intervene.
Shipbuilding has always been problematic for the forging of unity faced as it is with periodic unemployment and a variety of craft and skill divisions. The UCS situation was complicated by the fact that there were two yards on each side of the river. [Prior to the work-in there was some, but not a great deal of preparation.] However, a Co-ordinating Committee united the convenors from all four yards, from the boilermakers, finishing trade and the general workers along with six representatives from the staff and middle management. The Committee met daily throughout the work-in and decisions were conveyed to the workforce in a series of weekly meetings through the yard convenors and departmental shop stewards. Decisions regarding the overall direction of the struggle and other major decisions were taken at the mass meetings of the workforce. [The process actually left a lot of decisions in the hands of a small group of people, who would meet every morning and among the stewards there was the strong influence of Communist Party members].
Once the work-in had begun the Committee had to consider a whole number or problems. Workers who were made redundant by the liquidator were to continue working at the yards but under the responsibility of the shop stewards. A major problem, however lay in any danger of injury at work, which the work-in system would not be able to cope with, thus these workers were not put on jobs involving a degree of risk.
The work-in had been facilitated by the fact that there were still shops in the process of being built, as the work progressed the liquidator began to lay off workers. The redundant workers were then employed by the Co-ordinating Committee, who doubled them up with workers still employed by the liquidator. The problem here was to avoid an increase in productivity, which would serve to speedup the rate of redundancies. The principle in such cases was that the total work achieved should not exceed that previously expected of one worker. The wages for these workers was to be based on average earning immediately prior to dismissal by the liquidator. The workers’ [national insurance] stamps were also to be bought and the whole financial operation was placed in the hands of a Finance Committee. One major problem – apart from having to raise the money etc – was in making sure that the government was unable to estimate the strength of the work-in as represented in its financial ability to survive. [The leadership of the work-in] decided to keep the financial standing of the work-in a secret, it was known only to the Finance Committee.
Trade unionists from all over Britain sent in donations and within the yards the workforce donated 50p each per week. Sums of around £9,000 were being paid out in each of the 40 or so weeks from the start of the work-in through to May of the following year: a total of around £350,000. Additional funds were to flow in over the remaining five months that the work-in was to continue, and, in fact, a considerable sum was left in the fighting fund at the end of the struggle: much of which was passed on to other workers engaged in occupations.
The UCS work-in achieved victory in October 1972 with the saving of all four yards and all yards. Three of the yards – Govan, Scotstoun and Linthouse – were united in the new company of Clyde Shipbuilders Lits with a £35 million grant from the government, and the Clydebank yard was bought by an American company (Marathon) and received a £12 million grant from the government.
Plessey (Alexandria). Just over a month into the UCS work-in, a second occupation occurred, a few miles away at the marine engineering factory of Plessey’s. Here 200 engineering workers staged an occupation to prevent the removal of plant, stock and machinery and the planned closure of the factory.
The Plessey workers did not have a sizeable amount of work still in progress. A work-in was thus out of the question. By the same token a strike would have made closure an easier and quicker proposition for a management seeking to shift its machinery and stock to another base of operation. The factory’s base was in a town already facing high unemployment; one in eight of the town’s workers were uenemployed.
River Don Steel Workers (Sheffield). It was to be a further six weeks before the third occupation took place. With upwards of 4,500 jobs under threat the workers at River Don staged a “work-in”, with once again redundant workers being retained in employment under the responsibility of the shop stewards. This time, however, redundant workers were employed on campaigning work rather than their normal work and their wages came from a hardship fund drawn from a 50p per week levy on the still employed workforce.
Snow Engineering. Within two days of the announcement of the River Don work-in, another Sheffield occupation took place — at a small engineering works, in defence of jobs. After only two days the workers started going home at night, just occupying the factory during the day. Inevitably after only 9 days of the occupation the workers turned up one morning to find they had been locked out.
At the same time as the Snow occupation, another group of workers were announcing that they were dropping their plan to stage a work-in at the BSA (cycles) plant in Birmingham. The 4,500 workers at the plant, faced with redundancies on a large scale, had planned a work-in weeks earlier. But cycle production with its rapid flow production and dependence on a mass of small components from supplier firms is not necessarily able to conduct a work-in. Instead the workers went on strike. A third of jobs were lost at the firm, but the factory did not close.
Co-operative Insurance Society. At the end of November 1971 white collar workers at the CIS office in Manchester threatened sit-in action as part of a campaign over pay and conditions. In the event, at least a half-day sit in was staged. The occupation had now begun to be directed to other trade union ends.
On 3 January 1972 150 engineers of the Allis Chalmers engineering works in Flintshire staged the first of over 100 occupations that were to occur in 1972. Occupations now began to mushroom, spreading from industry to industry from town to town and across a range of trade unions and different sections of workers. In January alone the tactic was used by engineering workers in Liverpool (Fisher Bendix) and Manchester (Dawson-Barfos/William Crosland); by chemical industry workers in Stockport (Sim-Chem) and by textile workers in Flintshire (Courtlands). In February, a second pay occupation occurred when 28 members of SLADE, the print union, sat-in their print firm (Leicester Photograph & Lithos Services) in pursuit of wage claim.
On 16 March 1972 workers at the James Mills steelworks of GKN at Bredbury near Stockport occupied the works in what to end up as the first of almost 50 sit-ins in the Manchester area, involving nearly 30,000 engineering workers in a battle over pay and conditions.
In the same month in a sit-in at a Nottinghamshire ball-bearing workers (Ransome Hoffman and Pollard) and in a work-in at a small Norfolk leather goods factory (Sextons) women played a leading role. Both occupations were located in small areas not noted for any militant activity.
By the end of 1972 more than 69,000 workers had taken part in occupations (16,000 in 1971 and 53,000 in 1972). In 1973 over 22,000 workers took part in more than 31 occupations, with roughly the same number taking part in around 24 occupations the following year. In 1975 there were at leas 44 occupations involving 21,500 workers, bring the total for the period July 1971 to December 1975 of nearly 150,000 workers taking part in over 200 occupations.
Part 3 dealing with some of the issues and lessons is to follow