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Issue 9 - December 1972
On Strike! The Worst Paid Workers In Britain


It's been cold - but the only effect on the women with the title of 'Worst paid workers in Britain' is a reduction in each individual picket's shift from 4 hours to 2. The strike is solid.

The women workers of J Barbour & Sons Ltd, Simonside Estate, Newcastle Road, South Shields, were on a basic wage of £10.60 - for a full 40 hour week! Managing director Ken Charlton, in his other hat a prominent Tory Councillor, refused a rise and refused to recognise the union when they joined the Transport and General Workers. So on 24th October the 70 women came out on strike.

Ken Charlton and his two fellow directors paid themselves £39,667 last year. 119 employees shared £62,995. Barbours made a net profit of £65,057.

Since coming out on strike, the Barbours workers have faced not only intractability on the part of Charlton, but also the TGWU rulebook - no strike pay as they haven't been in long enough; police harassment; and the usual mindless nastiness from the Social Security.

Regular Grumblers will know that although strikers are barred from receiving supplementary benefits for themselves, single people can - and do - force the SS to pay up under section 13.

The 7 single Barbours girls were refused - South Shields SS manager, when asked if single miners had been paid, why not the girls, mumbled something to the effect that their needs were different. Oh yeah? … most likely he finds several thousand miners more intimidating than 7 girls. The girls tried again - were refused permission even to lodge a claim - and 7 policemen were called by the SS twice within an hour to physically eject them from the office and threaten them with arrest … for attempting to make a legitimate claim!

Combined representations from the Strike Committee, the Claimants Union and local trade unionists to higher ranks of the SS brought an apology, permission to lodge claims (subsequently refused), and the ordering of an enquiry into the incident.

The daily picket line has also received attention from the police - but it's as strong as ever. Only the postmen cross it - lame excuse about the 'Queen's mails'! Postmen have short memories: only last year, also on strike for a living wage, they called for, and got, support from other trade unionists.

Blackleg supervisors also cross the line to work the machines for the few orders still coming in. They recently had a princely £2 rise - new duties to police the workers: one at a time to the toilets and no smoking in the cloakrooms.

Quote from a striker: "I could get a job anywhere for the money they paid me - but Ken Charlton can't."

The Barbours women are staying on strike until they get union recognition and a guaranteed living wage. They will extend the picket lines to deal with the cars that neighbouring workers have seen delivering goods after dark, and they will seek further financial support from fellow trade unionists to enable them to stay out as long as necessary.

There will be a demo in South Shields town centre on Dec 9th: SUPPORT THE BARBOURS STRIKERS!