Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Trico equal pay strike at the company's Great West Road Factory, Brentford, commenced on May 76' after a long period of management procrastination and manoueuvres to evade their obligations under the Equal Pay Act of December 1975.
Trico has a virtual monopoly of the windscreen wiper market, and is an American multinational company with headquarters in Buffalo, New York. Soon after the strike commenced, it was necessary to organise a 24-hour picket as, on a number of occasions, blackleg convoys with massive police support charged through picket lines at the dead of night to try to keep supplies moving.

But strikebreaking, arrests of pickets, police intimidation, the management's use of the Tribunal machinery, misleading letters, local press hostility, etc., all foundered. After 21 weeks of highly courageous and self-sacrificing struggle, full of problems and tensions but also of humour and dignity, a magnificent victory was won that can give new confidence to millions of women and other workers.
On October 17, after 21 weeks outside the gates, in pouring rain but in an unforgettable scene of jubilation and confidence which I was privelidged to witness, the women and men strikers marched back victoriously through Trico main gate, a totally transformed force compared with those who walked out with doubts and hesitations 21 weeks earlier.

 Like many of the hundreds, especially young people often with music and song who "manned" the picket line at night, I (Tom Durkin) was privileged to play a small part in the picket with Brent Trades Council and Secretary, Jack Dromey. (Harriet Harman then working for Brent Law Centre gave legal advice)
Here, I would like to pay tribute to the work and courageous perseverance of the Strike Committee, to the magnificent leadership of the Southall District AUEW and other officials, to the help of GLATC and Trades Councils and to the many Shop Stewards' Committees and others who are legion and, without whose help, this victory would not have been achieved.
My attempt at "versifying" very inadequately chronicles some aspects of this historic struggle which rightly has been compared with that of the Bryant and May "Matchgirls" of 1888. More worthy contributions in prose and poetry will undoubtedly appear in due course.

No more we'll stand at Trico's gates with heads and banners high.
No more will happy cheers or angry jeers our feelings signify.
But all will still recall with pride, though a thousand years should pass.
This immortal strike that few can equal, and none surpass.
At Trico's gates a golden page has truly now been written,
A page no sneering scribe nor cynic, even the hardest bitten,
Can dim or e'er belittle, for here was made an epic stand
Inspiring and exciting women, in this and many another land.
Near 90 years have passed since Unions first demanded equal pay,
Heralding for women, the dawning of a more enlightened day,
When sex discrimination and oppression would be swept away,
And equal rights triumphant reign, as the order of this new day.
Little did those Trico women dream before the month of May,
That fate had then allotted them a special role to play.
To stand upon a picket line, all through each night and day
And lead this hard demanding struggle, undaunted, come what may.
The Trico bosses scoffed and boasted when the strike had just begun
"In three short hours they'll crumble and crawling to us come.
Then we'll hire and fire to our hearts desire, we'll make them cringe and cower.
And they'll rue the day that for equal pay, they dared our might and power.

But these braggart bosses had a shock. Being neither scared nor pliant,
The women through the gates marched out, determined, proud, defiant.
And thus began that struggle grim 'gainst boss and scab and law.
For when a boss's loot's at stake he fights with teeth and claw.
Not three, nor even 3000 hours, brought those women to their knees.
It was Trico bosses, cap in hand, who said "settle if you please".
Tribunals, scabs, strike breaking cops, all proved of no avail.
For the women stood invincible, like granite cliffs before a gale.

Those pickets who stood at Trico's gates from many lands they came.
Just seeking a job and better life, not fortune vast nor fame.
Some black, some white or yellow or brown, whatever hue their skin,
They're all of the human family, are mankind's kith and kin.

And at those gates the women stood neath scorching summer sun,
Beside the ceaseless traffic that forever rumbles on.
The passing drivers often spoke by flashing lights or hooter blare,
As if to say "you'll win the day, if others help and do their share."

And through the night's long silent hours they stood when all seemed dead.
When only the moon and stars looked on from their orbits overhead.
While ghostly figures of pioneers who've long since passed away.
Matchgirls, suffragettes and others, stood there unseen supporting equal pay.

They stood there when their bodies ached and spirits all seemed spent.
When few there came to the picket line to do a welcome stint.
Oft huddling close together from piercing wind and lashing rain
They longed and sheltered homes, for glowing fires and cosy beds to lay in.
They stood there too unflinching when Trico scabs and thugs
Backed up by burly cops with hate filled eyes and vacant mugs.
Smashed through that picket line with van and juggernaut.
For measly blackleg pay their wretched little souls, were bought.

And those who crossed that picket line with a snivelling "blow you, Jill"
Whose creed is grab and never give, are lowly creatures. They're not men.
And when their children ask some day "Daddy, what did you do for equal pay ?"
"I ratted and took the Judas gold", with hang dog look, they'll have to say.

But let's salute those Trico men who joined the women's fight.
Not money did they do it for, but injustice to put right.
For they can hold their hands up high, and look all mankind in the eye
And give their children this reply "I struck, for rather than scab I'd die".

The Trico women had guts galore, but never were in a strike before.
Courage and guts need something more to put bosses like Trico on the floor.
With their Strike Committee as the core and Southall District to the fore
The fighting force they did create made Trico bosses capitulate.

A strike's a hard and searching test, some falter and some fall.
When there's debts to pay and food to buy, without the wherewithal.
When problems and worries ever mount, awaking and even in sleep.
So anger and compassion mix, for the drop-outs, and the weak.

Yes, a strike's a hard and searching test, it sorts the gold from dross.
The workers who uphold a right, from the toadies of the boss.
For progress always has its price of sacrifice and pain.
Which Trico women have fully paid, so millions more shall gain.

The bosses have no inspiring cause but they all stick together,
To rob and cheat the working-class, for this they help each other.
And though their wealth is vast indeed and buys both scab and press.
It could not buy one noble cause, though it filled this universe.

But struggles like Trico's need not be. Our Unions have such power.
Trico, or any boss could crush, within a single hour.
Without their say no wheel could turn, this country would stand still.
Bosses, even Governments, would come pleading, to settle there and then.

So, let's our tribute fully pay to sisters who bore the brunt.
Who never flinched nor faltered but proudly stood in front.
For they have shown to millions more that struggle can succeed
And millions when they strive as one, no power can them impede.

But in our flush of victory not once must we forget.
Other brave sisters who cry for aid, and who are sore beset.
In Belfast, Spain and Chile, in apartheid's ghetto hell.
Where the sadist brutes oft torture some lonely sister in a cell.

For none should have to fight alone when the cause is just and right.
And none should have to bow before the boss or tyrant's might.
Brothers and sisters hand in hand a new world we shall gain
When power into our hands we take and end all bosses' reign.

Salute then all who made this stand that echoes far and wide.
The women who broke the barrier and have released a tide.
For they have sparked a flame that grows, and nothing can withstand
Till women's rights are fully won in this green and pleasant land.
Till the new Jerusalem we have built, in England's green and pleasant land.

Tom Durkin Brent Trades Council