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Westwood Works 1903-2003

Unions at Westwood Works

Relationships between Management and the Unions at Westwood had, since the early days, been generally good as some extracts from "The History of Baker Perkins" clearly show:

"A moulders' strike of thirteen weeks hampered operations at both factories (Peterborough and Willesden) in 1919. --------- The strike was particularly distressing because the dispute was a national one, not an internal disagreement. Indeed, Allan R. Baker was able to assure the shareholders of the company that relations with workmen and staff at Willesden and Peterborough, as well as at the offices at Kingsway, were very good."

"Another episode was even more distressing. The Bakers (but not Perkins Engineers) had been members of the Employers' Federation: and in 1922 they found themselves forced, against their will, to declare a lock-out of the majority of their men. This lasted for one week longer then the moulders' strike had done. The Amalgamated Engineering Union was the richest body of its kind in the world, and the dispute bled it white with no advantage to anyone. ----------------------------- In the dispute, the demands being made upon the men were out of line with Baker policy and the outcome of the whole distasteful affair was the withdrawal of Willesden from the Employers' Federation."

A Works Committee had been formed at Willesden in 1918 to facilitate an exchange of ideas between management and workpeople and this, for the time, enlightened approach of the Directorate was transferred to Westwood. These views were expressed clearly by Barton Baker (son of Philip Baker).

"All dealings with employees should be scrupulously honest. In fact, the principle that to gain trust one must be trustworthy should be observed at all times. Very detrimental to the existence of mutual trust is the atmosphere of secrecy that surrounds most company affairs, and one cannot expect to see very encouraging results until this is removed. Publication of full accounts by all businesses, particularly limited liability companies, would be a long step in the right direction ------".

It was against this background that relationships between Management and the Unions developed over the next eighty years at Westwood. Unions played an important part in the every day life at Westwood, the Works being fully unionised and referred to as a "closed shop". This meant that to work in the factory employees would have to belong to the appropriate trade union. (Extract from Works Committee Meeting 18th January 1923: "A. Royal Painter, no longer a Trade Unionist to be given a week's notice"). For office staff the situation was more liberal except that draughtsmen generally belonged to their union. General office staff had the option to join or not.

Wage negotiations would be held on an annual basis, generally commencing with the Works and Draughtsmen. Most were one year deals but some were for as long as 2/3 years although, with the advent of higher levels of inflation, longer deals fell out of favour quite quickly. Should the cost of living have risen higher than that negotiated, say, 3 years earlier, the agreement was reviewed as a matter of urgency.

Draughtsmen and others on the Staff were represented, over time, by AESD (Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsmen), DATA (Draughtsmen and Allied Technicians Association) and TASS (Technical, Administrative & Supervisory Section (of the AUEW). The Company Staff Handbook stated - "The Company has procedure agreements with certain Trade Unions appropriate to Staff employment, but it is not a condition of employment for Staff employees".

A considerable number of unions were represented across the work place. Over the years a number of unions merged and names changed. Among those Unions represented at Westwood in 1987 were:

A.U.E.W. Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers
E.E.T.P.U. Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications & Plumbing Union
U.C.A.T.T. Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians
T.A.S.S. Technical, Administrative & Supervisory Section (of the AUEW)
G.M.B.A.T.U. General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union
T.G.W.U. Transport and General Workers Union
G.M.W.U. General and Municipal Workers Union
Fettlers Union

The company made facilities available for union representatives to use and time spent on union business within the company and, on occasions, away from the company - attendance at Conferences for example - was paid for.

1970: Westwood AEU Branch Officers at the Labour Club

Superintendents and Foremen had no official representation in respect of Salary negotiations. Those office staff, not in a union, would receive an appropriate award as negotiated with the main Office Union, TASS. If a 3% award was made and extra holidays agreed, for example, then this would apply to all members of staff, whether Union members or not.

Negotiations would start with the AEU - the largest union - and then TASS. These would be held, wherever possible, simultaneously in order to keep a fair balance with the Works, Draughtsmen and office staff.

In the early days of the unions, clear and very defined demarcation lines were set for the different trades to adhere to. Platers would not do any work that was deemed to be that of a Sheet Metal Worker, or vice versa. Fitters could not drill holes in, say side frames or other components, used at the fitting stage, this was the job of an erection driller.

As demands rose from customers for shorter delivery times for Westwood products, there was a need to increase the rate of production. New Machine tools were purchased and rates of pay negotiated for the operation of these very specialised machines. These negotiations were carried out well in advance and in fact on many occasions the union representatives, along with the chosen operators were taken to the manufacturers to see the machines and assess their capabilities before they were delivered and installed.

The Burkhardt Borer was the first machine that embraced a new range of technology and special rates of pay were negotiated and agreed for its operators. As time progressed other machines were purchased and appropriate rates of pay negotiated. These included:

(See In the Factory)

As part of this ever increasing demand for quicker deliveries of its products the Company also entered into negotiations with the Unions to create a more flexible approach to the work of its skilled work force. Gradually and over quite a long period of time, the demarcation lines became rather more relaxed and particularly so if prior discussions were held with the appropriate unions and good reasons given for wanting this to occur.

For example, originally, Coppersmiths would fit the copper lubrication pipes onto machines being completed in the Fitting Shop. This was very intricate work as these had to be bent and fixed in rather intricate patterns around the finished machine to allow oil and lubrication to get to gears and bearings, etc. In time, plastic tubing was substituted for copper pipe and this necessitated that a compromise was reached whereby it was agreed that if a coppersmith was not available, Fitters could do this work after prior negotiation and agreement with the appropriate union representatives.

As for Apprenticeships, the Westwood training was looked upon by the whole engineering industry as the "best in the country". It took 5 years of very intense training before an apprentice became a skilled man in his chosen trade. Even in the area of training, and against a background of the need to have a continual inflow of skilled personnel, the company examined ways of reducing this length of time without impairing the quality of apprentice training.

A proposal to introduce a 4-year apprenticeship was put forward. After long and detailed negotiations with the shop stewards and full time officials, an agreement that was acceptable to both the company and the Unions was achieved. This led to the signing of the official agreement by the Leader of the Engineers Union (AEU), Hugh Scanlon, who came to Baker Perkins for the official ceremony to mark this landmark decision, the Company being the first in the country to introduce a four year engineering apprenticeship.

Negotiating pay deals with all the separate unions was a very time consuming task for the company and eventually a Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) was formed. This embodied shop stewards from all unions represented on the site. The larger unions, the AEUW for example, having 2-3 representatives, the smaller unions only one. All matters relating to Pay and Conditions for skilled and unskilled workers were discussed and agreed through this new committee.

The Company had very good relations with all the Unions and although there were disagreements and disputes that gave rise to stoppages of work, these were very occasional. Both the Unions and Company were always keen to resolve problems and reach an amicable and satisfactory settlement as quickly as possible. Strikes were very rare.

Over the hundred years of Westwood history it was a remarkable achievement for both the workforce and the company alike; an example of how good communications, understanding and working together, can prove beneficial for all concerned. If in the late 1970s and 1980s, increased business and commercial pressures, together with a change of Corporate management, dictated that more and more difficult decisions had to be implemented, the culture and procedures set firmly in place by the earlier generations of Management ensured that Westwood workers performed as expected right up to the moment of closure of the site.

An Amalgamated Engineering Union Card from 1934 issued to Herbert Davis, a sixteen year old Fitter at Westwood.
An Amalgamated Engineering Union Card from 1941 issued to D. Rodgers, a Tool Fitter at Westwood.

Those who worked in the factory in the 1970s and 1980s will recognise many of these names:


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