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Systems in action: An everyday tale of industrial folk

Updated Wednesday 18th May 2005

Can unions and management find an agreement to a controversial proposal?

It's 1972 and when a manufacturing company decides to bring in a consultant to study the efficiency of workers, the union stewards are not happy. Management are wanting to find funding for a structural review, while the unions are concerned with redundancies and pay rises. With each party bringing a different agenda to the table, see how the negotiations progress.

Part One

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An Everyday Story of Industrial Folk: Part One

Narrator

The management of this electronics factory are proposing to bring in a consulting team called AIC to survey job times on the shopfloor and in the offices.  The aim is to discover where productivity may be increased in order to finance the major job evaluation and regrading project that management have been preparing.  The trade unions, unenthusiastic about the regrading project in any case, are worried about the AIC survey - are redundancies planned?  Management had hoped that the stewards would be reassured by meeting the AIC consultants and discussing the project with them, but the meeting turned out to be extremely frosty.  The following day Jack Rucastle, the works convener, is busy arranging union meetings, when he receives a phone call from David Halsall, the Personnel Manager.

Jack Rucastle

I’ll bring another steward along with me, I won't come on my own.

David Halsall

All right?

Jack Rucastle

Is that okay?  All right.

David Halsall

Okay.

Jack Rucastle

Right, I’ll be over.  Bye. 

David Halsall

Well what I'm wondering Jack is quite clearly is it worth holding the meetings with the frame of mind you appear to have at the moment?

Jack Rucastle

At the moment we’re going to hold a meeting now whether it’s outside the gate or inside the gate.

David Halsall

No, what I'm suggesting is, is it worth our while having, even at this short stage, a further meeting with Mr Edwards or someone, just to go over what the impression we were meaning to convey yesterday afternoon, you know, we failed to communicate adequately to you yesterday afternoon.

Jack Rucastle

What, you did?  How long would this meeting with Mr Edwards take, because our members will definitely not wait past today!  This meeting with them is going to take place today.

David Halsall

Morning Ted, sorry to interrupt you.

Ted Edwards

What’s up?

David Halsall

Jack and his merry band want to have the meetings this morning, and I've just been having a word with him, and it’s fairly evident from his attitude that he is not in so many direct words going to move the rejection of the AIC.  Clearly he wasn’t convinced yesterday afternoon, and I'm just wondering whether it would be, whether you think it would be a wise thing to get together with him and try and put some extra conviction into him before he has these meetings; otherwise they’ll be a waste of time…… Well I think you and I.

Ted Edwards

Well when’s he want to have his bloody meeting with his men?

David Halsall

He has been arranging them for this morning, but I'm sure these can be cancelled if we can say we would meet him some time today.

Ted Edwards

Let me have a look at my bloody diary for the rest of the day.

David Halsall

Okay, go on.  Ted Edwards has, he has got Charles Bennett with him by the way, you were quite right.  As usual you were ahead of me.  They'd like to meet us at quarter to twelve.  Now I know this messes up your morning arrangements on the meetings, but I think it might be worth our while just to have this session with him, and I know it’s inconvenient for a number of people.  I fancy at the moment the, it might be a bit futile you having your membership meetings without perhaps having a further opportunity to toss not only yesterday’s problem but the 1st July problem over with Ted Edwards.

Male convenor

I think personally, Jack, I think we should go to these meetings and tell our members that we haven’t got this consultant.  We've told everybody about these meetings.

Jack Rucastle

Well I'm not going to withdraw my meeting from half past ten.  I can go to that meeting and I can say look, the management wish to have further consultations with us at twelve o’clock.

David Halsall

Quarter to twelve.

Jack Rucastle

And we will come back and report more fully to you after that, but I, we must hold these meetings.  You know, I mean let’s face it - I've got to have the confidence of my members, and they will very soon lose it if we keep messing them about, pushing them off, you know, there’s a meeting at half past ten and it’s put off until twelve o’clock.

David Halsall

I'm just wondering, can you hold the situation?

Jack Rucastle

Yeah, we can hold it, on one condition, Mr Halsall.  If at this meeting at quarter to twelve, is there going to be anything constructive come out of it?  You're not going to just try and tell us at quarter to twelve well we don’t think there’s, it’ll not affect your July wage claim, it’ll not create a redundancy, this is not what you're just going to tell us at quarter to twelve, is it?

David Halsall

Well aren’t those assurances that you're wanting?  Because at the strikes, it strikes me that’s precisely what you…

Jack Rucastle

Yeah, but you had two hours yesterday trying to assure us that this was, wouldn’t be the case, and you didn’t convince us in two hours, what makes you think the position’s going to alter at twelve o’clock?  No, if you can come to us at twelve o’clock and turn around and say to us, or quarter to twelve, and say to us look, we are prepared to guarantee you a minimum of X number of pence per hour on July 1st and we are prepared to guarantee you that there will be no redundancy here over the next twelve months, we are prepared to go to our members with a different story to what we are going to.

Part Two

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An Everyday Story of Industrial Folk: Part Two

Jack Rucastle

When I said before we’re not going to recommend them, look, Mr Halsall, we went into that room yesterday at three o’clock and on that table there was one of these person’s notes.  Now, as far as we were aware, it was just something like that left on the table, and we picked it up and read it.  And on there, it told us directly how many hourly paid was off directs was going to be made redundant, and how many indirects was going to be made redundant, and this was what the attitude was all about during the meeting.  And whatever you or Mr Edwards says, produce those minutes we saw and give it us in writing that this is denied, it is not true, and then you may get somewhere with us.

Male convenor

No, we’re going back to our members now and we’re just going to tell them that, all right we’ll do what we can for you. 

Jack Rucastle

It’s not a case of doing what we can for you; we’re just doing what we can for them, for the lads.

David Halsall

Well, for us all, Jack, you know, I think.  You know, anyway, do your best and I’ll see you at quarter to twelve.

Jack Rucastle

I even lost some sleep over it last night, and that’s one thing I never do with Plesseys, I can assure you, but I did last night…

David Halsall

That’s all right, I’ll clear it out the way.  Thanks indeed, bye bye.

Male speaker

Bye.  Geoff Parsons has had a request from his staff union reps to, that he see them immediately.

David Halsall

Ah did he?

Male speaker

It’s on the same problem.  You know the problem John’s got is shooting off to Alexandria.  He doesn’t want any hot communication to reach there before he gets there.

David Halsall

Yeah.  It’s difficult to know how to hold it now, you know, it’s like silly.  Well certainly I'm not going to dive in with the staff reps.  It will look too much like panic, and there’s no need for panic, you know.

Jack Rucastle

If we’re not with the staff and the staff are not with us on this, we’re going to be in a hole that we’ll not dig ourselves out of…

Narrator

Before addressing the union meeting, Jack talks to the leader of the staff unions.

Staff union leader

Well I don’t think the truth has been produced, and that’s quite honest.

Jack Rucastle

Well, it has, and it has in a way because…

Male convenor

Well we've had short notice anyway.

Staff union leader

But it would have been hidden if certain things hadn’t been seen.

Jack Rucastle

Yeah, quite…

About a half an hour ago, your stewards were called down to the management and they intimated to us that they probably knew the results, what would be the outcome of this meeting, and they then said could we have further consultations with them at quarter to twelve today, when the July wage award, which we have in, would be discussed, the future of Plessey Poole would be discussed, and that by…

Narrator

Jack explains that management want further talks and promises to report back to a further union meeting in the afternoon.

Jack Rucastle

So the position is this that until the management clear our minds that whatever the outcome of this is it will not affect our wage award in July, it will not create any redundancy in this factory, we would never ask you to agree to them coming in.  Okay?

All

Yeah.

Jack Rucastle

Right, thanks very much.

Narrator

Before meeting management, Jack phones stewards at other Plessey sites to find out what has happened there.  He discovers redundancies have taken place following an involvement by AIC, but what part they played is not clear.

Part Three

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An Everyday Story of Industrial Folk: Part Three

Narrator

Later, management postpone the meeting to the afternoon.  Meanwhile the two sides hold their own preparatory meetings.

Male speaker

That’s what I was getting at the other day when I said why are they coming in, is the position is that the firm’s losing, this place is losing money and there’s going to be redundancies?

Male speaker

Could I just say, I don’t know how true it is, but I've been told that even waking the stores has been held off until after this survey’s been done. 

Male speaker

I don’t know how true, it’s rumours.

Male speaker

You'll hear all sorts of rumours at the moment, Eric, but to me, if you ask the company how, what’s the position as regards the work position here now, they wouldn’t dare say other than well it’s all right.  They wouldn’t dare say to us there’s a likelihood of it closing down in six months or twelve months, because they know very well you'd have a gradual drift away if they mentioned anything like that.

Male speaker

That’s true, yeah, they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t commit themselves on that.

Male speaker

They would only turn around and say it’s…

Male speaker

Put it this way, if we don’t accept these people then, are there going to be redundancies, even still?

Male speaker

I don’t think they commit, I don’t think they can.

Male speaker

No, they can cover themselves every time.

Male speaker

Because we’ll never know the truth, will we?

Male speaker

No.  We certainly wouldn’t know…

Male speaker

Possibly not.

Male speaker

Possibly not.

David Halsall

Whatever can be said to them can, if it can be as, you know, the least compromising kind of statement or remark that can be made, the better.

Ted Edwards

Yes.  Now having seen the notes though, you're aware that there is for instance no question of redundancy having been mentioned, this is a construction which has been put on the paper by those who have read it.

David Halsall

Now, to go headlong and deny everything that was implied in that note may well be, you know, might be the wrong thing.  There may well be something in it that you merely compromise your situation for later on.

Jack Rucastle

First you put it in a very embarrassing position, so asking us to go to meet our members at ten o’clock or shortly afterward, arranging a meeting for quarter past, quarter to twelve, cancelling it after we’d told our members we were coming back here and we would be reporting back to them immediately after lunch.  We didn’t request the meeting, you did!  And, but if you want me to say why we’re here, it’s at this very moment, the feeling throughout this factory or from the staff organisations, from non-unionists amongst the staff, has been, never has it been so together as it is on this issue, that these people be asked to leave this establishment today if possible and not return.  And I can assure you, Mr Edwards, the feeling is so acute that at the drop of a pen this afternoon you can have a factory with a shell and a shell only, and nobody in it, or very few.  I'm hoping it doesn’t come to this, and I mean that, I'm honestly hoping it doesn’t mean that, come to this, but I would say a lot of it is on your head.  If we can't reach some sort of an agreement here with an assurance from the management of our future, not only in future wage negotiations, but in the safety of our jobs for at least, you know, the coming years.

Ted Edwards

Well I understand, you know, your concern obviously about the future, and your concern is my concern, you know.  I too am concerned, we built up ourselves, you know, a fair going outfit, it’s got its problems, it can…

Narrator

Ted Edwards, Manufacturing Manager, counters with management’s case for the AIC survey.

Ted Edwards

It’s the company’s policy to use AIC - that is the company as a whole.  I think it’s important to have the survey frankly.  I think it’s important from my point of view and from your point of view.  If I say I will not have that survey on my patch, I could then be faced with a situation where I'm told you will have it whether you like it or not...

Narrator

In due course, Jack starts to suggest the conditions under which the manual unions would cooperate with the survey.

Jack Rucastle

Would you be prepared to give us a statement guaranteeing every person’s job for the next twelve months?  No, you can't do it, no, and you'll have a hell of a less chance of doing it if these people come in here.  This is our, before we can agree to these people or before we can agree to cooperate with these people who are coming on this site, we must ask what we asked for the other day, and that is consultation with other Plessey organisations, at least in the southern area or region.

Ted Edwards

… while I go and talk this over with my colleagues for a minute or two.

Jack Rucastle

We’ll go, because there’s less of us.

 

Part Four

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An Everyday Story of Industrial Folk: Part Four

Ted Edwards

What do you think Bill?

Male speaker

Well I think we would be well advised for the moment to defer the study.

Ted Edwards

I agree.

Male speaker

To allow them to have consultation, which we can fix up, to take the heat out of the situation immediately.

Ted Edwards

I've just asked the AIC to leave the site.  I don’t know where they’ve gone but their office is empty.

Male speaker

They said…

Ted Edwards

I think they left hurt.  Anyway I’ve…

Narrator

Although AIC have been sent off, and management have also agreed to assist the stewards in meeting their opposite numbers from other sites, there are still two points on which Jack wants information or assurances.  The first is the question of possible redundancies.

Jack Rucastle

Mr Edwards, yesterday an unfortunate thing happened, fortunate for us, unfortunate for you, and if you talk to us from now until Friday night you’re never going to take away the fact that some notes was left on this table, and those figures were there.

Male speaker

Please, this is what we’re really calling freedom of thoughts.

Ted Edwards

Those notes, when the AIC came down here and they talked about our future business prospects, right, and I said well in our order book next year, we've got anticipated orders.  Now if those anticipated orders do not materialise, we could be faced with redundancy.  Now next year we’re looking to get an extra £1 million worth of turnover after this patch.  That doesn’t say redundancy, does it?

Male speaker

No.

Ted Edwards

But if the orders don’t materialise and, you know, so we’re expecting an order from Belfast for a remote control system worth about £60,000.  Now, you know, it’s the opinion of the sales people that we've got a very good chance of getting that order, but there’s competition in the field.  Or for all I know Belfast may decide that they haven’t got the money to...

Narrator

Ted Edwards does his best to explain to the stewards the uncertainties facing the factory.  However true, its remarks are precisely what the stewards predicted, there is nothing definite, no prospect of a management commitment.  In due course, Jack switches to his second outstanding concern, can they settle the July wage negotiation before AIC return and the regrading project complicates the picture.

Ted Edwards

...insurance. It’s unfortunate you saw those figures, you know, and I don’t mean it’s unfortunate from my point of view, I mean it’s unfortunate from your point of view because it obviously put worries into your mind, which I’d rather you didn’t have.

Jack Rucastle

Once we’ve got the July affair settled we can go back to our members and there would be a different thought in their mind obviously wouldn’t there, that they weren’t going to take anything out of this to put onto the other affair.

Ted Edwards

Well you can go back to your members and first of all you can tell them AIC have left the site.

Male speaker

Yes, this is the first thing.

Ted Edwards

And that’s the first, you know, I should have thought about it before talking to you.  Two, the management will give you some assistance in finding out some more facts, right.

Male speaker

Yeah.

Ted Edwards

You can give them, you can tell them what I’ve told you about the figures and if they know about them.  What else are you wanting to say, anything?  Oh, and the management is considering your, you know, this business about the July pay award.

Male speaker

Hmm.

Ted Edwards

I think considering would be the best answer.

Jack Rucastle

Yeah.  And can we assure them that they will not be coming back until at least we’ve reached settlement?  I mean if we settle the amount this week and agree to it, at least we can assure our members that we’ve got a settlement and now any harm that can be done out of this lot can only, well it wouldn’t be harm, it would be of benefit to us.

Male speaker

Mm-hmm.

Management whispering together

...[unclear] as part of that, in which case you could differ.  Can we have a?

Male speaker

Yeah, can we have five minutes?

4’22”

Part Five

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An Everyday Story of Industrial Folk: Part Five

David Halsall

He won't commit himself.

Male speaker

Will Ted commit himself?

David Halsall

He will not commit himself at this moment in time to AIC after they’ve settled that pay award, after they’ve settled it.  He won't commit himself to that, that’s for sure.

Male speaker

No, he won't commit himself.

David Halsall

Right, so we can't give that commitment on it.  I am committed to do something about his pay.

Male speaker

And he wants you to be committed about AIC not going on before 1st July, until we've settled.

David Halsall

Precisely!  So he’s not in a very interested position.

Male speaker

He’s got a written commitment, he wants a verbal commitment that you have to honour, of the AIC not coming on the patch.

David Halsall

See I’ve then knowledge of whether de Keynes may say well, you know, we’ll have to risk the industrial unrest that could arise from this and get them in and get on with it.

Male speaker

That you could come back and…

Male speaker

Everybody all complete around the table while you’re get at me, time isn’t he, you know, they’ve done it, there’s bound to be something, and then they used to come in and a couple of words, bash.

Male speaker

It’s necessary for us to get him into a position where he can put it off for a little while, puts off asking Ted about the situation, if you like, for a week or ten days or so, until the emotion of the thing has dropped.

David Halsall

Because we leave the July pay award situation that we will get on with…

Narrator

The management response is carefully calculated.  They agree to start immediately negotiating the July pay award, but they will not make any undertakings about the return of AIC.  They sense they have conceded enough to forestall any union commitment against AIC at this stage.

Ted Edwards

And, you know, then we have some more discussions about AIC on site and where we go from there.

Jack Rucastle

Assuming that we could complete our discussions by the end of say two or three weeks, AIC will not come back until those discussions are completed.

Ted Edwards

No, Jack, I'm sorry, let me put it this way, again.  I will agree to start the discussions on the July award.  I will not give any commitment about the return of AIC, right?  You will not give any commitment about cooperation with the return of AIC, until such times as you’ve had time to discuss this thing and to come back and have a meeting with the management about AIC carrying out a survey on the site.  In other words, I want to leave the July talks to one side, I want to split the thing in two, the July talks, keep the two apart.  There is no commitment on your part for AIC to do its survey, there is no commitment on my part not to, as a management decision, bring in AIC to survey that part of the company, which is, you know, not your problem.  So all I'm really saying is please let us leave the commitment about AIC open on both sides, let there be no commitment on either side...

Narrator

The meeting has taken most of the afternoon, but both sides have something to be pleased about.  The unions have obtained a number of useful concessions, management have kept their regrading project alive, at a moment when it might easily have been killed by union opposition.  And so the negotiation is concluded, except of course for the final relaxing phase of joking and conciliatory conversation about matters of mutual concern.

Ted Edwards

AIC off the site a bit sharpish, you know, which is no mean achievement…

Narrator

The smouldering fire started 24 hours earlier by the spark of the AIC notes accidentally left on the table now seems to be well under control, and so the negotiators return to their other duties.

3’48”

 

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