Eastleigh Railway Works: two texts from Boot 'Em! and a 2010 postscript

Eastleigh Railway Works: two texts from Boot 'Em! and a 2010 postscript

Here follow two texts from Boot 'Em!, an anarchist paper - 'for autonomous class struggle' - produced in Southampton, UK, which ran for four issues from 1985-86. The first is a leaflet handed to the day shift at the BREL works at Eastleigh (and incorporated in Boot 'Em! No.3). The second is an article about the works from No.4. A postcript from 2010 concludes the series of texts with an interesting account of working life at Eastleigh.

Boot 'Em! No.3 Feb/March 1986.


Quite ironic really, that on the very day the blood transfusion van came round to the works it was discovered that many of us would be giving more than an armful, and not even voluntarily. And the patient? – BR’s quest for profitability. What management call ‘adjustments in workload’ will lead to thousands of redundancies at the Eastleigh, Doncaster, Wolverton and Glasgow workshops when they are passed to regional maintenance, and the privatisation of what remains of BREL at Crewe, Derby, Horwich and York. Management say it’s to compete on the open market, and as if to emphasise that, in the week the changes were announced, four American locomotives were unloaded at Southampton docks – to become the first private locos to run on the British Rail network, and on the same day it was announced that £110 million worth of railway business would be generated by the building of the Channel Tunnel.

Railworkers aren’t the only ones getting their faces rubbed in it:

• Hospital porters at Southampton General Hospital are going to lose £20-£30 per week because of a new rota system imposed by management.
• Health workers in Fareham face being employed by private cleaners Crothalls, which has already cut the wages of its Barking employees by two-thirds and imposed stricter working conditions.
• London Transport – a ‘good’ public company has docked the wages of its bus drivers in preparation for competition with private operators, whilst a ‘good’ Labour council (Southampton) wiped out 60 jobs when the new ‘no change’ machines were installed.

The introduction of new technology on the bosses’ terms – notably among office workers and printers – leads to a faster rate of work, tighter control over the work process by the boss and of course, job losses. Those of us who end up on the dole face petty bureaucracy, harassment and a slide into poverty, especially when dole and social security benefits are cut.

Privatisation isn’t some weird monetarist fad, it is purely and simply a weapon of the owning class to attack our living standards and concentrate wealth into the hands of the rich. Whether we’re railworkers or unemployed, we’re paying for the bosses’ crisis.


It’s because this attack is experienced by our class as a whole that we have to overcome union barriers and link up with the battles of other workers and the unemployed by our own initiative and overturn the market system as a whole. During the miners’ strike council workers didn’t need union directives to block the entrance to Armthorpe [colliery] with their vehicles; miners’ wives who did so much to keep the strike going weren’t in the NUM; and unemployed fought alongside miners against the police. Why wait for a TUC Day of Inaction?

There can’t be many who actually like working here, but as things stand what’s that between going on the dole or being transferred to York at the management’s pleasure to be a trainee labourer?

So what can be done to keep the works? One suggestion:


Sit tight. Don’t allow a single bolt to leave the works on road or on rail. This means blocking the gates and making ‘minor adjustments’ to the rails in the yard.

(Interesting fact: last year French Renault workers were threatened with redundancy because of a move to Spain. They stopped a train carrying equipment across the border by digging up the tracks…).

By occupying the works in force and indefinitely along with, hopefully, the other threatened workshops the BR bosses won’t be able to proceed with their plans. But in order to win, direct contacts have to be made with other workers (not just on the railways) by sending delegations to other workplaces to explain the situation and get support – strikes, blacking, occupations, etc. The miners were largely isolated in their battle with the NCB and the government – we can’t afford to be in ours.


P+P by BOOT ‘EM, c/o Box A1, etc.


Boot 'Em! No.4 May/June 1986

This is the most serious threat the works has ever had.’
Bill Luffman, Eastleigh Trades Council

It’s about 4 months since the British Rail Board announced that British Rail Engineering Ltd. would be ‘restructured’ – involving a shift of heavy repair work to Derby, York, Horwich and Crewe and the downgrading of the workshops at Eastleigh, Wolverton, Doncaster and Glasgow to regional maintenance. For Eastleigh this would mean a possible 1,600 job losses and even closure. April 1st was the date from which the ‘streamlining’ of BREL was to take place, although the Board don’t intend to announce anything until May 20th.

It’s generally recognised at the Eastleigh works that management is putting its plans into operation and is keeping us in the dark about what’s going on. This is a deliberate tactic – allowing workers to get used to the idea they might be sacked, leading to demoralisation and fatalism. The bosses have also learnt from Swindon (the railworks that closed at the end of March) – when workers there were told of closure they didn’t do much work, quite naturally wanting to stretch things out as long as possible. With this in mind the management, not wanting too demoralised a workforce in case it affects the quality and speed of work, has passed down messages of ‘hope’, with the intention of giving us enough rope to work to schedule. The following circular from the works manager, Stainthorpe, is a good example of this psychological warfare:



This notice was greeted with widespread derision: C3 carriage repair is the sort of shitty work that’ll take a few months to clear up. C1 work is what keeps Eastleigh going (requiring electricians, etc.), but it’s suspected that the C1s are already trundling towards Derby, which has taken on 80 more apprentices; the Eastleigh apprentice school closed last month. Others have read great significance into Stainthorpe’s previous positions – formerly works manager at Swindon (now closed), and before that at Shildon (now closed).

In the run up to the big day (closure?) management also wants to impose ‘work flexibility’. This means Category 3 or 4 blokes (like electricians, crane drivers, etc.) would be required to do Cat.1 or 2 jobs (like labouring) when deemed necessary. This would enable management to cut costs through redundancies and keep a tighter rein on whoever’s left – they are unlikely to want to see electricians doing nothing when the C1 carriages stop rolling in. These flexibility proposals are also an attempt to divide us: tradesmen stand to get £8 extra a week if they agree to it, and some shitheads will think it too much of a temptation. It’s no coincidence that work flexibility was enforced at Shildon before it closed.

Meanwhile, the usual war of attrition continues apace… foremen keeping an eye on the clocks, raids on locker rooms to flush out early tea drinkers, various attempts to get people sacked to save on the redundancy payments. There is resistance, though obviously much of it is disguised – working slowly, fucking-up the job, sneaking off to the bogs, going off sick. Last week 4 machine shop labourers walked out after refusing to sweep up asbestos… but other labourers agreed to do it.

It seems that management isn’t the only thing we have to struggle against. There are obstacles and illusions that have to be swept aside, but that can’t be done without a will to fight, born out of a sense of common interest.

Unfortunately, it’s that sense of class interest that some, particularly tradesmen, lack. Many electricians have a sense of pride in ‘their’ craft and see themselves as a group apart from other workers. Most electricians tend to despise labourers and many will probably vote for work flexibility just for the extra cash. On top of that, there are still application forms for Wapping circulating – emanating from Bill Luffman (quoted at the start of this article), local EETPU full-timer. He has two sons at Wapping. A former BREL worker, he’s remembered as being something of a ‘militant’. All this isn’t to say that all electricians are bastards – far from it – but they would be labouring under a heavy illusion if they think they’re a cut above the rest of us – they’re still wage slaves and can be picked off like the rest of us.

Another obstacle and factor of division for combative workers is the unions. The NUR has most members at the works, followed by the TGWU, EETPU, AUEW, TASS and the TSSA for office workers. Not long ago the TGWU called its members out on strike, whilst the NUR left it to ‘individual choice’ whether to walk out too. This led to the bizarre situation of a foreman telling an NUR labourer to join the strike. Certainly, among some of the longer established workers there is a bitterness about the divisive tactics and hesitancy to take action by the unions, exemplified by such statements as ‘We should’ve organised ourselves’, or ‘We should’ve supported the miners’. With Eastleigh facing closure there is a mood of demoralisation in part fed by a recognition of this past impotence. ‘We should’ve gone on strike in 1981 when Ashford [another workshop] closed.’ Now there’s a widespread feeling that it’s ‘too late’.

The current ludicrous ‘campaign’ to ‘save the works’ just about caps it all. Known by some as ‘the Champagne’ it is a popular front of the Joint Trade Union Committee, the local Chamber of Commerce and the local Tory MP (!) and has lobbied Parliament and the British Rail Board. It’s really just another way of trying to ensure our passivity in the face of the BRB’s attack. ‘The campaign’s going well lads, keep looking at the noticeboard’. Not surprisingly the noticeboard is frequently attacked.

It’s hard to be optimistic about the possibility of an effective counter-attack against the board’s reorganisation plans for BREL. Resistance will have to come from all BREL workers and will have to be conducted by us without the unions and their ‘campaigns’.

It’ll be a matter of cutting through the illusions and structures that isolate us – not just within the railways, but within our class as a whole, which is undergoing the same offensive of the bosses, whether postal workers, unemployed or health workers. It is the self-organisation and linking of all our struggles that we should aim for – and it won’t be easy.




A few years before I started work at British Rail Engineering Ltd. (BREL) at Eastleigh, Hants., there was a front page splash in The Sun newspaper, featuring two BREL workers blowing the whistle on skiving at the Eastleigh works. The whole story fitted into an agenda of demonising ‘workshy workers’ (an agenda which runs right across the political spectrum, from fascism to anarchosyndicalism), promoted at this time by a Tory government. This little piece, composed decades on, is intended as a celebration of the ways in which employees of the works got through the day and of some of the ‘quirky’ characters who made the place more interesting. What will became evident is the daily reality of playful acts – sometimes tantamount to bullying – which neither fit in with militant rhetoric and its vocabulary of ‘class unity’, ‘the common enemy’ and ‘struggle’ (encountered in the above ‘Boot ‘Em!’ texts), playful activity which can not quite be characterised as ‘resistance’. At Eastleigh, and doubtless other railway workshops, there were established patterns of work and its avoidance which pre-date Negri’s model of the Fordist mass worker (the Ford Transit factory was a mile or so south, incidentally). Eastleigh came into being when the London & South Western Railway moved its engineering workshops from Nine Elms in south London to a village north of Southampton in 1910, transplanting thousands of workers in the process. Since then, patterns of working and living – Fordist and pre-Fordist – have been dissolved. To recontextualise the commentary to the NE TRAVAILLEZ JAMAIS graffiti that appeared along the rue de Seine in 1953, this piece is ‘a testimonial of the particular way of life which tried to assert itself there’.

The Lost World

I started my employ at Eastleigh in 1985 as a labourer for a gang of electricians in the Container Shop. It wasn’t particularly demanding – a bit of sweeping up, changing the bins, fetching stuff from the stores, etc. Put it this way, there was some scope for unwinding, and the longer I was there the more I learnt about the ways I, and others, could (and did) ‘take a bit back’. There was a sophisticated alarm system on the electricians’ gang to warn of the approach of their foreman, known under various pseudonyms including Mogadon Ron, Frank Cannon (after the TV detective, who he uncannily resembled), and Guts. An electrician called Gonzo would raise the alarm when Frank Cannon entered the building, by strutting around with his hands in his pockets, elbows flapping, shouting ‘GUTS!...GUTS!... GUTS!... GUTS!’ At which we’d disperse from the benches, abandoning whatever conversations, newspapers or card games we were involved in.

‘My job is very boring, I’m a railway spark’

‘We knew how to make our own entertainment in them days,’ goes the old saying, and the ‘Spoon Fight’ became an entertaining feature of Container Shop life for a few glorious weeks. It started in a small way in a subsection of the electricians’ gang, involving a hapless fellow nicknamed ‘Syph’ and any one of the other sparks there. The protagonists would sit in chairs facing each other, more-or-less knee-to-knee. They would then take turns to bop each other on the top of the head with a teaspoon held in the mouth; the ‘victim’ leaning forward and tilting their head down while the ‘hitter’ would try and get enough leverage, using teeth and lips, to smite their opponent a painful blow – a near impossibility. Which was why there’d be someone stood behind Syph, tablespoon in hand, ready to deliver a sharp thwack at the point the opponent’s teaspoon was supposed to make contact. Syph would flinch, rubbing his head and marvelling at the sheer force of his opponent’s teaspoon and mouth control. As word got around, more and more people came to watch this spectacle, until several weeks in there were up to a couple of hundred – electricians, vehicle-builders, painters, labourers – lined up three-deep along the staging (a raised walkway, level with train doors). On one of these occasions someone used – not for the first time – a spade to deliver the blow, at which Syph, frantically rubbing his head, spun round and… the game was up.

The Yard

The yard locker room was the place to which labourers in the container shop tended to gravitate at tea-breaks and any number of unofficial breaks, whether they were yard, vehicle builders’ or electricians’ labourers. The odd spark would sit on the periphery with their papers, to avoid ‘exposure’ in the main shop. Periodically, there were ‘raids’ to flush us out during these unofficial breaks. For a time the raiding party comprised two particular managers – Street and a Walid Jumblatt lookalike – who would often come in through two separate doors, so that those of us fleeing one would run into the other. Some were lucky enough to evade them by ducking out a third door. A comment on this tiresome situation was made by sticking up two newspaper cuttings on a locker where the managers would see them. One was a headline about armed raids on New Forest teashops – TEAROOMS TERROR STRIKES AGAIN – the other was a picture of Walid Jumblatt (the Druze leader in Lebanon) leaving a peace conference. A dashed line was drawn across Jumblatt’s neck in biro, with an arrow pointing at it and the words, CUT HERE. The toilets were usually a good standby in such situations, and I usually managed to read all the daily papers.

The yard was a bit of a social hub. One occasional visitor was a gentleman known as ‘The Healer’, or ‘Yogi’, who was reputed to cure ailments through the laying on of hands. He had a sidekick, or ‘agent’ called Dusty, upon whom he would demonstrate his skills of levitation. Dusty would ‘frantically’ try to stop his right hand levitating by clutching it with his left hand as Yogi put the fluence on it. We’d all take turns to have our hands ‘levitated’ too. Yogi was also a ‘visionary’ – he once stated he’d seen a spider the size of a house on the other side of the test shed: ‘It’s a harvester of souls’, he said.

A regular visitor was someone, ‘Charlie’, from the main shop, who’d come for his shower at 3.30 everyday. A few years before, he’d badly injured his foot, but had long made a full recovery. This didn’t stop people asking him every day, as he sat first in the queue for the clock, ‘How’s your foot, Charlie?’ To which he’d reply, ‘Oh, it’s fine!’ as he vigorously stamped his right foot. If you wanted him to stamp his foot before all and sundry, you just had to ask him that.

The Engineer

I should mention a yard labourer, who was permanently on toilet-cleaning duty with a little Welsh bloke. He was nicknamed ‘The Engineer’ because of the way he’d ‘engineer’ situations. Any new labourers coming into the yard would generally be sent to clear coal out of a wagon at the back. He would tell each one that, in view of the arduous and dirty nature of the work, they would qualify for a free dinner ticket for the canteen if they presented themselves at the admin office and requested it. Most fell for it. Another, who temporarily partnered him on toilet cleaning, was told to go to Bannell the yard foreman’s office and ask for a tube of anus grease – ‘If he asks you what you want it for, tell him it’s for the pipes’. Needless to say, Bannell was asked. ‘What the hell do you want that for?’

I was one in a long line of drinking companions that the Engineer cultivated, buying cans of beer or cider or bottles of VP and cider, or rum and cider, to swig out of a brown paper bag in a deserted children’s playground many a time, to stagger back to the works in the afternoon. On one occasion we approached the pelican crossing leading to the works, and Terry said, ‘See this fellah here? He does farmyard impressions, he doesn’t speak to anyone, just makes animal noises’. Sure enough, we were greeted with the sound of a chicken – ‘Wa-a-a-a-r-k’.

The Engineer was an ex-Southampton docker, army deserter, merchant seaman, tanker driver, hypnotist, former burglar, and – it has to be said – an alcoholic. Needless to say, there are too many stories to be recounted here, of sleeping rough on Weston Shore after going AWOL, of Kuala Lumpur prostitutes, foremen he had decked, and the dockers’ mass picket outside Pentonville prison in 1972 when an ITN crew got chased up the road by angry dockers. He and another ex-docker in the yard used to reminisce about the docks, such as the times the banana boats were in. On one of these occasions a docker was asked to start clearing a pile of bananas on deck, not knowing someone was concealed under the pile dressed in a gorilla suit. As he removed the first bunch the ‘gorilla’ sprung out and chased him, screaming, around the deck.

Punching the Clock

As I remember, it was something like an 8.00 start and 4.00 finish on days (nights were ten hours long – I only volunteered for nights once) and we all had a card to punch in and out. Everyone looked to shorten the day, if they could, even if they were doing overtime. One way of getting out was to ask for a ‘pass out’, a slip of paper only available from the relevant office, on which you had to get a foreman’s signature (assuming he permitted you to leave an hour or more early) before presenting it to the gateman on the way out of the works. There were other alternatives to this complicated process. There were certain people who had pass-books in their possession. One was an electrician, who could be asked to tear a strip out of the pad for you, and you’d either find someone to forge a signature or you could make a name up to sign. I sometimes left with the ‘signature’ of a D R Phibes (based on a Vincent Price film character) on my pass out. This still left the problem of getting your card punched at the end of the day, but the electrician – who regarded himself, rightly, as the ‘Mr. Big’ of getting people’s cards punched – was happy to oblige. There were risks – there was a storeman who possessed his own pass-book and used to sign himself out regularly for years until he was caught and ‘asked’ to resign. A labourer used to have a regular hospital appointment which kept him out of the works every Friday for years, having the appointment card to prove it. This worked fine until someone checked with the hospital and found he hadn’t had to attend for years… Failing these little ploys, there was always the detached railing at the back of the yard locker room, which could be moved to allow ‘escape’, and subtly put back into position.

Wise to what was going on, management occasionally posted someone on our clock about five minutes before clocking-off time to observe that everything was above board – this task often fell to a vehicle-builders’ foreman called ‘Coco the Clown’. They never caught ‘Mr. Big’… Management became especially sensitive about clocking-off time after an unfortunate incident on overtime in the main shop. A labourer was assigned to sweep up in a boxed-off area known as ‘the coffin’. Someone dutifully punched his card at 6.00 so he could nip off early, as usual. Trouble was, when the nightshift reported for duty later that evening, his body was found in the coffin – he’d had a heart attack. Then the shit hit the fan – how could a dead man clock himself out?

One Piece at a Time

As could be expected from a place employing those with certain skills, not all productions were strictly railway-related. Enough wood found its way out to build any number of garden sheds, while someone who came in every day on his motorbike rode out after a while with a sidecar attached. It was also usually possible to over order stuff from the stores which could be used on ‘autonomous projects’ – masking tape, insulating tape, cable ties, etc.


The works at Eastleigh became a pool of recruitment for scabs at Murdoch’s News International plant in Wapping, mostly among electricians. My trips to the picket lines of Wapping were known of. When I rolled up in the yard of a Monday morning a couple of labourers would wave their copies of The Sun – ‘We’ve got ours!’ When a flying picket of sacked printers descended upon the TNT depot in Eastleigh – a hub for distributing scab papers – and trashed it, I got a bit of grief from someone who had a relative who worked there. Nevertheless, The Sun was by no means the favourite paper for certain workers there with longer memories. Well before the Wapping business one electricians’ chargehand cursed it as a ‘scab paper’ because of its role in exposing skiving at the Eastleigh works. The two who’d sold their stories to The Sun certainly couldn’t show their faces in Eastleigh.

The End

I left the works in 1988. By this time it had become part of British Rail Maintenance Ltd (BRML) and it was evident the whole operation was winding down. BRML was ultimately broken up and sold off to outfits like Alstom, who took on the Eastleigh works, until it was definitively closed a couple of years ago. Today a few tens of people are employed on the site by a couple of private operators doing railway-related work, but there is no continuity with the regime of BREL.


Apr 20 2010 18:39

That was an interesting read (particularly the conclusion). I don't suppose you've got any copies of Boot 'Em! have you? Would be good to put them on the site..

Wellclose Square
Apr 20 2010 20:58

I have got copies. Is there an 'easy way' of getting them on the site?

Boris Badenov
Apr 20 2010 21:07

if you have access to a scanner, you can save them as pdfs and then upload them to the library as file attachments.

Wellclose Square
Apr 20 2010 21:26

I'll talk to my 'technical advisor'...

Edit: am told the quality of the original document isn't good enough to be copied on our scanner.

Apr 20 2010 21:30

Cool, let us know how it goes.. If you need a hand with it, drop us a line and we'll try and work something out..

Boris Badenov
Apr 20 2010 21:31
Wellclose Square wrote:
am told the quality of the original document isn't good enough to be copied on our scanner.

In what sense? Is the paper damaged or just yellowed? If the latter, it's not a problem I'd say.

Wellclose Square
Apr 20 2010 22:28

The originals were run off on a duplicator, so the print is uneven and faint in places. I'll 'experiment' with the scanner tomorrow.

Apr 21 2010 17:55

hi, yes thanks for putting that up. If the print is uneven or faint, that would mean that scanning the document as text, like the text above for example, wouldn't work. However, you could scan the whole thing in PDF format. We would be very happy to have that

Wellclose Square
Apr 21 2010 19:09

I'll see what I can do...

Jan 9 2012 15:49

Any joy with the scanning Wellclose?

Wellclose Square
Jan 9 2012 17:52

There might be very soon... now I've got the technical means.