Christie writes under a pseudonym in 1964 about his time as a worker at Tom McAlpine's utopian "Factory For Peace" in Glasgow and the conditions and undemocractic practices there.
Tom McAlpine1 , visionary—or waster? This has been a topic of conversation in libertarian circles. He has been lauded by the Christians, Social democrats and pacifists; but this is only to be expected, as it seems to them that if the Factory for Peace2 succeeds (as it will not) there will be no need for the revolution which they all fear. The left wing press have dedicated whole pages to this subject and there have been TV films made about this experiment below the co-operative sausage factory off Scotland Street, Glasgow.
I worked in the Factory for a month—enough for me to get an insight on its nature. I was paid £2 10s. for three days' work, the idea being that on alternate days we would sign on at the labour exchange, thus giving us added income.
The manager, according to the constitution of the factory, was supposed to be elected by a meeting of the workers, and so Tom became manager. A mystery exists here who elected Tom McAlpine? This question is comparable only to that of the Marie Celeste.
A foreman was elected (by Tom) and then part-time labour was introduced in order to begin production. This system of part-time labour worked well for a week, and then, when production had to be stepped up, the manager asked the other boy who was working part-time to come into his office. When he came out I was called in and asked whether I would be willing to work full time for a wage to be decided.
I had not been informed what the other boy had been offered and, as I had no knowledge of engineering, felt £7 would be enough. Later, when I talked to this other boy, I discovered McAlpine had offered him £10, but when McAlpine discovered I would work for far less, he reduced it to £8. This boy told the manager he was quite happy with the present state of affairs and would not work for less than £10 a week, as he was a fifth-year engineering apprentice and entitled to more.
This obviously annoyed McAlpine and at the Council Meeting the following Friday he proposed that the boy should be given a week's notice. As two other young, lads had started work that week, they voted with us and McAlpine's proposal was flung out of the window. He told the meeting he would bring this up the following week and, if it was rejected again, would take it to a higher authority. This higher authority is a Council which has nothing to do with the shop floor, but to make sure we don't make any H bombs, and who also decide the wages of the personnel.
The following week, just as we were going into the meeting. I was told by McAlpine that he was sorry, but he had forgotten to tell me that my friend and I were not allowed to vote. Seemingly it is in the constitution that only those who had worked for three months were allowed to vote. If that were the case no one would be allowed to vote as the factory had only been opened a fortnight previously. This friend of mine resigned after that; can you blame him?
Another boy whose work was exactly the same as mine was being paid a pound more, because he was 21 and I was not. I brought this up at a meeting and McAlpine said he was not willing to raise my wages, but would rather lower the other boy's. A shocked silence followed. A so-called socialist lowering wages already below subsistence level! I pointed out that I did not wish this boy's wages to be lowered, as I had already guessed that this would have been the answer, but the reason why I brought this up was because I wished to show the bourgeois elitist nature of the Factory for Peace.
A young socialist who worshipped McAlpine with naive sincerity had been working in the factory since its opening. This young socialist had no previous experience in sheet metal work, but because he paid homage to the Court of McAlpine he was paid according to needs. While fully-apprenticed tradesmen were getting less than £12, he was paid a salary of £56 per month. This caused quite a stir among the rank and file.
He defended his position by saying he had a family to support—a mother and dog, and his mother had a private income! Only two people were paid according to needs—McAlpine, £19 per week, and this young socialist. Needless to say they were the highest-paid members of the factory.
As I lived more than 14 miles away, almost beside Tom McAlpine, I arrived every morning, at nine o'clock precisely. He kept nagging at me about my late coming and eventually brought it up at a council meeting. When he had finished his diatribe I asked at what time he arrived in the morning. There was a hushed silence when he answered between 10.33 and 11 a.m. I just left it at that.
These points show only too clearly the fallacy in the idea of giving the workers control.
The workers had no impetus, they did not look upon the machines as theirs. One boy took a morning of the first week he was there to go and look for another job, which shows how effective is McAlpine's brand of industrial democracy.
Last of all, McAlpine himself told me that the factory was not under workers' control and never would be, unless the workers took it over themselves and, as far as he was concerned, it was just an industrial experiment.
- 1Tom McAlpine 1929-2006 was active in Scottish CND, the IONA Community and was Labour and Scottish National Party councillor. Obituary - https://www.scotsman.com/news/obituaries/tom-mcalpine-appreciation-2469561
- 2A postive account of the Factory For Peace by McAlpine appeared in Anarchy #26 in 1963 https://libcom.org/library/factory-peace
This article appeared in…
This article appeared in Direct Action under the name of "Peter Piatkov" - the name most commonly attributed to Peter The Painter of the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911. Stuart Christie describes pretty much the exact same experience as "Peter" in "My Granny Made Me An Anarchist: The Christie File Pt 1 1946-1964" (Christie Books) p152 onwards.
Yeah, I just finished that…
Yeah, I just finished that book and marked the bit where he said he wrote about it for Direct Action and was going to look it up. Thanks Foz
Oh well that's good timing,…
Oh well that's good timing, then! An interesting case study of the different approaches of the Freedom group vs the SWF...
Oh dear! I was not going to…
Oh dear! I was not going to contribute to this post, though I feel the account of Rowan Engineering in Direct Action, June 1964, should be taken with a pinch of salt.
I was acquainted with a number of young lads who worked there and they certainly had no time for Tom McAlpine. It should be noted that there was a running feud for a number of years between a number of ‘politicos’ regarding McAlpine and the factory – reaching well into the late sixties.
Libcom has a photo showing a number of those involved all marching behind an anarchist banner on May Day, 1964. It clearly shows Tom & Stuart.
I’ll stick to these comments regarding the article.
On February 1964, I started a five year sheet metal work apprenticeship in a firm in Hillington Industrial Estate, which was considered to have the best wages and conditions in the West of Scotland (Rolls Royce). I was paid the princely sum of three pounds ten shillings per week for my first year. We were on a forty-two hour week - Monday to Friday and Saturday morning. We needed to have clocked in and our overalls on by seven-thirty. I think if you were late more than fifteen minutes clocking in, the time-keepers would have removed all the cards from the board, and you would be sent out and only allowed to clock-in for the afternoon shift.
After reading the above article, I thought then, and now, it was a good piss-take.
Thanks Auld-bod - very…
Thanks Auld-bod - very interesting, especially the different pay rates...