Direct Action (SWF): Vol 5 #07 (37) July 1964

Cover of Direct Action #37 from 1964

July 1964 issue of Direct Action including: reprisals against Remington Rand typewriters union rep in Glasgow, repression in Rhodesia, piecework - still the bosses; best foreman, union amalgamation in the building industry, Conscription? It's an all-party threat, unions in Franco's Spain, Tom McAlpine's "Factory for Peace" - a worker writes, electronic and automation exhibition at Olympia, Parliament - the seal of slavery, Canadian liberals.

Submitted by Fozzie on March 28, 2022

PDF courtesy of the comrades at Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.


DA-v5-7-1964.pdf (13.42 MB)

The Factory For Peace – Stuart Christie

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.

Submitted by Fozzie on March 28, 2022

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.


8 months 1 week ago

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.


8 months 1 week ago

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


8 months 1 week ago

Oh well that's good timing, then! An interesting case study of the different approaches of the Freedom group vs the SWF...


8 months 1 week ago

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.


8 months 1 week ago

Thanks Auld-bod - very interesting, especially the different pay rates...

Unemployment in automated easy stages - Bill Connolly

International Instruments, Electronics And Automation Exhibition 1964

An article on automation and unemployment from the Syndicalist Workers Association in 1964.

Submitted by Fozzie on March 28, 2022

Content warning - includes brief example of racist language, from an anti-fascist perspective.

The recent electronic and automation exhibition at Olympia is reported to have been a phenomenal success, both from the point of view of attendance and of business deals. A boom in automation isn't news these days, but it is of permanent interest to the potential victim—the industrial worker.

Why this must be so is effectively illustrated by an article in a special supplement issued by the Financial Times to coincide with the Exhibition. The head, “How to automate without being obvious," is itself provocative to make one sit up and take notice, but the contents are equally alarming.
The article is about Elliott-Automation's scheme for gradual conversion of industrial plant to total automation on a step-by-step basis—rather like a kid's brick-building or add-to Meccano set (Elliott, along with English-Electric Leo and ICI-Ferranti, is one of the big names in the British Electronics world.)

The article first of all points out as obstacles to the advance of automation the stupidity and hidebound conservatism which apparently typify our managerial executive class. It earmarks as a strong contributing factor towards this conservatism their fear of workers' reaction against the threat of redundancy. It is quite obvious from this that the Ferrantis and the Elliotts find that their ability to sell their products is strongly limited by the resistance of workers to any automation, which is concerned only with increasing capitalist profits, instead of benefitting all members of society equally.

Being profiteers and not social reformers, their answer to this problem is to a find a way of introducing automation under the unsuspecting worker's nose—and there's no reason why it shouldn't work if we're not very alert to the danger.

One can just see the picture: the Union man comes back from negotiations with good news - 2d. an hour more than we expected and the old crib about canteen facilities is settled . . . and, by the way, they're going to try out a new machine in the packing section, but nobody will lose his job. Joy all round—and the Monster is in. Six months later they "try out" another new machine; again nobody loses his job, but vacancies just aren't filled. A while later the O & M boys and the Operations Researchers are around with charts and statistics, to show the boss the benefits of his little bit of automation and estimates of the profits to be had by going the whole hog.

Dangle those extra profits in front of him long enough and he'll find courage to damn the workers and automate the lot, or he can be more subtle and just keep on adding little bits till everybody's inched out painlessly. As there is little about modern industry to inspire contentment in, or loyalty to a particular concern or firm, the odds are that very few people will have been in the factory long enough to have seen the whole thing happening. There'll just be a few hundred less people employed and nobody knowing why--except the Mosleys and Jordans, who can confidently point out that it is all the fault of the "Niggers and Jews." Obviously the crucial stage in the whole process is at that point when the union man comes to "sell" the deal to the "general body." What is needed is somebody with a nasty suspicious mind who will be prepared to rock the boat by asking awkward cantankerous questions about the "new machine." If he can back this up with a bit of knowledge about the sort of thing that's liable to happen (it doesn't matter how garbled or vague the "info" is) so much the better. This is a case where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing—for the other side.

The workers will benefit from automation only if they fight doggedly for their share of its products. In the long run this means achieving a totally new social system. But we must recognise that the society we want is very far from being achieved and the workers' day-to-day struggle must be waged on a bread-and-butter basis.

You can't have Anarchy next Friday, but you can have an extra 10s. in your pay packet; you can't have your fair share of the benefits of automation this year, but you can have a 40-hour week, or avoid redundancy and it's all moving in the right direction if we keep up the pressure long enough.

If you can't get your rights in full, then you've got to settle for whatever you can get, but there's a big difference between workers who have automation slipped in under their noses as part of a "good bargain" which they accept in ignorance --and workers who eventually accept it because they have to, but only after gouging every last concession out of the pockets of the capitalists or State. The moral is that workers must educate themselves to recognise a "pig in a poke," whether it's the boss or the union that tries to sell it to them —and from now on the fattest pigs in the biggest pokes are going to come in the shape of new machines.