THIS YEAR sees the 50th anniversary of a strike at the Roberts Arundel engineering works in Stockport. The Morning Star described it as one of the “biggest strikes in the history of the trade union movement and it involved the most basic freedom of all workers – the right to organise.”
Roberts Arundel was owned by antiunion North Carolina businessman Robert E Pomeranz, who bought the UK business in the mid-1960s. In an attempt to bust the Amalgamated Engineering Union he imposed sweeping changes to working practices, made union members redundant and advertised for women workers as ‘cheap labour’ to replace them - a tactic he had used in the US.
After the company took on more low paid women workers and scab skilled workers, the AEU went on strike. A worldwide boycott of Roberts Arundel began with effective boycotting of companies which did business with the company.
Picketing stopped goods coming in and out and led to scabs walking out of the factory. On 22nd February 1967 a mass picket resulted in the chief constable threatening to read the Riot Act as bricks and missiles flew and the pickets blockaded the site. Negotiations to settle the dispute were led by full time AEU Executive Council member for the North West, Hugh Scanlon, and District Secretary John Tocher. Prime Minister Harold Wilson tried to intervene but Pomeranz announced that while there was no harm in talking, the union “should find new jobs for its members.”
Increased AEU pressure persuaded 30,000 engineering workers in the North West to stop work in support. When the shop stewards and AEU officials were warned that Pomeranz would close the factory, their response was “good riddance”.
On 1st September, 40 North West engineering companies and construction sites stopped work. Pomeranz was under real pressure and was losing money – and following a meeting in early December with Minister of Labour Ray Gunter and Scanlon, Pomeranz announced the closure of the company after the union rejected his ‘peace terms’. The company filed for bankruptcy and left the UK.
Pomeranz had said the “most important thing is the company’s profits”. His attempts to bust the AEU cost him one million pounds – over £16 million today!
is Assistant General Secretary of UNITE