Trico a Victory to Remember: the 1976 Equal Pay Strike at Trico-Folberth, Brentford, by Sally Groves and Vernon Merritt, Lawrence and Wishart
AROUND 100 PEOPLE TURNED UP to the launch of this book, organised by Ealing Trades Union Council, in Southall. These included some of the strikers and their relatives, as well as local trades union activists. It celebrates a victory for the trades union movement. After a 21 week strike Trico conceded that the women were entitled to equal pay. For that alone it merits recommended reading, and is an inspiration for those involved in the trades union movement today.
Trico was a US-owned company which made windscreen wipers for the car industry. It was located on the Great West Road in Brentford, west London. The Trico strike was a landmark event in the fight for equal pay for women. Taking place six years after the Equal Pay Act (put on the statute book by the 1964-70 Labour government) had been passed, it illustrated how employers were able to get round the legislation by claiming variations in work done by men and women workers.
Loopholes in the law were exploited by companies like Trico who hoped that favourable rulings by industrial tribunals would win the day for them. The 400 women and 100 men who stayed out on strike thought otherwise, and they received massive solidarity from the labour movement at the time. This strike led to an amendment in the law in 1983, from equal pay for equal work, to equal pay for work of equal value, an on-going fight for women workers.
This account of the strike at Trico, which has taken 42 years to surface, is written from the standpoint of the strikers themselves. Sally Groves, one of the authors, was a member of the strike committee, and its publicity officer. It includes interviews with those involved in the strike, including at the factory itself, those living in the local community and supporters across the trades union movement.
It takes us back to the world of 1976, when workers could vote for strike action by a show of hands and walk out the same afternoon, gaining official recognition from the union at a later stage. The left wing Southall District of the AUEW, in what was then a heavily industrialised part of London, was effectively able to run the strike, and organised solidarity action on a large scale, through financial donations, support on the picket line and a boycott of windscreen wipers made at Trico. This was crucial for the outcome of the strike.
The book puts the dispute into historical perspective, not just in relation to the ongoing campaign for equal pay for women, but also the changing climate of industrial relations. The strike lasted for months. This was unusual when the strength of the trades union movement, which peaked in 1979, could deliver quick victories. At the end of the strike many women were experiencing hardship. Trico used non-union road haulage companies to break the picket line in the small hours of the morning, with local police protection. These tactics were to be seen on a larger scale in the Grunwick’s dispute, which started in the summer of 1976 in north London, and were later to be used against well organised sections of the working class, such as the miners and print workers.
In 1979 the Conservative government introduced a whole raft of anti-union legislation, as did the Con-Dem coalition of 2010-15. This legislation should be repealed by a future Labour government. The strike at Trico, though, illustrated that legislation was not enough. To achieve equal pay for women, trades union organisation in the workplace is needed.