Trico is an American company that makes windscreen wipers. In 1976 women at its factory in west London went out on strike for equal pay. Sally Groves recalls what it was like to be a woman on the picket line and the vital support they had from male colleagues and other groups around the country.
What was the background to the strike?
A change in working hours meant five men joined a day shift that had been only women. At the end of our 40-hour week they came away with £6–£6.50 more than the woman working at the same speed. We had been earning between £30 and £34 a week so you can imagine that £6.50 difference between us and the men was quite sizable. That was dynamite. The women were furious. On May 24th 1976 when a final meeting between our union and Trico management failed we walked out. Little did we know we would be out for 21 weeks.
What was the feeling amongst the women?
Well, it was incredible. The women had always been treated with quite a lot of contempt in the factory, not only by management, who really looked down on them even though they had been known to say that the women worked faster than a machine! Now there were feelings of excitement, confusion, anger about the whole issue, about how management was treating us, especially as the Equal Pay Act of 1970 had come into force the previous summer.
How many women were on strike?
There were a lot of older women working at Trico at the time we went on strike. Some were not only in their 60s but even in their 70s. I think the oldest person that was working on the assembly lines before the strike was 82! Some were under pressure from their husbands not to come down and there were some very young girls who came during the day but weren’t allowed to come down in the evening or at night. So although there were about 400 women on strike it fell on about 50 or 60 to do all the picketing.
What support did you get to bolster the picket?
About 150 of the men came out. And we had huge support to help us with the 24-hour picket, which was so difficult for us. Different unions and groups came to help out on different days. We had a rota! Ealing and Hounslow and Brent trades councils would be there on different days or nights, other factories, the Working Women’s Charter and the Gay Socialists all came and picketed! It was just amazing.
How was the strike funded?
We definitely could never have won if it hadn’t been for the huge financial support that came from all quarters. The Kent miners gave hundreds of pounds to us and other miners from round the country, and steelworkers and dockers, and car workers from British Leyland and various Ford plants. We raised £30,000 in all. Strike pay was £9 a week.
What happened next?
Shortly after the strike, one of the women applied to become a forklift truck driver at the factory. When one of the managers heard the news he shut himself in his office. It was all too much after all the trouble he’d had with us women during the strike! We had come to realise that although we’d won equal pay the battle for equal opportunity had only just begun.
Edited with permission from a transcript available on the Britain at Work website.