Step back in time: When office workers swapped pens for gloves during Falmouth Docks strike

Step back in time: When office workers swapped pens for gloves during Falmouth Docks strike

Step back in time: When office workers swapped pens for gloves during Falmouth Docks strike

First published in Cornwall

Packet coverage of Falmouth Docks in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was full of disputes, strikes and dire threats to the very existence of the yard, writes Mike Truscott.

Now, dusting down various albums and wading back even further through those cuttings (courtesy of Penny Phillips), I've come across a strike with a novel twist that grabbed the headlines in 1932.

The Transport and General Workers Union was in dispute over the alleged breaking of a working agreement, with 350 men (out of a total workforce of 3,000-plus!) called out on strike.

It effectively paralysed the repair yard and caused six ships, Falmouth-bound for repairs, to be turned away in just the first 24 hours. One of them had actually reached Falmouth Bay, ready to be berthed.

Work on one of the vessels already in the Docks, the SS Attila, was almost complete when the men walked out.

The Packet reported: “Members of the office staff of Messrs Cox and Co (Engineers) Ltd volunteered to take on the work, and, discarding their pens and typewriters for overalls and gloves, went aboard to carry on with the painting of the ship.”

The report added: “They were so engaged when our representative visited the yard early in the afternoon, and by tea-time the work had been completed.”

Mr R Smeaton, manager of the engineering works, was reluctant to be interviewed, but he did say: “Since this business has been on, some £3,000 to £4,000 has been lost to the men in wages alone, and if it continues there will be nothing for it but to close down the yard.”

Mr J Hieatt, for the TGWU, reassured readers that “a few safety men have, of course, been deliberately left in.”

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