21 JUNE 1975, Page 29

A fool and his money

Social demarcation problems

Bernard Hollowood

The Snacker and Diplocket Small Things Co. (1928) Ltd is not yet a workers' co-operative, but moves are afoot to make the company more democratic and Bennworthy. At a recent meeting of union officials and management the question arose of eliminating the class system from company services, facilities and amenities. Tom Blower, machinist, raised the matter.

"We machinists," he said, "now earn as much — slightly more — than the members of the office staff, yet we are still made to use the works' toilets. Fair's fair. It's humiliating for machinists on £3,000 a year to have to use the same toilets as Grade 3 manual workers, and we demand the right to use the same toilets as ..."

"Lavatories," said the managing director. "Make that lavatories. please."

"Well, I'll be damned," said Blower. "Why should I use an 'orrible word like lavatory when there's a perfectly respectable term like toilet?"

"Oh, very well," said Mr Grindpover, "carry on."

"All I'm saying," said Blower, "is that our pay-level entitles us to use staff toilets. Can we have a ruling on that?"

"Well," said the chairman, "I've no objection. It seems a trivial matter to me, but if you feel strongly about it. Anyone wish to comment?" "It's not a matter of class distinction," said Harvey Knox-Knox of accounts. "The operatives' lavatory is designed for operatives and the staff lavatory is designed for staff."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" said Ted Trumperton, ;mother machinist. "There's a washbasin and a wotsit in both, isn't there'? What's the difference?"

"I think Mr Knox-Knox means that blue-collar work is dirtier than office work,said Mavis Trott, "by its very nature."

"You keep out of this," said Blower. "We're not talking about ladies' toilets."

"Mr Knox-Knox has a point. you know," said the chairman. "We provide roller-towels and air-drying devices in the works' lavatory, and soap, but the staff was expected to supply their own towels."

"And soap," said Christopher Carpenter of exports promotions.

"Yes, and you bring your own razors," said Trumperton, "and shave in office hours!"

"That's a lie!" said Danvers Peabody. "There's no electric socket."

"Battery razors," said Trumperton.

"Look," said the managing director, "we're getting nowhere. Aren't the machinists making a fuss about nothing? I mean, if everyone were to use the staff lavatory there'd be frightful overcrowding. Will you withdraw the proposal, Mr Blower?"

"Like hell 1 will!" said Blower. "The toilets are only a start. We demand equal canteen treatment: why should there be' one canteen for the works and another one for clerical staff?"

"Hear, hear!" said Mel Capstan.

"Because the clerical staff often have to entertain customers, buyers from abroad and so on, that's why," said Mr Knox-Knox. "I don't want to be offensive, but machinists do pong a little of oil. Not their fault, of course, just one of the facts of life."

"And I suppose you office types think you're odourless!" said Trumperton. "Well, let me tell you you ain't. You reek of typewriter ri'thon and duplicating ink, even of rancid aftershave. The staff get decent tea and coffee, served in bone china and brewed by secretaries: we get muck in cardboard cups from an urn tasting of shoepolish.

"Things aren't quite as bad in the canteen as they were during the war when our dinners were ladled out into rings challzed on the trestle tables. That's how short we were of pottery. But we still have saltshakers, chip shop fashion, instead of salt cellars and we're still charged lp a day for sauce-money."

"Yes, and why should the chairman have a do-dab all of his own?"

"A do-dah?" said the chairman.

"A wotsit then," said Eccleston. "Is he afraid of catching something or what?"

"We're not discussing the chairman," said Blower. "He pulls down 05,000 a year and is entitled to special treatment. Our grouse is against separate services for people on the same pay scale. Take the parking arrangements. Why should there be special areas in the car park marked 'Reserved for Staff' when machinists have to make do with the soccer pitch? It means a walk of 100 yards or more to the machine shop — in all weathers."

"Yes, and then you dry off by playing brag for half an hour in the warmth of the foundry," said Knox-Knox. "Don't deny it: I've seen you at it."

"Why you impudent young —," said Trumperton. "That's a lie and you'll apologise or I'll ..."

"Steady there, gentlemen," said the managing director. "1 think we've gone about as fa r as we can at this meeting. I propose we try again a month from today, Tuesday, same time. All agreed?"

"Provided that the meeting counts as overtime," said Blower. "The machinists want time and a half for discussions out of regular hours."

"I'll haggle about that," said the managing director, "with the shop stewards and conveners in working hours. The meeting is now closed. And don't forget to support the cricket team on Saturday. We're playing our old rivals, TPV International. At home."

Bernard Honowood, formerly editor of Punch, writes this column weehly in The Spectator