Picketers’ Hard Fight to Save Their Jobs

by | Jan 28, 2018 | 1970s

The 1970s were a time of industrial upheaval in Manchester. Mills closed, strikes were common – and the lights went out. iNostalgia looks back at the dark days…

Everyone has their own personal memories of the power cuts – playing cards by candle light, reading a book by lantern or coming together for a cup of tea and a chat.

It was the homely side of profound changes in the industrial landscape – changes that would see some industries transformed and others disappear forever.

As power stations ran out of coal, traditional factories were forced to close in the face of cheap imports and changing consumer tastes.

Factories like Eagley Mills at Bolton, which employed hundreds of local people from the time of the first large modern mill in 1871 to its closure in June 1972.

A powerful set of photos from the M.E.N. archives records how the community reacted to the closure announcement in January 1972.

The pictures portray people at work and at leisure – all coming to terms with the unwelcome news. More than 600 lost their jobs.The Eagley Mills buildings were such a part of local life that many did not keep a clock in their homes – they told the time by looking up at the works clock which dominated the skyline.

Our photo shows the familiar Eagley Mills clock tower nestling among the rooftops of the factory village. It can also be glimpsed from the back garden of Mr John Rawlinson’s home.

The clock was due to be stopped when the mill finally closed.

Mr Rawlinson and his wife used to work at Eagley Mills, but changed jobs some time before the closure was announced.

clock tower of Eagley Mills

The clock tower at Eagley Mills, Bolton, January 1972.

Mr Harold Fallows, who worked at Eagley for 27 years, was not so lucky. Our picture shows the 60-year-old playing dominoes with his workmates at the local pub.

He said he’d have plenty of time on his hands when he’d finished his last shift at the factory.

Sixty year old Harold Fallows plays dominoes in the local pub

Eagley Mills worker Harold Fallows plays dominoes in the local pub, January 1972.

Eagley was not the only area under threat. In November 1974, Rochdale MP Cyril Smith raised the problems facing the Lancashire textile industry in an adjournment debate at the House of Commons.

It was the first debate in the House on a UK county other than London in more than two years.

Smith made the point that textiles provided 30 per cent of Rochdale’s total employment, even though many mills were working a four-day week.
He said that since 1959 the total labour force in cotton and allied textiles had fallen from 240,000 to 80,000. The number of spindles had dropped from 17.5 million to 2.7 million.

Much of the problem was due to the high level of imports from developing countries and EEC member such as Italy.

Imports of cotton and man-made fibres accounted for 57 per cent of home consumption in 1973. The figure rose to 60 per cent in the first six months of 1974.The steel industry was also going through difficult times in the early 1970s.

On May 21st 1971, an estimated 5,000 people marched through Irlam demonstrating at the threat by British Steel to run down and virtually close Irlam steelworks by 1974 with the loss of 4,353 jobs.

Five thousand people march through the Lancashire town of Irlam

Protesters listen to a speaker during the Irlam steel works dispute, May 1971.

A spirited campaign called Save Our Steelworks was launched, but a grim realisation of the inevitable soon took over. The battle was going to be long and hard.

It’s etched on the faces of the workers walking the line in front of the steelworks in June 1972. They are, from left, Stuart Johnson, Jack Hughes, Eric Teal and Martin Kennedy, the leader of the Workers’ Action Committee.

Irlam Steel works

Workers walk the lines during the Irlam steel works dispute, June 1972.

Wearing a forced smile between protesters’ placards is Herbert Morley, in charge of British Steel’s General Steels Division, on his way to talks with the unions at Irlam.

He was forced to abandon his car and run a gauntlet – with a police escort – of more than 200 women and children waving banners.

Steel works protest at Irlam,

British Steel chief executive Herbert Morley peers from behind placards. Irlam, June 1971 .

Flying pickets from the National Union of Miners disrupted power stations around the country in the miners’ strike of 1972.

By mid-February, 14 power stations were off-line due to both a lack of coal and overtime bans by power and railway workers.

The Conservative government declared a state of emergency and introduced a three-day week so that power supplies could be rationed.

Agecroft power station at Pendlebury was a target for the pickets although vapour is still rising from the cooling towers in our picture.

clouds of vapour still drift from the cooling towers at Agecroft Power Station

Striking miners picket Agecroft power station, January 1972.

Finally, Manchester’s 800 dock workers were on strike in August 1972 in protest at the increasing use of containerisation in ports. Our photo shows a docker being led away by police.

At one point in September 1974, industrial action by dock workers and lock gatemen on Manchester Ship Canal had bottled up 48 ships. Another 15 ships were anchored on the Mersey Bar waiting to enter the canal system.

A docker is led away by police during the docks strike in Manchester.

A striking Manchester docker is led away by police, August 1972.

If you have any memories of the 1970s you’d like to share, get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.