This post is the eleventh in an occasional series. This site already contains a large number of documents produced by Big Flame or its members. Most can be found in the 30 posts in Episodes in Big Flame History. Each post contains links to documents which relate to its theme. Links to the same documents are also listed on the website’s Publications page this time sorted by type – pamphlets, journals, newspaper, internal documents.
This series aims to add to these documents by making available others I find interesting which didn’t fit with any of the post themes, were overlooked when the posts were written, or a copy was not available to me at the time of the post.
The Fisher Bendix factory in Kirkby, Merseyside produced washing machines, radiators, gas fires and other items. It was taken over by Thorn Electrical in May 1971, who followed a policy of redundancies and transferring production elsewhere. There was a nine week strike in June 1971. This was followed in January 1972 by a five week occupation. This led to government intervention and a promise by the company to retain the workforce and keep the factory open to the end of 1973. Things came to a head again in July 1974 with the factory going into receivership and another two week occupation. This in turn led to the factory being handed over to a co-operative – KME (Kirkby Manufacturing and Engineering). This survived on government subsidies until they were withdrawn. KME was sold off to the private sector in 1980. Immediately the factory was closed and the machinery sold.
In 1972 Big Flame was just coming together as a political organisation, formed out of a previous Merseyside alternative newspaper. Its politics were still developing. Fisher Bendix is notable for one of Big Flame’s rare public debates with another political organisation. The impetus was a pamphlet published by Solidarity (London) and written by Joe Jacobs following a visit to the January/February 1972 occupation: Under New Management? The Fisher-Bendix Occupation.
This prompted a response from Big Flame: Letter to Solidarity. This is very short (a page and a half), and makes the point that Solidarity only spoke to the Occupation Committee, and confused the workers with the shop stewards. For BF the occupation had maintained a distinction between an active minority and a passive majority, and suggested that several workers had been very critical of the Committee.
This prompted a much longer response by Maurce Brinton (Chris Pallis) in a new pamphlet Solidarity and the Neo-Narodniks. As far as I am aware BF never responded to the pamphlet. Certainly the label applied to BF “neo-Narodnik” is the most interesting one the organisation BF received (a refreshing change from the more usual “soft Maoist”). I don’t really want here to defend, or otherwise, the Big Flame of 1972. Rather to set out a bit more its perspectives on the Fisher Bendix occupation.
The main place to find this is in a two sided A3 broadsheet issued during the 1972 occupation: Bendix: How the workers took over. It contains quotes from interviews with some workers about the day the occupation started (also emphasising how it was a much better weapon than a strike as more people were involved) and a statement from the Occupation Committee. There is some commentary from Big Flame which makes these main points:
– The occupation snowballed from what began as a march of just 18 workers.
– Some young workers displayed a new attitude – no longer willing to leave things to shop stewards.
– The lesson to others was to occupy their workplaces to fight redundancies.