Suddenly everyone was talking about Teddy Boys and Teddy Girls. The craze for bobby socks and long slit skirts had started. I wanted to be a part of it all. It wasn’t long after the humiliation of the office dance. The combination of feeling inferior, and thinking office work was stuffy, led me to leave the Prudential and take a job at the Gorgeous Bra factory.
All the girls who worked there lived in the roads around Pringle Street. I had seen them going in to work, all of them chewing, smoking and swearing, wearing dresses and pinnies and curlers in their hair. To me it looked like some kind of freedom.
I was in for a shock.
It came on the first day.
The noise of more than a hundred sewing machines nearly deafened me. I quickly learned that the wages were terrible. Everyone was paid a low basic rate and had to make up their money by exceeding their piecework targets.
There were only two men on the factory floor -- the manager’s son and a maintenance man. The girls came under the control of the supervisor, Mrs Elliot. Everyone was scared of her but to me she seemed to be just a nice middle-aged woman.
The machine operators sat in rows in the big square workroom. There were toilets in the corners, but the ‘canteen’ was just a shop on the nearby street corner.
All we had to do in our job was to push the material through the sewing machines, so that two needles attached edging tape onto the inside of the bra. There was no real skill involved except to learn to do it fast and without getting the sewing lines askew. Speed was the main thing: producing a lot was the only way to earn a decent wage. The slightest mistake meant the inspectors delivered the bras back to the table. Having to unpick the tiny stitching to re-sew a bra would take up a lot of vital earning time.
But sometimes girls would work so fast that there was no material ready for them from the cutting room. Sometimes the van delivering the cloth broke down. There seemed to be a thousand ways that management could limit the wages to the bare minimum.
If Mrs Elliot liked you and your work, she would give you plenty of material as she passed it out in the mornings. That way you could earn some more money. If you got too many returns then it was “bag of rings” work for you, low in both pay and prestige.
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