I started on “bag of rings” work. The idea was to get an inch of tape, put two rings on it and then sew it onto a bra. The rate of bonus on top of my basic pay was one penny per bag of four hundred. It was fiddly and messy, and everyone hated doing it, but we did about six or seven bags a day. All the night school mechanical experience I had gathered must have helped because I was able to do most things and quickly became the fastest worker on that section. None of the other girls would talk to me because I made them look slow, but I didn’t care. The only important thing was to earn the money I needed. This time it was not all for the sake of my mam.
It was so I could become a Teddy Girl.
When the break whistle went, I would run round to the shop and get first in the toast queue. That way I could wolf down four slices and still be first back at the machines for the next session.
I was oblivious to the insults. They all called me a ‘grabber’ and a ‘supervisor’s pet’, but I put it all down to jealousy of the money I was earning.
They moved me onto the main twin-needled sewing machines. I worked slowly at first, but once I had the hang of it, I was even faster than I was on the bag of rings job. But the management decided that if I could earn so much on the bag work, they needed to lower the pay. When this was announced, the twin-needle girls ganged up on me to prevent the same thing happening on their section. They warned me to churn out only thirty-six pieces an hour, and as there were some tough women among them, I did so, for a while. Not for long, mind you. I started producing the target-and-a-half again.
This was the signal for war to start. The machinists approached Mrs Elliot and told her that if she did not do something, the whole section would slow down. Then, despite my speed, her own performance figures would go right down. They were prepared to lose short-term money to make sure I did not lower their rate.
The supervisor came to tell me what they had said. She was quite near retirement and had to keep working to protect her pension. So she was not willing to have any sort of dispute on her hands. I could only answer that they could all work as fast as I did, if they chose. But half the time they seemed more interested in what they had been doing the night before, and any juicy morsels of gossip. She sympathised and moved me to another job -- packing with Lily Tuttle.
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