Susan Leyshon. Voices from the Factory Floor

Revlon Factory, Maesteg (as a student) 1968/1969

Interviewee: VSE063 Susan Leyshon

Date: 16/05/2014

Interviewer: Catrin Edwards on behalf of Women's Archive of Wales

Working in the Revlon Factory was holiday work from College for Susan. On the first day she had a huge shock to hear the improper language but she became used to it. She had another shock when she tried to keep up with the assembly line – fixing the lids of the nail varnish. She was stopping the girls from reaching their targets to earn money. She was filling in during the factory's annual holiday. Then she was moved to the office to work. The girls weren't very supportive of the temporary students. She bought her make-up cheaply at the factory. Everyone escaped when the bell rang at the end of the day. She respected the girls for sticking the job.

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Interview, Susan Leyshon. Voices from the...

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(Note: the interview starts at 21.25) 21. 25
Susan’s maiden name was Susan Davies. She was born on 21 July, 1950. She is originally from Maesteg and her father kept a grocery shop. Her mother helped in the shop and looked after the house. Susan would work in the shop every Saturday, after playing hockey for the school in the morning. She would deliver goods from the shop, and during the holidays would work the odd day there.
She attended Llwynderw Primary School which was just round the corner, from where she lived, and then went on to Maesteg Grammar in Llangynwyd. She then went on to study Physical Education in Barry College. Later on, she got a teaching job in Cardiff in Llanedeyrn School where Colin Jackson was a pupil.
In the holidays during her first year in college, her father asked somebody at Revlon if there was a summer job there for her. The recruitment woman told her father to send Susan over and she went to the factory with three other girls. They had a short interview and were asked to start work the following Monday for a total of three weeks.
They made high quality make-up in the factory – lipsticks, powder ... “everything a woman wears to make herself beautiful!” She knew several of the women who worked there beforehand as they used to come into her father’s shop.
The first day of work was a shock to the system because of the bad language but after a few hours she got used to it.
Three of them started at the same time. Two of them went to work on the line. Susan and her friend, Ann, went to work on a table in the corner. Susan’s job was putting the tops on the nail varnish and Ann had to put the finished products in a box. ‘So, I thought to myself this is going to be a snitch – this is going to be easy’. They had a little practice before starting. The items started coming down the line and Susan though, oh heck. She couldn’t put the tops on the nail varnish quick enough and they were ending up in her lap. She was sweating, her face was red, and within five minutes her lap was full of them. Ann, standing at the boxes, couldn’t fill them fast enough and the supervisor was shouting, “Bloody hell, stop! These students are useless.” It took a few hours for them to build up their speed. By the end of the day they had improved and could reach their targets. They were holding the other women back but those women had to put up with them. They had a daily target to reach and would lose money if they failed to hit it. Susan said of the other women, ‘We were holding them back. So the supervisor was going mad with us – calling us everything at the beginning, but I could see why - because they were going to suffer if we didn’t do our jobs properly.’
Susan and Ann got the job in the factory because many of the regular workers took holidays in July and the factory needed students to fill the gaps. During the first week all the workers were there, which gave the students a chance to get accustomed to the work. Everybody didn’t go on holiday of course. There were plenty of workers left to keep the lines going although perhaps one or two lines would be shut down.
Most of the girls were local. The only employment for them in the area, apart from Revlon, was at Louis Edwards. Many of the mines had closed down by then so women in the area needed the work. It was women who worked on the lines and men worked in the store room.
Susan also did other work in the factory. When the secretary was ill the boss came down and asked if anybody could type. Her friend told him that Susan could type and that she was doing a shorthand and typing course. As a result, she spent three days in the office typing letters. Her work in the office was messy for the first hour, but then she soon settled down into a pattern of working. There were only three girls working in the office – one typing, one filing, and her.
When the students started work the men teased them. The other women weren’t happy that they were laughing and joking with them. The conversation in the factory would be about where they were going on Saturday night – the local working man’s club or the Celtic Club. The workers socialised outside the factory and Susan can’t remember hearing of any social clubs within the factory.
She started work in the morning at about a quarter to eight and finished about a quarter past five or half past five. It was a long day – unlike being in school or in college. They would have a ten minute break in the morning, three quarters of an hour for lunch and a ten minute break in the afternoon. The job itself was quite boring. It was hard work and concentration was required but it was second nature to the ones who had been there for a long time. They could talk as they worked but nobody sang, unlike at other factories. It was noisy because of the machines, and the girls would shout across to each other. Sometimes music would be played while they worked. They had to clock in and clock out, and if workers were late in the morning their wages would be docked. There was a small café there where the workers could go at lunch time for drinks, and sandwiches.
The toilets were kept clean and tidy and everybody would go there for a smoke. The toilets were a place to go for a chat.
They had to wear green or white overalls to do their work for safety reasons, and because the students were the last ones in they had to wear the overall ‘dregs’, which were very ugly. They also wore something on their heads to keep their hair covered. Nail varnish would tip on the overalls. The permanent workers would keep the overalls given to them and would take them home to wash them.
Susan worked in the factory for two summers, doing more or less the same job, putting the tops on the nail varnish. The jobs given to the students were the ones which were easiest to pick up quickly. Workers could buy ‘seconds’ at a reasonable price in the factory shop, such as nail varnish which had a crack in the top. People from outside the factory weren’t allowed to come in and buy from the shop although some of the workers would take orders from people from outside the factory. It was nice make- up for a good price. When Susan went to college she had loads of make-up and her friends wondered how she could afford it. The women on the lines chatted all day to counteract the monotony of the work but this didn’t affect their productivity. There was a supervisor on every line ‘keeping tabs’ to make sure that targets were reached. If they were falling behind they had to speed up but if they were going too fast they would slow down because they wouldn’t do more than required, and would stop working the second that the bell rang.
From a safety perspective, they had been warned not to leave anything on the line that wasn’t supposed to be there. There was a full time nurse there who would deal with cuts and headaches and then send the worker back to work.
Susan said of the work she did at the factory, ‘I’m glad I did it. It changed my perspective on how hard they worked and how boring the work was. You had to respect them for the jobs they did. I found it very boring but they made the most of it because that’s the way they were able to feed their family, that’s the way they lived and could go on holiday. So it was a worthwhile experience, but it wasn’t for me’

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