Gloria Brain. Voices from the Factory Floor

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Gloria was born on 31st May, 1933. Her father worked in Glynhebog Colliery. Before marrying, her mother worked as a seamstress in Bradford House, Llanelli, which was a haberdashery shop and had learnt to sew in Pontiets.

Gloria went to school in Ponthenri and on to Stradey for a year when she was fourteen. She enjoyed school but was happy enough to leave when she was fifteen. She helped her mother at home. Gloria was one of eight children – two girls and six boys – and she was the sixth child. Her mother suffered from ecsema on her hands and on her back so Gloria would stay home from school one day a week to help her in the house, wash clothes, do the shopping. Her mother would do the ironing and the food. Gloria’s sister had heart problems.

00.03.17: Gloria got married when she was one month short of twenty one years old. She had five children – two girls and three boys (two of whom were twins).

When the children were older Gloria would attend a women’s group called the Guild in Ponthenri Hall. The women there were talking about the factory in Ponthenri and that there were vacancies there. One of them suggested that Gloria should go for a part-time job so Gloria got a job on a three month temporary basis.

The factory was called Chloride and made batteries. The job finished after three months but a year later she was contacted to ask her if she wanted a job working shift work. The shifts were six until two and two until ten o’clock. This suited Gloria better than the half past seven until four job. Gloria accepted the job although she felt she had enough work to do at home without going to work. Her husband was a miner and worked in Cynheidre.

She started work at the factory in April, 1972. The only other job she’d had before that was a seasonal job for six weeks in Woolworth’s over Christmas when she was sixteen.

Neverthless, she was happy to start work in the factory as she knew everybody there. ‘It was a home from home.’

It was close enough for her to walk to work. The factory itself consisted of two buildings – the Assembly and the Process. Gloria started in the Assembly. When she started working shifts, she started working in the Process. This was much noiser because of the machines.

Gloria is unsure what the batteries they made were for. A charge hand showed her what to do. Gloria describes her work in the Process – from the cutting of the sheets, welding, and tagging of negative and positive.

There were more women working there than men. Only the men were allowed to work the night shift. Gloria’s daughters – Shirley and Helen – and her son, Norman also worked there for a while. Shirley and Helen were holiday workers but Norman worked there permanently for a while,

00.10.14: Gloria describes her work in the Assembly. Viledon (?) was cut and you heated a wheel to a high temperature and cut the Viledon into strips. She used the strips to put on the batteries. It wasn’t difficult but she was used to hard work.

When Gloria was offered a permanent job she didn’t think it would last and went from one year to the other. When she did eventually finish she missed the money.

‘I didn’t really have time to work there. I used to say that in work, ‘I haven’t got time to be here.’

Her husband Cyril didn’t comment on the fact that she was working. He knew it was a lot of extra pressure on her.

There were about two hundred people working there. The shifts alternated from week to week in the Process. In the Assembly the hours were half past seven until four. The shifts suited her better in order to attend to the needs of the children.

She did different jobs while she was there. The majority of the workers were married women, especially in the Process. They were paid quite well. She had about seventeen pounds a week. (VSW005.4 – payslip)

Gloria would receive her pay packet on a Friday but the money would be gone by Monday. The woman (and she thinks the men as well) were on the same rate of pay although the electricians were probably earning more. The wages weren’t as good as those at Morris Motors. Gloria wasn’t tempted to go there because the Ponthenri factory was on her doorstep. She didn’t even have to pay bus fare. The factory in Ponthenri ran mini buses as not many workers had cars.

There was a union at the factory but she can’t remember which one it was. verybody was a member. She feels the workers were treated well. The charge hands were both male and female. Workers were paid by the hour but were expected to reach a certain target. When Gloria started in the Assembly she asked how many units she was expected to complete and was told, ‘As much as humanly possible.’

It was possible to chat while they did their work. The factory provided overalls which the workers would wash. They were told to wear something sensible on their feet. The Process was very dusty.

00.20.34: ‘We didn’t have a mask. Perhaps we should have. There was cadmium in the batteries. And that’s not good’

Gloria doesn’t know if she or any of the others suffered ill health or long term side effects as a result of working there. She hurt her finger in work one day but didn’t want to try and claim compensation in case she lost her job.

When she started at six in the morning she would have a cup of tea when she arrived. (She kept a kettle in her locker.) There was an official break at half past nine and she would have breakfast in the canteen. The workers who stayed until half past four would have lunch.

Places like the toilet area where clean. Workers were provided with their own towel. The bosses weren’t local people, and Gloria wasn’t as familiar with them. Chatting wasn’t frowned upon but if the work wasn’t done properly they would be hauled up. There were no windows in the Process but there were windows in the Assembly. Men and women got along well.

‘It was a place where you found out everything that was going on in your area. Everything was discussed.’

Gloria says that not many young people worked there. Most of them were in their thirties.

‘They preferred to have people who weren’t too young, perhaps the older ones came to work, didn’t lose work.’

Gloria worked five days a week. The factory was also open on a Saturday when work needed finishing and she worked the odd Saturday morning but would be finished by twelve o’clock.

00.28.02: Workers had to clock in and out. If they were more than two minutes late they would be docked a quarter of an hour’s pay.

‘I would be late quite often, but somebody would be watching out for me and would clock me in so that I didn’t lose the quarter of an hour. That’s what they did.’

If somebody lost work before the [bank] holiday, or missed work after it they wouldn’t get paid for the Bank Holiday.

‘I did it, and well, you learn don’t you. ‘

The whole factory shut down during the Miners’ Fortnight. If workers wanted time off for personal reasons they wouldn’t get paid.

Some of the workers came from as far away as Ammanford. Gloria enjoyed the work there. There were no social clubs in the factory, although they did have a Christmas dinner. She remembers going to the Red Lion in Llandyfaelog on one occasion. There were no perks apart from being able to get a new car battery delivered to the factory at a discounted price. Workers wouldn’t be allowed into the Process if they’d had an alcoholic drink.

Gloria feels lucky to have had a job there. She enjoyed the company. Gloria left in 1979. This was when the factory shut. They were given notice on 9th January that the factory was closing three months later (at the end of March.)

Gloria didn’t look for another job and didn’t work anywhere else after this. The closure was totally unexpected. Gloria thinks that the work went back to Redditch.

Welsh was the language of the factory, although a few couldn’t speak it.

The factory would take part in Ponthenri village carnival and would have several floats. One of the charge hands made a coffin to use on one of the floats in the carnival.

Gloria has kept some of her payslips. They had a non-contributory pension at the begining which was then stopped. She had to wait until she was fifty (or perhaps sixty) to benefit from this. She had to send the piece of paper from the factory off when the time came. When her money was paid it was a one-off payment of about five hundred pounds.

Her children had started earning their own money by the time she finished in the factory so she didn’t feel the need to look for another job. She missed the company. She would never feel fed up there and didn’t think the work was hard. The work was varied and she did different jobs. It was very dusty in the Process, and some people worked with gloves in the Assembly to protect them against chemicals. When her children went to work at the factory she kept out of their way. Norman, her son, learnt a lot by working in the factory but was made redundant with everybody else in 1979.

The closure was a blow to the village. The workers went down to the Town Hall in Llanelli to try and protest and asked their MP to help but to no avail. There was nothing they could do. Some people got other jobs but others never worked again.

The factory was fined quite often for dumping waste in the river. As a result, fish would die.

Gloria can’t remember anybody having a serious accident in the factory. Some of the men were ex-miners who had been injured underground.

Duration: 45 minutes