We heard how she was ‘put on the payroll’ entitling her to food and medical expenses, and how her kittens found homes among the workers. A new cat, not unlike her to look at, arrived as though by fate, to learn the ropes from Factory Cat. He was accepted as her successor when she finally died. Sandra Crook continues the story….
Life went on and Son of Factory Cat assumed both his duties and his entitlement to skilled cats’ wages with relish. The difference between male and female cat employees soon became evident, and I wondered how long it would be before the men asked the company to pay for his neutering. The factory was now beginning to acquire quite a distinctive new odour as he busied himself marking out his territory.
However, Son of Factory Cat inadvertently addressed this issue himself, as one night he enthusiastically leapt up onto the wall surrounding the stainless steel store, blithely unaware that the top of the wall was decorated with jagged pieces of broken glass embedded in concrete. The finance director almost fainted when I very graphically described the need to have the job finished off professionally, and Son of Factory Cat drew his his first medical expenses.
Those were hard times in the manufacturing industry, and repeated redundancies diminished the workforce drastically. The annual pay negotiations with the manufacturing unions became a bitter hassle each Christmas, as pay awards dwindled to one or two per cent each year, and relationships between the management and the shop floor were at an all-time low.
One day the fitter responsible for drawing the cat allowance rather caustically reminded me that the level hadn’t risen since it was first agreed, and asked whether the cat, at least, couldn’t get a decent pay increase. At that time no pay rises could be awarded without an official form being filled out by personnel department, giving the name of employee, date of birth, date of joining, history of previous pay rises and justification for the current proposal. This form had to be signed by the departmental manager, the divisional director and finally by the chairman himself before any pay rise could be processed.
So I duly completed a form, pointing out that Son of Factory Cat, of indeterminate age and approximately 12 months service, was receiving a pay rate that had never been increased since its inception. The grounds for the increase were described as ‘conscientious application to duty’ and ‘consistently high productivity levels’. It was one of the lighter moments in the company’s industrial relations history, when I was able to produce the form, duly authorised by all the appropriate board members awarding the cat a massive ten per cent increase I think that was probably the only occasion when the unions didn’t submit a claim for parity!
After a couple of years of loyal service, Son of Factory Cat succumbed to the wheels of a lorry reversing into the factory yard. There was nothing that could be done, and the company remained catless for several months.
However, since we were based in a small town, no doubt eventually the word must have circulated amongst the local cat population that there was a vacancy ‘up at t’mill’.
Another cat duly proffered his application, survived the proficiency test and a short probationary period, after which his appointment was confirmed and the cat allowance was reinstated. In keeping with the focus on equal opportunity issues which were topical at that time, the new recruit was totally black, which was clearly a much more serviceable colour for someone who spent their days lingering beneath leaky oily lathes and borers. Not given to flights of creative fantasy, the men rather uninspiringy christened him ‘Blackie’, and he was soon a popular and vigorous member of the workforce.
A couple of years after Blackie’s appointment, I found one of the workmen loitering around my office door one afternoon. He was clutching grubby brown envelope from which he very sheepishly produced a large x-ray. It seemed Blackie had broken his leg, and the men had taken him to the vet themselves to have it set. It had been a difficult fracture, and the total bill would be in the region of two hundred pounds. The X ray was submitted to substantiate the men’s request for a contribution from the company.
By this time, we had a new finance director, who was something of an unknown quantity. The workforce had clearly been worried that the company’s reaction might be to advise that the cat was put to sleep, so they had taken action themselves first, and then attempted to recover whatever they could from the company.
Clutching the x-ray, I went to see the finance director. I explained the tradition and history of the factory cat, before telling him that the current incumbent had broken its leg.
“I don’t really see what the problem is,” he said brusquely. “It’s got three more, hasn’t it?”
My heart sank. And then with a grin he authorised total reimbursement of the vet’s bill. I would like to think that this simple action may have marked a turning point in the company’s industrial relations, but I’m probably too much of a sceptic by now to subscribe to that view.
I left the company a few months later, and, since I now live abroad, have no idea whether Blackie is still there. But one thing I am sure of …. if Blackie isn’t, some other time-served and fully paid up member of the Factory Cat Workers Union will be!