An appeal has been launched to find ex-strikers to invite them to the premiere of a documentary to mark the 20th anniversary of one of Britain’s longest industrial disputes.
The hard-hitting film, Y Lein: Streic Friction Dynamics (The Line: Friction Dynamics Strike), has been made by Dïon Wyn, the grandson of one of the strikers, Raymond Roberts, who was determined the “historic injustice” should never be forgotten.
The strike saw workers picketing the Friction Dynamics factory on the outskirts of Caernarfon for almost 1,000 days between April 2001 and December 2003 but, despite winning an industrial tribunal, they never received damages.
According to Dïon, a graphic designer and film-maker who’s working in partnership with TV production company Cwmni Da who commissioned the documentary, he’s still trying to track down a number of his granddad’s fellow workers so he can invite them to the ticket-only first screening of the hour-long film.
The premiere is being held at Galeri in Caernarfon on December 19, exactly 20 years to the day the picket line ended.
The dispute started when more than 80 workers at the plant, which made specialist brake and clutch parts for motor vehicles, went on strike to protest at changes to their pay and working conditions after the factory was taken over by American businessman Craig Smith.
On their return the workers, all members of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&GWU), were told to “take a holiday” and almost eight weeks later they were sacked.
Raymond, 78, who lives in Caernarfon, had the honour of drawing down the Welsh flag which had fluttered proudly outside the factory on the outskirts throughout the bitter dispute.
Recalling the events of two decades ago, he said: “It was a stressful time, not just for us as workers but for our families but we had to do it. The situation we were in at the factory couldn’t continue. The time had come, enough was enough, so we went out on strike to show Craig Smith that we meant business.
“While we lost out in the end, the support of the community meant we were able to stick together and we had to do what we did.”
“We got a lot of financial support from the community and other unions while a local farmer gave us a caravan, which we called the ‘T&G Hilton’, to provide shelter.
“A board outside the gate noted the length of the dispute in weeks and drivers tooted their support and we would wave back.
“Police, ambulance and fire fighters would turn their blue lights on as they’d go past and sometimes their sirens as they drove past.
“The Transport and General Workers’ Union were very, very good, they virtually kept us going. Mr Smith thought he could starve us back. But most of us were in our 50s and didn’t have big mortgages.” said Raymond.
He had joined the staff at the factory in 1968 when it was known as Ferodo and which employed as many as 2,000 workers. The factory, which has since closed and fallen into disrepair, was one of the area’s biggest employers
“I’m a Caernarfon man born and bred in Twthil and after leaving school worked on farms and in another factory in town. I was here for over 30 years and made lifelong friends.
“Some, of course, have sadly passed away but we still meet up from time to time,” he said.
Raymond said the dispute started when Craig Smith took over the factory in 1997 and started making changes to the workers terms and conditions.
“We didn’t get a pay rise for four years and in the 18 months before the actual strike he tried to change our terms and conditions.
“Basically, he was trying to get us to walk out, and we knew once we did that we’d be sacked, end of story. We balloted through the legal procedure and voted for industrial action. We decided it would be one week off, one week on.
“So the first week we went out on strike. The second week started with a Bank Holiday and on the Tuesday morning when we tried to go back in the factory manager was at the gates putting us on holiday.
“The following week we were on strike. Every other Thursday we’d get a letter saying that the following week you were on holiday. The point is, I never got paid for these holidays that I was supposed to be taking,” he recalled.
After the picket ended Raymond quickly found work as the site manager at the Peblig Industrial Estate and nearly 20 years later is still working there full-time.
As a schoolboy, Dïon Wyn often joined his grandfather on the picket line and wanted to make the film to pay tribute to Raymond and his colleagues for their doggedness in standing up for what they believed in.
“Me and my brother stood on the picket line with them as kids and as we grew older, we understood what that actually meant.
“I remember at the time feeling that money was a bit tight but growing older, starting work yourself, joining unions and things like that, you really understand the sacrifices that they made and for such a long time as well. It is an historic injustice that should never be forgotten.
“I have been able to make contact with quite a few of the former strikers but I haven’t been able to track down quite a few and I’m keen to invite them to the premiere because this is their story,” he said.
In addition to Raymond the film includes first-hand accounts from colleagues John Davis and Gwil Williams and former shop steward Gerald Parry. Also taking part is former MP Dafydd Wigley and John Hendy KC, a barrister who specialised in employment law.
A shorter version of the film won Dïon, a Bangor University film school graduate, a Royal Television Society award last year.
The documentary is not the only tribute to the workers by Dïon . A member of the indie band, The Routines, Dïon has also written and recorded a song ‘Ar Draws y Lein’ (Across the Line) which is being released on several music streaming sites to coincide with the premiere.
Llion Iwan, the managing director of Cwmni Da, said: “This is an important story in the history of the Caernarfon area but also in terms of wider industrial relations.
“The factory closed completely in 2008 and it’s remained derelict ever since as a monument to the sacrifice of Raymond and his courageous colleagues who steadfastly manned the picket line for nearly three years.”
Tickets for the premiere of Y Lein: Streic Friction Dynamics are available from Galeri Caernarfon, via the website www.galericaernarfon.com or by ringing 01286 685222 and any former strikers who would like to attend should contact Cwmni Da by emailing [email protected]