"Watch and learn" - Memories of three decades of life at Ford Transit Plant, Southampton

At our memory sharing cafe on 2 June 2017, Bob Painton, who has been a regular at our memory sharing cafes, gave a fascinating account of his time at Ford Transit plant. Reading from his memoirs he recounted memories of his working life over three decades of working at the plant. 

Bob worked at Ford from 1977 to 2009. His first application was rejected until he went down the ‘green form’ route through which family members of Ford employees got priority. He described his first day at work, when he was told “to stand by someone and watch and learn” and when he made mistakes was “roundly told off in strong terms by the foreman”. He described his work as a spot welder and he took great pride in the high quality of his work. Bob painted a detailed picture of the work at the plant in those early days before automation changed working practices – anecdotes about his colleagues, the working conditions and camaraderie on the line, how some workers preferred to stay on the same job rather than move to other sections. Health and safety was not as stringent as it became in later years and Bob described how a worker was badly injured when he fell off the roof while fixing it. Bob experienced some difficult times when a simple disagreement and altercation led to complaints being made against him, leading to his suspension and then transfer to another section, the Paintshop, where he was given the mundane job of “wipe down”. When the chance to take voluntary redundancy came up in 2009, he applied and was accepted. At his final interview with the HR officer he was informed that the incident that had caused him many years of anxiety and distress, while he was on a disciplinary, had been a mistake, that he had been set up by his adversaries and that all charges against Bob were being dropped and he could leave with a clean sheet. His experience then and his subsequent efforts to help a colleague through difficult issues inspired his move to become a councillor at Southampton City Council, which he continues to this day.

Bob’s talk provided an insight into a different phase in the Ford story – when work was still very heavy and manual, it was a very male dominated environment and unions were strong. It was a different perspective to that of the previous talk by Laurie, whose own experiences spanned a period just after Bob had left. These personal testimonies offer a fascinating peek into the changing working conditions and experiences in the story of Ford.

Written by Padmini Broomfield