Labour of Love

Celebrating the working lives of East Londoners and Park visitors

Month: December, 2014

And Rest

I was talking to my sister about how she likes to ‘clear her desk’ before the holidays.  I always think of this as finishing one’s work; for my sister, it is both that and a literal clearing of the piles of paperwork. As she works in a grimy oily office for a tyre company, it is also the only time she gets to give her desk a good clean. That must feel good.

As a self-employed person, there never seems to be a point where I can say ‘all my work is done.’  But clearing and cleaning all seem to be necessary ritual to get one ready to enjoy the rest and all the celebrations.

I have just painstakingly washed every wee branch of my Christmas tree which had been sitting outside and covered in building site dust from across the road – a strange task, but immensely satisfying.  Even if I haven’t ‘cleared my desk’, my tree is lovely and green now!

I hope everyone has a good rest over the holidays.

Xmas Shed

Hard Hats

Thank you to all the children who designed hard hats to decorate the shed over the Winter Wonderland weekend!

Hard HatsDig Hard HatFang hatPeg Hat

Christmas Weekend 13 & 14 December

The Labour of Love Shed will be open on Saturday & Sunday this weekend, as part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Christmas Weekend.

Throughout the afternoons and early evenings, you can take in the twinkling lights and surroundings of the Park dressed for Christmas and get into the festive spirit with a host of activities.  Listen to Christmas choirs or go on a free Hackney Experience Tour around the Park. There will also be festive funfair rides and free arts and crafts for kids.  Santa Claus will be in residence at the ArcelorMittal Orbit where you can meet two of his reindeer! Yes, real reindeer!

On Sunday, there will be more entertainment with a concert at 2pm from The Recycled Band or you can also dress to impress as your favourite festive character for a family 5k run.

Christmas Closing: The shed is closed from 21 December 2014 – 2nd December 2015, reopening on Saturday 3 January 2015

NB: The shed will only be open 1-4pm Friday 12 December 2014 due to a Labour of Love workshop taking place off-site in the morning. 


Bar Draggers and Heaver-overs

Yesterday I collected the 100th Labour of Love recording.

The recording was made by a gentleman whose first job had been working with his father in a tinplate works in South Wales in the 1940s.  It reminded me of the really tough manual labour that heavy industry required then, that would undoubtedly have taken place on the docks and factories in the East End.

My father was a Bar Dragger and that was the hardest job in the steelworks, apart from perhaps the Heaver-over, who was constantly passing the metal bar back and forth until it got sometimes as long as 8ft long and thinner and thinner. They were changing it from an oblong of white-hot steel to a flat sheet.

My father would place the steel ingot in the furnace and when they were ready he would bring them out. He would do it with one hand; he had arms like Popeye. 

He would have a long pair of tongs, obviously couldn’t get too close and just by balancing the tongs on the edge of the furnace he could lever the ingot, he had a knack obviously because he could lift up to 100lbs like that and bring it out. Just one hand. It would be very, very hot, no sides to the works, just a roof, and he would wear what you call dravers, a pair of long john underpants made of thick blue Welsh wool to absorb the sweat and a crys fach, a small shirt, open at the neck and cut away at the arms. He was half-naked when he was working. His boots were made of special green leather that didn’t burn and studded with metal studs underneath. They would wear out fairly rapidly, he would often have to have his boots resoled. He worked 72 hours a week, 16-hour shifts and move 20 tons on a shift.  On his way to work he would have six pints in the pub and six pints on the way home – that was nothing in those days.

The steel was made of overlapping sheets that were glowing red because of the heat. He would drag it part of the way and then throw it on its edge, sparks going everywhere, and the Heaver-over would catch it with an even bigger pair of tongs and heave it up on to these huge rolls, rolling in opposite directions. There would be a huge BANG when the first one went in and you could hear it where we lived 3 miles away. It would go through the rollers and then there would be another Heaver-over who would catch it and pass it back. The Roller-man would gradually adjust the thickness of the rolls until it was done to the required thickness.

My hometown of Llanelli was the tinplate capital of the world. Towards the end of the war they built a mill at Trostre and that could turn out more finished tinplate in 24 hours than all the dozen tin works could turn out in a year.  That killed off all the tin shops over night in about 1948. But my mother worked in the social club in Trostre and she was a clever, good-looking lady, so it didn’t take long to get my father a job there.

Work Collectives

Several people have told me about their experiences of different ways of organising labour – in the form of collectives.  Most recently a young woman talked enthusiastically to me about a women’s collective in London, that acted as a skills sharing network. Their organisation was about to set up an educational enterprise – again run with a collective structure.  One of the good things she liked about the collective was an acknowledgement for the need for child care for working mums – this organisation provided free on-site creche facilities – something unheard of in many work environments.


Others recorded their experiences of working on a kibbutz.

“So we got a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv and just turned up at this kibbutz unannounced.  Did loads of things there – from the polystyrene factory, the dining hall, working the cotton field, the nursery – a bit of everything. Absolutely loved it. Got up early in the morning, worked really hard, afternoons on the beach and got drunk in the evenings – brilliant. You’d get pocket money and coupons to buy stuff in the shop – I always bought chocolate – And you got given a ration of cigarettes. Yes, cigarettes! That was 1985.” 

I came across an interesting story in The Newham Story, an online archive, about a local Plaistow collective, the Triangle Camp.  In 1906 a local councillor tried to set up a scheme for unemployed men in the Queens Road area by taking over a piece of disused land for growing food.  The press described them as ‘land grabbers’ and they were evicted from the land – happily, community growing schemes are more encouraged now.  For more information and photo of the Triangle Camp –

I would love to hear from anyone who has had experience of more recent work collectives in the East End.