‘even beaten the damn Tinkers’

The building trade in 1980 like the banks had been deregulated – no more did anyone work for a boss in a traditional sense, now we had SC60 where you worked in the industry and the contractor took away one-third of your wage (put it into safe keeping under taxation) and at the end of the year you’d be reimbursed any money that had been overpaid in taxation. The only other way to be employed in the industry was 714 (self-employed.)

Now companies could take someone on, to do a specific job at 8 am, and when they were finished – pay them off at 3 in the afternoon, the company that I was employed with at that time hired mainly through agencies, that recruited its men in a well-known pub in Edinburgh, and in the main, these were workers from Ireland, our boss himself coming from Cork. They were a close-knit group and once these lads came together I could not understand a word they said, so broad was their dialect.

Most had two P45s in their name (his beer money) – one for the agency man (who many believe was just a front for the IRA funds) one for their wife to take down to the Social Services to claim for the families funding (her housekeeping money).

These lads knew every trick in the book and would exploit every opportunity. I came down to the site one day and could not see the JCB and of course, no one had any idea where it had gone. Then I saw it heading back onto the site, and it transpired that it had been using it to take old scrap cast iron pipes to be weighed in.

One day Social Services paid us a visit two cars pulled up and two lads came into my office the others scattered across the site. The two lads that had visited me asked of the names and addresses of all the people I had working for me, “sorry lads” I said but I only have names you see they were all sent to me by the agency” (how real the names were is anyone guess).

Not long after my visitors had entered my office the others arrived, to inform their boss that there was no one working anywhere on the site. I found it hard to believe that the men in question had managed to get out of the tunnel and up a ladder without being spotted but sure enough after the visitors had departed I went down into the tunnel and turned off the compressors and generator, the site had been abandoned.  

My boss was a big strapping Irishman and as Irish, as they come, he could sell ice cream to the Eskimos. He had gone home on holiday and when he returned told us to pack up all our machines onto low loaders, we were going to do a job in Southern Ireland. This did not make much sense trailing all these machines all the way to Southern Ireland – more so when there were strict rules in Ireland at the time – only if a job could not be handled by contractors on the island would contractors from outside of Ireland be permitted to work there.  

The job as it turned out was to demolish old reinforced concrete tobacco warehoused, with low ceilings and no windows it was proving impossible to find another use for them.

Pitching up on the first day we immediately run into trouble – the television cameras were there as were some very angry men carrying union banners. In front of the cameras, the union man lied out their grievances. This job could have been carried out by local workers and these foreigners were stealing the food from the mouths of our children.

When the union man had said his piece Davie took his place in front of the camera,

“I’m ashamed – ashamed I am to call myself an Irishman, yes I am based in Edinburgh but nearly every man that works for me is Irish, and what is more – why is the union so against these men when each and every one of them is a union member. And like a magician, pulled a handful of cards from his inside pocket to show to the camera – unknown to any of us, we were all members of the union that was so apposed to us being there.

Davie had done his homework well; he had not only secured union cards but made a deal with a local joiner that they would strip the roofs for what they could get from them. Then peckers were attached and we set about breaking down the walls. We now had piles of large chunks of concrete with ugly lengths of re-bar sticking out of it,

“Where do we dispose of this?” I asked.

Davie took off in his car and was soon back – The council has given us permission to dump it on a piece of land that has, over the years, been used by gipsies, and is now become almost a permanent site, the council were finding it impossible to move them off the land. The idea is for us to dump the concrete there so that the site can not be used for parking caravans.  The first convoy of Moxies set off for the site but was soon back turned away by the gipsies who refused them access to the site.  

Davie armed with a large bottle of Bushmill and I good wad of notes in his pocket set off for the gipsy encampment, once there he asked for the head man. Invited into his caravan a deal was struck.  We would be allowed to dump there, but only in a hollow where caravans could not be parked and mostly used as a midden anyway. It was also agreed that the gipsies would supply Banksman for the Moxies to make sure the loads went to the right place, all good, and by the end of the week, the job was done.

Now whilst there we were housed at a local pub, the landlord was so delighted to have not only a full house, hungry men to feed and his bar till had not rung up such profits in a long time, so on the last day of the job he decided to have a farewell party in the pub. Some of the local dignitaries were invited such as the mayor, who gave a speech,

Standing with his arm around Davie, he said

“I have seen it all – I have seen it all, this man here has not only beaten the Unions – but also beaten the Council and he has he not, even beaten the damn Tinkers, I take my hat off to him” and with a flourish did just that.

Stay safe.   

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