During my six year Senatorial career, 2005 – 2011, I was fortunate to be able to draw on my late father’s insight and experience. We would talk frequently, especially concerning difficult issues that would affect the people that I represented. ‘Politics are people’ was a phrase often used by Dad to highlight the human consequences of an action. He deplored the accountants’ approach that had no empathy with the human impact of a financial decision.
My interest, and belief, in the co-operative philosophy also stems from my father’s influence. His first job after leaving school was at the Springfield Co-op and he worked there for a few years before leaving to do his national service in the Air Force. He was a proud co-op supporter until his death in January 2013.
When struggling with the decision to close down the warehousing, where the financial argument was overwhelming and very important in securing the long term future of the Society, I wondered what he would do in a similar situation. My conviction is that he would have done the same.
Part of the reason for this conclusion is because he had to make similar difficult decisions when Managing Director of George Troy & Sons -the Stevedores. Before the advent of car ferries and containerisation (roll-on roll-off – RoRo) everything had to be unloaded by crane and docker (lift-on lift-off – LoLo). George Troy employed well over 150 staff, including the casuals. The workforce also included a number of characters that had hit troubles in life and were paid despite doing little constructive work. He would take us ‘down’ the Sailor’s Rest to eat with the Dockers – and there appeared to be a real sense of camaraderie. George Troy & Sons really cared for their employees.
When the ferry ramp arrived in the 1970’s there was a hesitancy to trim the workforce to meet the changing way that business was done. He carried a fat workforce for as long as he could, but eventually capitulated to the inevitable. Those that did not have HGV licences would be encouraged to take their tests so they could assist in the unloading of the ships, but many lost their job as a result, some being too old to retrain. The workforce trimmed down from well over 100 to around 50. Yet even this number was unsustainable.
I was never encouraged to go into the ‘family’ business as it was an industry in decline. The golden days of casuals and over 150 employees would never return.
As a Director of a co-operative business you have to weigh the human consequences of a decision with the financial benefits and how the industry is changing. The use of the Andover warehouse will bring us in line with best practise, remove the need for costly surplus stock to be paid for, and speed delivery to stores. It will also increase the range and freshness of our product – and help secure the financial future of the Society.
Faced with a changing landscape, and reluctance from the unions to accept changes to working practices, George Troy & Sons fell into long term decline. Whereas it could, quite literally, take days to unload and load a ship the required turnaround became just a couple of hours with very few men. You cannot stop progress and change.
The liquidators were appointed in 2012 and from employing 150 locals in its heyday, George Troy & Sons now provides employment for no one.