Wednesday, 16 September 2009


We have a fantastic book out at the moment that all those gathered at the TUC meeting this week would do well to study... Save the Triumph Bonneville! – The inside story of the Meriden Workers’ Co-op by John Rosamond.

A book described by Tony Benn as "one of the most important and relevant histories of British industry that I have ever read...and I strongly recommend anyone interested in the future of Britain to read it carefully."

In his address to the TUC yesterday Gordon Brown was keen to praise the work of Jack Jones – who sadly died in April this year - and Jack Jones played a key role in setting up the Meriden Co-op, a role which is recognised accordingly throughout this book.

In 1973 Britain was the biggest and best motorbike manufacturing nation in the world, but motorbike manufacture became a political football. This is the inside story. The autobiography of a 25 year-old welder who became a national celebrity overnight.

The story has great relevance today after the sit-in at Britain's only major wind turbine factory this summer - the Vestas Wind Systems - failed to save the factory from closure with the loss of more than 600 jobs. And the TUC warned on Tuesday that the jobless total could reach four million. (click image to read full story)

In October 1973 the Triumph workers staged a sit-in that lasted for 18 months. And they eventually won. In the interim period the governing Conservative party lost power and the incoming Labour party eventually loaned the Triumph workers millions of pounds to get the factory running again.

Written by the ex-chairman of the workers’ board of directors of the famous Meriden co-op, this is the real story of the last bastion of British motorcycle production following the collapse of the industry. It’s also the story of a workforce’s refusal to let the Triumph Bonneville die ...

There is no more famous motorcycle than the Triumph Bonneville, the Bonnie, "the best motorcycle in the world," and the Meriden factory producing this icon was a personal Mecca to fans of the marque. Film stars such as Steve McQueen visited Meriden for their Triumphs. But on the brink of what should have been its biggest ever sales season, the BSA parent company dramatically collapsed. The Conservative government reacted, and Norton-Villiers-Triumph was created. The new owners decided to close down Meriden ... so the workers locked them out.

There followed protracted political negotiations, affected all the while by national government changes, ministers’ attitudes, national and international economic conditions and, throughout all this, the world's continuing desire for the Triumph.
As much a study of changing sociopolitical attitudes as of an economically traumatic time for both Triumph and the country, socialist John Rosamond's unique position within the workers’ co-operative makes this work a fascinating account of a story never before told from the inside. The reversal of his role from worker to chairman brought with it new responsibilities, bringing home to him the passion that employees, customers and dealers had for Triumph, and how that could keep Meriden from closing and the Bonneville in production. During all these desperate struggles, the Triumph Bonneville became the best-selling motorcycle of its class, winning the coveted Motor Cycle News Motorcycle of The Year award at the end of the seventies. Yet within just a few years of this, Meriden and the Bonnie were finally gone.
All the rescue attempts, the lifesaving international orders, and the negotiations for a reprieve with the new Thatcher government are covered here in unique detail, as is the introduction of new models that Meriden hoped would attract a 'white knight'. Illustrated with never-before-seen photographs from the personal collections of the factory's workers, this inside-story of Triumph's last years at Meriden is the definitive history of the most famous of the Tony Benn worker's co-operatives and should definitely be studied by all TUC members.
Click here for more info about the book.