Archive : £10m Cowley car strike ends today

By R. W. Shakespeare

A strike that has cost British Leyland some £10m worth of Marina car output at Cowley, Oxford and led to a management warning that men who did not resume work would face dismissal, will end today.

At a mass meeting yesterday the 2,500 assembly workers who have been on strike since March 26 voted by a 5-1 majority to resume this morning. Another 4,000 Cowley workers who have been laid off and, like the strikers, have each lost about £90 in wages over the past two weeks, are being recalled. No Marina cars have been produced at Cowley since the strike began. About 8,000 vehicles have been lost at a time when British Leyland has a huge backlog of orders resulting from the power crisis and three-day working.

The vote to resume work clearly implies a majority shop-floor acceptance of the management’s proposals for a reorganization of working arrangements, including reduced manning scales and changes in assembly line speeds. A British Leyland spokesman said yesterday that the new arrangements would apply from this morning. The assembly workers’ stoppage was a protest against these plans and the use by the management of industrial engineers to carry them out. During the weekend, Mr John Symonds, the Cowley plant director, sent out letters to each of the strikers, with the warning that they faced dismissal. He said

“The company is not bluffing. We would be irresponsible to let a minority put the whole future of Cowley at risk.”

Another strike at Cowley involving 1,000 workers in the central spares department is also being called off. Workers there have accepted a lump sum payment in settlement of their claim of an anomaly in their wage rates. This dispute began on March 27 and has caused delays and bottlenecks in the delivery of components to garages and service stations.

At the British Leyland-owned SU Carburettor factory in Birmingham nearly 330 workers who have been out for the past 10 days also voted to return yesterday. Another 460 who were laid off have been recalled. However, a group of seven maintenance electricians refused to accept the settlement terms, which involve fresh talks on a pay claim. This is delaying the resumption of full production.

It also means that production of Mini cars at the Longbridge, Birmingham plant, where 2,500 workers are laid off, cannot be resumed today. The Mini assembly lines were closed all of last week and yesterday, with vehicle losses totalling some £3m. Another 200 men at the Castle Bromwich body pressing plant were also idle. A management spokesman at Longbridge said it might be possible to resume production there on tonight’s shift.

Keith Adams

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