By Clifford Webb
The ‘initial’ success achieved by Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman of BL, in imposing his deadlocked pay and working conditions package suffered a sharp reverse yesterday when Britain’s largest union, the Transport and General Workers, gave its official backing to the 6,000 men on strike at Land-Rover, Range Rover, Jaguar and Sherpa van factories in the Midlands. Within hours the number on strike had doubled to 12,000.
There are fears that more plants will be affected as workers refuse to cross picket lines on Monday. By last night all Rover, Jaguar and Sherpa production was at a standstill. Mr Ray Horrocks, BL Cars’ managing director, accused the transport union of making ‘a deliberate and concerted effort’ to stop the company imposing the package.
‘Whether Britain can maintain a car industry in the future could well be determined by your union’s action over the next few days’, he wrote to Mr Mostyn Evans, the union’s leader. The day had started well for the company with several hundred strikers drifting back at Jaguar’s Browns Lane assembly plant, Coventry, and Land.Rover/Range Rover, Solihull. That was quickly countered by a mass meeting at the works in Tysley, Birmingham, which produces gearboxes and engines for Rover utility vehicles.
The 1,600 employed there were recommended by transport union shop stewards to join the strike. When the vote was taken by a show of hands the meeting appeared to be equally divided but the stewards declared that those in favour of striking had carried the day.
But the militants biggest victory came at Solihull. Shop stewards manning the picket lines learnt by mid-morning that the transport union was considering making the strike official. Without waiting for confirmation they went inside the plant and told the 2,700 who had been working normally on Land- Rover production that they were strike breaking. Within an hour they joined the 2,000 on strike there. Later the same stewards entered the adjoining Rover saloon car plant and persuaded all 2,500 employees to leave. These men had returned to work only eight days ago after being laid off for a month because of surplus stocks.
Mr Brian Mathers, the uinion’s senior official in the Midlands, said last night: ‘What did Sir Michael Edwardes expect? There is no way this union will lie down quietly while he attempts to end union rights which have been in existence for 60 years’.
In a letter to Mr Moss Evans, the union’s general secretary, Mr Ray Horrocks said: ‘If your union were to succeed in the course, on which it has now embarked, and we do not believe you will, it can only be at the expense of Jobs. Whether Britain can maintain a car industry in the future could well be determined by your union’s action over the next few days.’
Mr Horrocks said that BL would have preferred to get an agreement with the unions but, ‘we now have no option but to proceed without one.’
He found the TGWU’s decision’extraordinary’and asked:’What can possibly be gained?’
Mr Brian Mathers, the TGWU Midlands regional secretary, who asked that the dispute be made official, said yesterday: ‘The dispute will get worse, there can be no doubt about that. Our union has a vested interest in BL and the last thing we wanted was a strike. But what could we do? Sir Michael Edwardes [BL’s chairman] is still intent on imposing these new working practices, which will wipe out agreements that have been in existence for up to 60 years. We can’t just sit back and watch that happen.’