By Paul Connew
Twenty six girl switchboard operators staged a lightning strike yesterday-and threw a giant car factory into chaos. The “hello girls” refused to let telephone calls in or out of British Leyland’s Austin-Morris plant at Longbridge, Birmingham.
Motor dealers, trying to place valuable order lists, were told by the girls: ” Sorry, we are not putting any calls through to the factory. We are only prepared to deal with ambulance and fire emergency calls.”
Many angry businessmen—who had argued furiously and unsuccessfully with the girls—called British Leyland’s London headquarters for an explanation. A spokesman there said: “We don’t know what is happening. It’s all very awkward.”
And at Longbridge a management spokesman said: “Vehicle production has not been affected at the moment, but the administration of the factory has been thrown into chaos.”
He said many orders were usually made by telephone, but he could not say how many had been jeopardised by the girls’ strike. The strike was called in support of a fight to get the girls’ union—the Clerical and Administrative Workers’ Union recognized at the British Steel Corporation works at Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.
Telephone girls at another British Leyland factory in Birmingham — the big Pressed Steel Fisher plant at Washwood Heath—took similar action. Last night there was no sign of the girls calling off their strike. And it was reported that some groups of other clerical workers at Longbridge and Pressed Steel Fisher had walked out in sympathy with the girls’ action.
British Leyland fear that the strikes might mark the start of direct action by the CAWU against their plants. The union is embarking on a campaign of tough action against key customers of the British Steel Corporation — and British Leyland is one of the most important of these.
And they are expected to extend their campaign for the next few days — with serious production disruptions.
Last night, there was speculation in Midland car industry circles that the TUC may have to step in over the flare-up. It is hoped that some solution can be found by the time Midland car factories return from their weeklong ” September break,” which begins on Friday.
Twenty-six telephone operators refused to put through outside calls at the Austin factory at Longbridge, Birmingham, yesterday, in a strike in support of the Clerical and Administrative Workers Unions fight for recognition by the British Steel Corporation.