On 15 February 1977, British Leyland looked in terrible shape, with strikes crippling the company, cars lying unbuilt and market share melting away. Things were looking grim, and this is how the papers were reporting the situation back then.
Leyland standstill worsens with 11 models halted and 20,000 idle
The number of British Leyland workers made idle by disputes rose to 20,000 yesterday. Eleven different car models were out of production, leaving only seven on which work is still in progress. Leyland’s output losses are estimated to be running at more than £12m a day, and there seems little prospect of an early end to the stoppages that have plunged the state car group into its worst crisis for many months.
At a mass meeting yesterday, one group of strikers voted to stay out for another week. At other strike centres the stoppages are over issues that go to the core of shopfloor opposition; over reorganisation of working arrangements. Even more serious, perhaps, is that the protest actions within the car plants seem to be increasingly linked to the pressure by shop steward organizations for an end to pay restraint and a return to free collective bargaining.
Shop stewards say they can end the strikes
Only in this way, the stewards say will it be possible to end many anomalies in wage rates and give the degree of flexibility in pay bargaining necessary for the success of job transfer schemes. As the car plants re-opened yesterday after the weekend, the lay-off position worsened.
Leyland has three main trouble centres and, at all of them, the strikes arise from the company’s plans to restructure its production. At the big Midlands car body centre at Castle Bromwich, 1300 workers are on strike and another 3000 laid off with all production halted.
Here, the stoppage results from a management decision to dismiss 32 men who demanded redundancy pay and not be moved to new jobs. The shortage of car body shells and other pressed components which has resulted from the shutdown has had a devastating effect in the car assembly centres.
Stoppages in Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford…
At Coventry, Jaguar production is stopped with 1950 workers laid off. Another 2700 men are idle at Longbridge (Birmingham), where Mini car production is stopped. At Solihull, the Rover 3500 range is out of production and 1085 men have been sent home.
At Cowley (Oxford), both the Maxi and Princess lines are at a standstill because of shortages of pressings normally made at Castle Bromwich. The trouble at Cowley, where 3500 workers are idle, and more are facing the prospect of lay-offs, is aggravated by a further internal dispute which has stopped Marina car production.
This strike involved 150 maintenance engineers objecting to proposed changes in working arrangements. Within the Cowley complex 650 more workers are laid off from the central spares department because of a stoppage by 60 men.
Big trouble at Triumph
Leyland’s third big trouble centre is the Triumph plant at Canley (Coventry) where the 350 strikers from the paint shop voted yesterday to continue their two-week-old stoppage which has halted output of Dolomite, Stag, Spitfire andTriumph 2000 cars. The strikers are objecting to the management’s use of industrial engineers on work-study exercises in their department, a move that is also linked to reorganization plans.
The shut-down at Coventry has meant the lay-off of another 400 men at the Dolomite body plant at Liverpool and a further 220 at the Spitfire body plant at Bordesley Green, Birmingham.
Bus output hit: Five hundred workers at the company’s bus and truck division at Leyland were laid off yesterday, because of a week-long strike by 17 crane drivers. The drivers, who move heavy frames in the assembly factory, want upgrading in the company’s pay structure.