All Out Strike Fury Closes Biggest Leyland Plant
By Declan Cunningham
The ‘language of force’ closed British Leyland’s biggest car plant yesterday. At a mass meeting of 18,000 in icy rain, only 100 held up their hands against a strike at Longbridge, Birmingham. As 33 other plants prepared to vote, the company’s staff chief Mr Pat Lowry appealed to every man to ‘think for himself’ and ‘not be swayed by the militants.’
He added: ‘We are not panicking. We are awaiting the decisions of all the plants before deciding what action to take. But If we end up with an all out strike for eight or nine weeks like Ford I am quite sure that the company could not survive in its present form.’
At Longbridge Communist convener Mr Derek Robinson called for a walk-out , ‘We want a positive vote , a unanimous vote , to bring pressure on the company in the only language they know ,the language of force. We cannot rely on them. We cannot trust them.’
The row was over management’s refusal to meet ‘parity’ payments because production had failed to reach agreed targets. Will the strike spread ? The key may be today’s vote at the Cowley plant at Oxford, where Transport Union shop stewards are recommending ‘No strike’, mainly because they do not accept the parity scheme anyway. After the vote at Longbridge mass pickets stopped contractors working on the costly new factory which is to produce Leyland’s new Mini. More pickets surrounded four depots and prevented transporters taking stockpiled cars to showrooms. Earlier, unidentified vandals damaged 150 new cars in a garage. Strikers denied being involved. Convenor Mr Robinson smiled and gave the thumbs down sign when he joined the factory’s main-gate picket.
‘Our members feel most incensed,’he said.
‘We agreed to lose 7,000 jobs under the parity deal and most of those jobs have gone. We were never given any production targets to meet by the company, they said we just had to lose the jobs and achieve a general improvement introduction and the money was ours.’
He added:’It is a tragedy we have had to strike and the only reason we have is that the company has reneged.’
A Leyland spokesman said the strike ‘pre-empts the whole democratic process. It is untrue to say that the workforce was unaware of the need to increase productivity to fund the parity payments.’
At a meeting In London today, company chiefs will tell union leaders that development plans like the new Mini will have to be cut if the strike goes on. For the Longbridge shutdown alone costs Leyland a daily production of 600 Minis and 300 Allegros with a showroom value of £2,500,000. Already £700 million of taxpayers money has been poured in, and Industry Secretary Mr Eric Varley would be under pressure to cut it. Electricians’ union leader Mr Roy Sanderson pleaded to the Minister yesterday: ‘For God’s sake let someone from the outside step in… Leyland just cannot survive another strike.’
Leyland led the Industry with 25-3 per cent of the 156,221 cars sold in January.
‘We are really warmed up for 1979,’ said a spokesman.