THE TIMES BUSINESS NEWS THURSDAY FEBRUARY 26 1970
By GILLIAN O’CONNOR
Lord Stokes, chairman of British Leyland, Britain’s biggest motor group, yesterday launched a swingeing attack on the industrial “anarchy” in the car industry. At a packed annual general meeting in London he revealed that British Leyland, which sells 40 out of every 100 cars bought in the United Kingdom, has made no profit at all in the past four months, and is expecting profits for the full year to be lower than in 1968/69.
Lord Stokes hit out at the recent spate of strikes and stoppages and said that the strain on factory management is becoming intolerable. “Perhaps this is the aim of the people stirring up trouble”, he commented. But added: “I cannot believe that this state of anarchy is what the majority of our workers really want.”
He also reiterated his plea that a steadily expanding home market is necessary for British car makers to be able to compete in the international markets: “This does not seem to have been fullv accepted in all responsible circles.”, He warned that unless there is some halt to the current round of increases and inflation we face a financial crisis through pricing ourselves out of overseas markets, and raised the spectre of “massive unemployment on a scale only remembered by the older generation in this country”.
For the first four months of this financial year home car sales fell by £21m., and although exports were some £10m. to the good at around £100 million. Lord Stokes said that it will not be possible to make up the home loss by increasing exports. In the first six months of last year the group turned in a profit of £19.3m., while annual profits were a record-breaking £40.4m. Profits this year are already some £13million short. Lord Stokes did not give any idea how far short of £40m. the current year is likely to fall, though he emphasized that in most years the first four months are a poor trading period.
Lord Stokes. who smilingly referred to his own speech as “strong stuff ” after the Meeting. took an almost unprecedentedly tough line with trouble- makers among his 190,000 workers. He described the recent spread of industrial disputes, mostly unofficial, as of “alarming and chaotic proportions”, and referred ‘to “distortion of the truth and insidious coercion” by the troublemakers.
Blaming. last weeks price increases on the rise in costs, he said that he hoped that prices can be held for sometime to come.
Paul Routledge, Labour Staff, writes:
Lord Stokes’s biting criticism came before a top level meeting in London today which will, discuss wavs of bringing industrial harmony to the British Leyland empire. Lord Stokes will meet Jack Jones, general secretary of the Transport General Workers Union, and Hush Scanlon, president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers, at his own. invitation.
The unions were last night shocked and angry that Lord Stokes had launched a public attack on bad labour relations within the company the day before he sat down to discuss ways of improving the situation. One senior official of the engineering workers’ union predicted a ”ding-dong battle” at the talks.
Mr. Scanlon agreed that while some strikes were unnecessary his union was not prepared to condemn any B.L.M.C. workers while the company continued to operate its antiquated and outmoded” disputes procedure, the 48-year-old York memorandum which the company as a member of the Engineering Employers’ Federation adheres to.
Production has also been hit at British Leyland’s two biggest car plants. Cowley and Longbridge. by internal strikes. Two hundred assembly workers walked out at Longbridge yesterday in a piecework dispute and a further 800 were sent home. Cowley assembly lines have been halted for a week, with 3500 laid off. because of a strike by 126 electricians.
The Rover company yesterday announced the shut-down of 2000 and 3500 saloon lines, and sent a telegram to Mrs Barbara Castle telling her of the serious situation being caused by the strike at the Girling brake factory in Bromborough , Cheshire. About 1,500 will be laid off at Solihull today. If the strike continues , the number affected at factories in the Birmingham area and in South Wales will increase to 4,000 by early next week.
The production of Austin 1100 and 1300 models was stopped when 200 men walked out over a piecework dispute . Their spokesman said they would be out until Monday , when they would be having talks. An official of British Leyland said that , because of the strike, 800 employees on the two lines had been laid off.
The newspaper quotes Lord Stokes as saying : ‘In the first four months of the company’s financial year, strikes and the squeeze have hit the company so hard we have made no profit.”
“The disruptions we are suffering are now so frequent and taking up so much time that the strain on our factory management is becoming intolerable—perhaps that is the aim of the people stirring up trouble.”
“I cannot believe that this state of anarchy is what the majority of our workers really want.”
“We have had in our own plants, and those of our suppliers, walk-outs, go-slows, work-to-rule tactics, working without enthusiasm and other associated activities, very often led by small militant minorities.”
“It is becoming increasingly obvious that the industrial relations system of this country must be based on a framework of law, which could well include ballots impartially administered on a mutually agreed basis.”
“I do not believe that all our stoppages of work result from genuine grievances. They are such a regular feature of our daily life that they can only be planned and deliberate disruption for its own sake.”
Ten strikes are at present hitting production at British Leyland plants. Four of them are within the company and the others are among suppliers of components. The internal strikes are at the Rover press shop at Solihull: 73 on strike for higher piece work rates; Wellingborough Foundry: 14 foundrymen on strike for more pay, 75 laid off; Morris, Cowley: 126 electricians on strike for more pay, 3,500 laid off; Austin-Morris, Longbridge: 200 assembly workers on 1100 and 1300 lines on strike for higher piece rates, 500 laid off .
The outside disputes are at Girlings, Bromborough (disc brakes), Scottish Stampings, Ayr (beam axles), where the men are going back to work tomorrow, Smiths Industries, Witney, Oxford (heaters), Forgings and Press Work Ltd., Witton, Birmingham
(body and engineering components, including mountings), British Road Services, Swindon depot (transfer of car body shells from Swindon to Cowley), Willenhall Motor Radiators, Staffs (radiators and components).