By Clifford Webb
Angry groups of Mini Metro workers stormed through British Leylands-Longbridge plant yesterday, smashing windows and doors in protest at the management’s stopping production of the new car. The plant was at a standstill last night The trouble occurred when 500 assembly workers were laid off for the second time in a week because of a shortage of car-seats.
Their colleagues had refused to unload seats from an outside contractor brought in as a result of a dispute involving Longbridge seat assemblers. Within minutes of the track being stopped workmen began to storm. through the plant, hurling car components through windows; knocking over racks of parts and terrifying female staff in adjoining offices.
One group about 30 strong went to the plant administrative headquarters, known locally as “The Kremlin”. When they found the doors locked, they ripped one from its hinges and forced their way into the office of Mr Stanley Mullet, the plant director. They demanded and got a meeting with him and other senior managers to protest at the shutting down of the Metro line.
They were told that production would not resume until their colleagues began producing seats for the Metro in acceptable numbers. Several police cars were sent to the plant but did not enter. Officers remained outside watching the activities of pickets being hurriedly mounted. The difficulty over seats has been simmering for several weeks. The management has been pressing unsuccessfully for output to keep pace with the big demand for the new car, but production stopped again on Thursday. With thousands of seatless Metros on the plant roads and more joining them daily, the management brought in outside suppliers, but workers refused to unload them.
Pickets said last night that the clash was simply a reflection of the widespread bad feeling resulting from the company’s refusal to increase its 6.8 per cent wage offer. Three weeks ago, Longbridges 15,000 workers voted overwhelmingly for a strike but, after a meeting between national union leaders and Sir Michael Edwardes, BL’s chairman, a second mass meeting accepted the offer. One picket said “Today’s trouble was always on the cards. It has been brewing for weeks. For a time it was pretty hot in there with exhaust pipes and other parts from the racks flying all over the place. We are as proud of the Metro,as any of the bosses, but they must learn they cannot keep riding roughshod over us”.
Hundreds of other workers walked out in sympathy, stopping production of the Mini and the Allegro. As a result several thousands more were sent home by management. BL said last night .
“We are still checking reports of damaged cars but so far we have not been able to establish that anything significant happened in that respect. Talks are taking place with the works committee to try to resolve the problem but we have stated that the assembly line will not be restarted until the seat dispute is resolved”.
Quotes from Longbridge pickets :
‘We don’t condone violence but what do you expect when you have a reactionary management like ours .”
‘The lads smashed down a door , broke some windows and just carried on through the building .”
‘When there is a war on , there is bound to be violence . We are still at war with the company over pay .”