Austin Rover fails in court to make union end strike
By David Felton and Clifford Webb
Austin Rover yesterday lost its High Court action to order Britain’s second largest union to lift a strike at the company’s car plants to allow a ballot of the workers to be held.
In a decision, which apparently granted legitimacy to a union tactic of disowning the strike in order to comply with the provisions of the Trade Union Act 1984. Mr Justice Stuart-Smith refused to grant the company an injunction against the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers.
Earlier during the hearing in chambers the company decided not to pursue a similar action against the Electrical, Electronic Telecommunication and Plumbing Union which had ordered its 800 members at Austin Rover back to work. In spite of that instruction a mass meeting of about 250 electricians at the Longbridge plant near Birmingham yesterday voted to continue the strike. The court decision could have a significant impact on union policies towards the Act which became law in September.
Some observers were last night predicting that it may be sufficient for unions to disown a strike in order not to fall foul of the law. Six other unions at Austin Rover led by the Transport and General Workers’ Union, which is the largest at the company have refused to comply with an injunction ordering them to call off their action by last Tuesday and hold a ballot. The company was last night reticent on what action it planned although it is unlikely to seek contempt of court proceedings before Monday.
Mr Eric Hammond, general secretary of the EETPU, said after the company decided not to proceed with its action against the union: “We feel very sore about, this because we have always made clear that we are prepared to obey the law. ”
In affidavits laid before the court Mr Terry Duffy, AUEW president, said the Austin Rover joint national council, on which eight unions are represented, did not have authority to call a strike without reference first to his union’s executive. Since the strike started on Monday, only 3,000 of the company’s 28,000 employees have gone to work. If Austin Rover had been successful in its action against the two unions yesterday they would have been forced to hold a ballot or risk fines of up to £250,000.
The eight-day strike which has stopped all car production at Jaguar could end today (our Motoring Correspondent writes). Shop stewards will recommend mass meetings at the three Coventry plants to accept an improved offer.