Archive : B.M.C. Strikers Go Back So That Talks Can Begin

From Our Own Correspondent

The 102 machinists at the Morris Motors’ tractor and transmission works, Ward End, whose unofficial strike has brought production of the new Austin Seven baby car to a halt at Longbridge, decided today to accept their union’s instructions to return to work so that negotiations can be opened on their pay dispute.

The men will report back tomorrow and discussions with the management will begin immediately, said Mr F. W. Crowder. district secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, after the meeting.

An official of the British Motor Corporation said that work would be available tomorrow for the 2,000 Austin workers made idle by the dispute. Settlement of the strike came just in time to avert the laying off of a further 1,000 B.M.C employees- 500 assembly workers on the Morris Mini- Minor line at Cowley and 500 at the Fisher and Ludlow body factory at Erdington.

The decision to return to work was reached at a two-hour meeting behind closed doors, The strikers’ earlier meetings have been held in the garden of a public house near the works but today the men objected to open air proceedings with reporters present. The meeting was transferred to a trades and Labour club near by with sentries posted at the doors.

Inside Mr Crowder told the strikers of the A.E.U.’s instructions to return to work. He was reinforced by an official delegation from the Birmingham district committee of the union, sent to strengthen the appeal. The argument was to the effect that the local A.E.U. leaders considered that the strikers had a genuine grievance but there was no excuse for prolonging the dispute when the management were prepared to discuss the problem with them. According to Mr L. Kingscott, the Ward End shop stewards’ convener, all the stewards present at the meeting recommended their members to return to work and the decision to do so was unanimous. Another worker said that the matter at one time hung in the balance. When Mr Crowder was interviewed before newsreel cameras after the meeting he was interrupted by one of the strikers who shouted

“Emphasize that we are not buckling under to the management.”

Shop stewards were at some pains to point out that their support of the official union ” back-to-work ” line to-day was no capricious change of heart. They were influenced, they claimed, by a concession from the management, who indicated that they were willing to negotiate on the men’s present hourly rates, which are the crux of the dispute. Previously, the stewards say, the management confined their willingness to negotiate to piecework rates the men will be paid when work on the baby cars has been completely costed.

The men say their present rate of 6s. 2d. an hour (2s. 2d. national award plus 4s. in lieu of Piecework rates) puts their earnings 1s. 11d. an hour below the average for pieceworkers in the factory. They have claimed an immediate increase of 6d. an hour until the new rates are agreed. Much of the bitterness with which this quite unnecessary strike has been conducted is a result of irrational disappointment and disillusion. Almost all the men in the dispute were engaged recently for work on the new models and many are without previous car factory experience.

They have been influenced by the hoary old stories which circulate in Birmingham about high wages in the motor industry. High wages there are, but not to be earned by new labour engaged on strange work not yet costed up for piece rates. One of the strikers, a universal grinder, said to-day:

“I have heard of men earning £25 a week in the car factory. It was a bit of a blow when I found men on machines near by doing similar jobs on parts for other models earning only £17 a week at top piecework rates. It was even more of a blow to discover that at the present hourly rates, even with several hours’ overtime, I could earn only £14.”

This man held what is probably the view of a sizable minority that the strike was a pointless exercise which merely delayed the day when the introduction of piecework rates will bring the chance of ” really having a go for the big money.”

A meeting of the strikers at Morris Motors Llanelli, last night decided on the advice of their trade union officials to return to work this morning and so clear the way for negotiations with the management. The tool shop maintenance department was in dispute over rates of pay and approximately 100 stopped work on Monday.

Baby Car Dispute

After they had agreed to go back a management spokesman said that the 2,000 men laid off at Longbridge would be back at work this morning. “By the end of the day we hope to have the line running .”

The strike in the maintenance department at the B.M.C, works in Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, also ended yesterday. About 100 men who downed tools on Monday over a pay dispute agreed to return to work pending negotiations.

Keith Adams

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