Bathgate Stewards Defy Union
By James McKillop
Despite warnings that the Bathgate plant of British Leyland is on the verge of closure, shop stewards were last night adamant that they would tomorrow urge the 3250 workers to reject the managements improved pay offer.
By supporting this line, some of the shop stewards are openly defying an instruction from their union executive. The Amalgamated Union of Engineering workers – the largest union in the factory – have instructed shop stewards and full time official that the men should be left to decide on the offer without any recommendations being put.
Mr Ernest Leslie, Edinburgh divisional organiser of the AUEW, said:- “I am disturbed about the latest position. When a company talks about closures and workers talk about calling bluffs it worries me. I am disturbed like no one’s business that the company might be right.”
He pointed out that on Friday, when the offer of a £3 a week increase for most hourly paid workers and £2.50 for the remainder was made, the union officials and shop stewards did not recommend acceptance.
“On the other hand, “ he continued, “they did not recommend non-acceptance. The workpeople have to decide themselves whether to accept.”
With the situation looking bleak, Mr Raymond Smart, managing director at Bathgate, made it clear that the decision taken at tomorrows meeting would be critical.
He said:- “If we don’t get back to work soon we shall have to run the place down on a permanent basis – this would be automatic. It is already almost too late. But if they were to return to work in the middle of the week we could still make token deliveries of important orders.”
It would be failure to meet these export orders for Kenya and America which would lead to a closure of Bathgate. In addition first deliveries of a new tractor launched at the Smithfield show were due this month. Not one has yet to be made.
Although some shop stewards are taking the view that the management are using the closure threat only as a ruse to get a resumption of work, there is open talk of a work in or sit in along the lines of UCS or Plessey.
But even full time officials admitted that the Bathgate workers could hardly expect to win public sympathy if the factory closed as a result of the strike – now in its eighth week.
Mr Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for West Lothian, who believes the factory is in danger of closing, said last night:- “Only the men at Leyland can decide on Tuesday about the future of the truck and tractor factory and whether to accept or reject the offer. However, the decision should be taken in the light of the following judgement.
A decision to continue the strike may get vociferous verbal support from other shop stewards in the Leyland group. The idea that any, let alone all the Leyland British factories, will come out in support of the strike is open to doubt, to put it mildly.
My information is that many Midlands workers, faced with 7% unemployment in Coventry and the worst jobless situation in Birmingham this century, will be only too happy to see the truck and tractor factory range returned to the Midlands.”
Nor would a sit in or work in be successful. Within 24 hours, suppliers would bring a work in to a halt, he said.
“If anyone in Bathgate supposes that he is going to do a Jimmy Reid he is deluding himself and his workmates,” Mr Dalyell.
“After a decision to close the factory little can be done. The government would not step in and in fact, Labour MP’s in the west Midlands, with their own appalling unemployment problems, are not going to go to the stake with their own constituents on account of Bathgate.
It is not up to an MP to try and take workers decisions for them. However, I feel a certain obligation to spell out the stark reality as I see it. I am no man’s messenger boy. If I am a messenger boy it is on behalf of the existing unemployed and those people who want to bring industry to central Scotland who will be asked – before we come to you, explain why Leyland left.”