Bathgate workers support lengthy sit-in
By Peter Hetherington
Workers at Leyland Vehicles threatened Bathgate factory near Edinburgh yesterday overwhelmingly backed the call for an “indefinite” occupation of the plant , as the company warned of the consequences of a prolonged sit-in. After the mass meeting, shop stewards ceremonially padlocked the entrances to the West Lothian plant, and claimed that other Leyland factories would soon be starved of vital components which could bring production throughout the group to a standstill. Bathgate manufactures the 98 series engine, lightweight axles, and other vehicle parts, in addition to a range of trucks.
During an emergency debate in the Commons yesterday the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, Mr Peter Shore , accused Mr Norman Tebbit , the Industry Secretary, of an ” ignorance of economics and an indifference to the human consequences” of the Bathgate closure , and the axeing of a Leyland bus plant in Leeds. Mr Tebbit , he said , belonged to a government which had directly contributed to the de-industrialisation of Britain.
The minister was now earning a reputation of being the undertaker of British industry. Replying for the Government , the Scottish Secretary, Mr George Youngerâ€”who had fought a strong rearguard battle to preserve Bathgateâ€”took a notably conciliatory line. He said the closure decision , which he regarded as inevitable, could not be blamed on a workforce which had “acted through the last few difficult years with responsibility and a full regard to the need for improved productivity…”
Leyland Vehicles said last night that industrial action at Bathgate would not achieve anything , A statement added: “It cannot possibly bring back orders, cash or work to Bathgate , and it could mean early closure of the plant and jeopardise enhanced redundancy payments.”
A few dissenting voices were raised at yesterday’s mass meeting. But the Bathgate shop stewards convener , Mr Jimmy Swan , said workers had taken an overwhelming decision to continue the occupation in defence of jobs, and that Leyland workers elsewhere in the country now recognised that Bathgate was at the frontline in defence of the ailing vehicle subsidiary of British Leyland. Already it is clear that Leyland is piling on the pressure in an attempt to split the workforce.
Union leaders are well aware that, almost exactly three years ago, the Linwood car factory, 30 miles to the west , closed after workers rebelled against their shop stewards at the 11th hour. Unions wanted to blockade an estimated £16 million worth of stockpiled ears and prevent the transfer of equipment. The action was endorsed by the transport and engineering unions, but at a mass meeting workers rejected the strategy by 2-1.
A union conference was warned yesterday that the Government was planning to return Jaguar Cars to those who had previously led the company “down the path of destruction”. Mr Pat Phipps , a Coventry delegate at the annual conference of the Engineering Union’s white collar section, Tass, said the co-operation of workers had turned Jaguar from a “lame duck” into BL’s most profitable offshoot which the Government now planned to return “to their friends , who will reap the benefits.” The conference voted unanimously to join other unions in opposing the privatisation.