By Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Correspondent
On the eve of today’s mass meeting of 17,000 BL Longbridge workers to vote on a strike recommendation, Mr Ray Horrocks, managing director of BL Cars, said last night: “Austin Morris cannot face an extended strike at Longbridge over this or any other issue. A decision to strike is likely to determine the fate of Austin Morris as a whole.”
The meeting has been called to vote on an Amalgamated. Union of Engineering Workers’ recommendation for official strike action to secure the reinstatement of Mr Derek Robinson, the dismissed shop stewards’ leader. Yesterday Mr Horrocks, accompanied by Mr Harold Musgrove, Austin Morris’s managing director, toured the plant speaking to workers. Afterwards he said he was dismayed that in issue between the company and the AUEW had been extended to include all the other unions at Longbridge.
“It is generally recognized that the AUEW members at Longbridge are not prepared to support’ strike action”, Mr Horrocks said.
“it is now apparent that there is a danger that the AUEW might lose control of the situation and there is a risk that members’ views will not be properly heard. There is a groundswell at Longbridge; employees want to work. The company urges those people who feel strongly about this to make their feelings clear at the mass meeting. From an employment point of view it is vital that they do so. The top priority is to save jobs by securing the profitable survival of Austin Morris. If We are to launch the Mini Metro in November then all employees should know it can only be done by staying at work.”
Yesterday Mr Horrocks unexpectedly offered facilities inside Longbridge for today’s mass meeting. He extended the offer to Mr Robinson who has been barred from all BL premises since his dismissal on. November 19. The offer, which would not have involved, any loss of pay, was quickly rejected by local officials of the engineering union who have called the meeting. They insisted that it should go ahead as planned at 8.30am on playing fields adjoining the plant.
The company offer was made for two reasons; fears of intimidation by large numbers of outsiders who were reported to be planning to infiltrate the meeting and reports that a rebel group of engineering union members wanted to bovcott the meeting and march into work as usual. Efforts were being made last night to persuade the rebels, believed to comprise’ nearly half the 6,000 engineering members at Longbridge, to attend the meeting and vote against the strike. However all the indications point to a strike, with the issue being settled not by members of Mr Robinson’s union but those of the more militant Transport and’ General Workers’ Union, the largest in the factory.
Last night Mr Brian Mathers, Midlands regional secretary of the transport union, said: “If the workers vote for a strike it will be officially backed by my union.”