Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman of BL, and all his senior managers will resign rather than bow to union pressure for the reinstatement of Mr Derek Robinson, the dismissed shop steward, company sources revealed yesterday. It was also made clear last night that the leaders of the two biggest unions are ready to endorse strike action.
By Clifford Webb and Donald Macintyre
The BL executive team led by Sir Michael Edwardes were said last night to be considering resignation if an official strike is declared over the dismissal of Mr Derek Robinson. A BL spokesman said: “Sir Michael has made it quite clear that he wouldn’t be around to see Mr Robinson return to work. If he was reinstated the whole of British Leyland’s top management team who backed Sir Michael on his decision to sack him would resign.”
This report, from company sources, comes on the eve of today’s meeting between Mr Terence Duffy, president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers and Mr (Mostyn) Moss Evans, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. The threat of resignation by the company’s senior management leaves the union leaders in no doubt that if they yield to regional pressure for the strike to be made official that could well be the final crisis for the last surviving big British owned motor manufacturer.
The present stoppage was called by the unofficial combined shop stewards of BL, whose chairman is Mr Derek Robinsan. BL sources last night were adamant that Sir Michael had made it clear that his credibility with the Government, who are being asked for another £575m and with his factory managers, was at stake. Rather than see his credibility damaged, he would resign. Mr Duffy, to whose union Mr Robinson, the Longbridge convener, belongs, and Mr Evans made it clear that both unions were ready to endorse the protest action that has already seriously hampered car production.
Mr Duffy said that he expected his union’s executive at its regular meeting tomorrow “to give an affirmative reply to the unanimous request from the Birmingham West Distict Committee that their strike be made official “.
The two union leaders will discuss the issue today when they attend a meeting in London of the TUC’s finance and general purposes committee. Mr Evans, who has been officially requested by his union’s key policy-making committee in the Midlands to endorse strike action, will hold off from doing so, out of courtesy to the AUEW, until after he has met Mr Duffy and possibly until Tuesday.
The other senior executives who are apparently prepared to resign with Sir Michael are Mr David Andrews, deputy chairman, Mr Ray Horrocks, the head of all BL car operations, Mr David Abell, commercial vehicles chief, and Mr Patrick Lowry, group personnel director, and industrial relations expert.
On Friday the transport union’s West Midlands finance and general purposes committee recommended that the strike be made official. It immediately set up a strike committee to co-ordinate the efforts of its 20,000 members who have withdrawn their labour. If the AUEW has not received any other official district committee requests it is likely initially to make the strike official only at Longbridge. Because of its engine producing facility, a protracted stoppage at the plant, the company’s biggest, unavoidably affects production in other parts of the group. Mr Duffy, however, said that the union would have to consider any requests for support from any other districts.
He acknowledged that he did not agree with the political views of Mr Robinson, a communist, but added: “It is a question of the principle and whether he was fairly dismissed. There are too many people expressing views about Leyland and too few people producing cars. But on this occasion production has been interrupted because of a decision of management.”
Mr Duffv repeated that the union had been angered that despite the executive’s unanimous backing for the company’s reorganization plans, it had not been consulted or even given a warning about the dismissal of Mr Robinson before it occurred. Mr Evans said that the views expressed in the pamphlet which Mr Robinson and his three colleagues had signed, attacking Sir Michael Edwardes’s plan for the future of the company, were “not inconsistent with TGWU policy ” or with Lord Ryder’s now abandoned plan for the future of the company.
The TGWU’s literature on Sir Michael’s plan had been “in favour of expansion of the company and not for contraction”.
The company, which is still placing its faith in the ballot of employees showing a large majority for Sir Michael’s plan, hinted last night that Mr Lowry and Mr Horrocks might be available for a meeting with Mr Evans and Mr Duffy if it was requested. In fact, Mr Duffy and Mr Evans, who would almost certainly like to see Sir Michael himself, may well defer a request for a meeting until after the decisions to make the dispute official.
The unofficial committee has called for a ” day of action and demonstration” by the whole trade union movement in Birmingham today; A march through the city centre is planned. Mr Robinson and the three other officers of the committee who have been threatened with dismissal, Mr Leonard Brindle, Mr Jack Adams and Mr Michael Clarke, are expected to lead the march. But Mr Harold Musgrove, managing director of Austin-Morris, said anyone who turned up for work would be paid even if he could not perform his usual task.
About 40,000 car workers are on strike or laid off. The most serious stoppage is at Longbridge, where 13,000 of the 15,000 manual workers are on strike. Together with the strike at the big Castle Bromwich body plant this is causing a shortage of engines and bodies throughout the group. With the exception of Jaguar, all BL car production is at a stop, and without bodies from Castle Bromwich it is only a matter of days before Jaguar too is forced to shut.