HOME NEWS By Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Correspondent
Managing directors from all BL Cars subsidiaries met at Oxford yesterday to formulate the company’s response to the official backing given by the Transport and General Workers’ Union to ” bush fire ” strikes at BL plants. The number on strike in protest at the imposition of a new pay and conditions package had risen to 13,500 last night and affected nine plants, all in the Midlands.
Production of the Range Rover, Land-Rover, Rover saloons, TR7 convertible, Jaguar saloons and Sherpa vans was at a standstill. The latest to suffer from strikes were the Castle Bromwich body plant and the works at Acocks Green, Birmingham, which supplies engines to Rover.
The strike by 1300 men at Castle Bromwich has cut supplies of Mini body panels to Longbridge. As a result production of the Mini, BL’s best selling car, will be halted today with 800 men laid off. Mr Ray Horrocks, managing director of BL Cars, took the chair at yesterday’s meeting, which was called originally as a routine meeting of BL Cars’ executive committee. However, the latest threat to the group’s recovery hopes took precedence over all other business.
No statement was issued after the meeting, but it is under- stood that Mr Horrocks reported on informal talks during the weekend between Mr Mostyn (Moss) Evans, general secretary of the transport union, and Mr Pat Lowry, BL’s senior industrial relations expert. Neither side would confirm reports last night that attempts were being made to set up a meeting between Mr Evans and BL chairman, who has been on decision about such a meeting will have to await the return today of Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, who has been on a five-day visit to South Africa.
The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers has instructed its 23,000 BL members to work normally and they are responding loyally in spite of the activities of transport union pickets at many plants. Mr Terence Duffy, AUEW president, said yesterday: “It is a tragedy that Britain’s only nationalized car company is again in conflict”.
His frequently expressed concern for BL’s future in the face of industrial unrest contrasts sharply with the view of the transport union leader. Mr Evans said Yesterday: “I do not think Leyland will sink. People underestimate how successful the company is going to be. I am far more optimistic about the future than Sir Michael Edwardes, and I believe that I am right”.
Most of BL’s 36 car plants are working normally, but it will not be long before some of them are affected by component shortages. Longbridge and Cowley have key roles to play in the group’s crucial new car programme. BL’s sales rose from 15 per cent of the United Kingdom market in January to 23 per cent last month, but new models are needed urgently to rejuvenate the aging range of popular priced cars.
Longbridge is on target to launch the £275m Mini Metro in October and Cowley has just started production of a new version of the Marina.
On this day the media are given a sneak preview of the Metro production facilities.