There is no possibility of Mr Derek Robinson, the dismissed communist convener, being reinstated, BL told the engineering union yesterday. The union immediately ordered a strike of its 8,000 members at the plant in Longbridge, Birmingham.
The company warned the union that the strike could lead to more than 50,000 BL workers being laid off almost at once and that all new investment would stop. 50,000 workers could be laid off
By David Felton and Donald Macintyre
British Leyland management yesterday firmly ruled out any possibility that Mr Derek Robinson, the dismissed communist union convener, would be reinstated. This brought the immediate response from his union that a strike of its 8,000 members at BL’s Longbridge plant will go ahead.
Mr Ray Horrocks, managing director of BL Cars, said: “We are not prepared to allow strike action to reverse a decision which, we are convinced, was fully justified.”
He gave a warning that a strike could put thousands of jobs at risk and could lead to BL’s plans for new models, including the Mini Metro, being amended. Mr Terence Duffy, president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, said after hearing of the company’s rejection of the union’s demand that Mr Robinson be reinstated: “We consider this a tragedy. We are convinced they are wrong on this issue and most reluctantly we are collision bound.”
Mr Horrocks said in a letter to Mr Duffy setting out the state car firm’s position: “Before Austin Morris dismissed Mr Robinson all the possible consequences were considered. No new fact has emerged that would justify a reconsideration of our decision. It is clear that not only our management but many Longbridge employees as well are convinced that the decision was right.”
The letter went on: “I think it is common ground that if BL Cars is to survive (and we are determined it will) management and employees must work constructively together. It is our view that Mr Robinson’s conduct over the past two years has proved convincingly that he is not prepared to work constructively either with the company or, indeed, with your union.”
Mr Horrocks urged Mr Duffy to call off the strike or, at the very least, hold a secret ballot to gauge the opinion of the work force. At a press conference Mr Horrocks rejected the findings of the AUEW’s own inquiry into the dismissal of Mr Robinson for distributing a leaflet urging the work force to oppose the plans of Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, to re-organize the company, with 25,000 job losses. Mr Horrocks said the inquiry report had concentrated on how Mr Robinson was dismissed and not why. He maintained that in March last year Mr Robinson was given an oral warning for calling an unofficial strike, against the advice of his union.
He said that in March there was no doubt that Mr Robinson knew that he was being formally disciplined. Mr Horrocks alleged that on this occasion Mr Robinson said: “I’ve got the message, but don’t try to sack either me or Jack Adams because you will see what will happen “.
Mr Adams was one of three other signatories to the leaflet, who were disciplined when Mr Robinson was dismissed. The leaflet, entitled ” The Edwardes Plan and your job”, was compiled by the unofficial Leyland combined trade union committee, of which Mr Robinson was recently re-elected chairman. Mr Horrocks reiterated the claim first made by Sir Michael Edwardes that there had been a “miserable record of disputes and lost time since Mr Robinson became convener “.
This included 523 internal disputes in three years, which lost production of 113,000 engines and 62,000 cars, excluding the national engineering strike last year and other external disputes.
“I have to admit to a feeling of surprise that, given the whole series of public statements made by Mr Robinson over recent months, he would wish to be employed by the company “. Mr Horrocks said in the letter.
The company said that a strike at Longbridge would lead to more than 50,000 BL workers being laid off with a knock-on effect upon component suppliers.
“The cash position makes it impossible for it to cushion this effect in any way by building for stock, so the lay-offs will be virtually immediate. Austin Morris and other major parts of BL Cars will stop. All new investment will stop, with inevitable delays to new model programmes like the Mini Metro”, the company said.
“Should this action make it impossible for the company to achieve its 1980 corporate plan, BL Cars will have no option but to recommend to the BL board the withdrawal of the plan.”
Mr Horrocks told the press conference: “Right now, on his track record, Mr Derek Robinson is not suitable for re-employment by the company. If tomorrow he applies as a new recruit in any of our plants the personnel director would want to know his track record and I think it would be highly unlikely that he would be hired.
“However, if in 10 years time he has had a better track record with some other company and he comes back to us, he might be taken on. If the union is not prepared to take a secret ballot then perhaps there might be some indication from the members at Longbridge as to their feelings how successful a strike call may or not be. I would be prepared to talk again to Mr Duffy, and I would be prepared to listen to Mr Duffy putting compromise prposals forward, but I have to say that he would be wasting his time,” Mr Horrocks said.
The Birmingham West district committee of the AUEW, which will reconvene tonight, was officially instructed, to “activate” the strike decision, shortly after a letter bearing Mr Horrock’s response was taken by hand to the union’s Peckham headquarters. The union’s executive expects the strike to begin on Tuesday or possibly Wednesday. District committee representatives are expected to meet more than 200 AUEW shop stewards at Longbridge on Monday. Mr Duffv maintained that he was confident the company would be disappointed in the belief that the strike would not be fully supported.
“They call us moderates, but we are not a load of chickens. We will take anyone on if we think we are right and we think we are right.” he said.
“If people think that by taking on one man they can ruin the power of the shop stewards’ movement, they are wrong.” Mr Duffy said he still hoped the company would reconsider its decision. It is clear that the executive would have been prepared to negotiate a compromise, under which Mr Robinson would have been reinstated as an employee but stripped of his convener status.
Mr Duffv said: “Our first priority has been to get him his job back and have him working in the trade “.
The matter had not,,however, been discussed with the company and such a compromise had now been pre-empted by Mr Horrocks’s statement ruling it out.