Archive : BL shop stewards win extra muscle


Leaders of 116,000 British Leyland car workers yesterday signed themselves into joint management of the State-financed company. After a formal ceremony in Coventry between senior management of Leyland Cars and a 32-man committee representing manual and white-collar workers, Mr Geoffrey Whalen, personnel director of the car company, said the three-tier participation structure discussed since August should operate by the end of next month.

Joint management committees at plant and divisional levels will be surmounted by a joint management council representing all the divisions. The str ucture, described by British Leyland as ” a significant and historic move towards active employee participation,” has, however , strengthened further the power of the shop stewards . Nominations for worker representatives on the new committees will be by stewards already elected by the shop floor , and their nominees will be drawn from their own numbers , not from rank-and-file workers. Only if more than one person is nominated for a department will there be a secret ballot of workers.

This method of appointing the worker representatives was one of the last hurdles to agreement on the participation scheme, first envisaged in the Ryder Report on British Leyland in April. The powerful , though unofficial , shop stewards combine resisted any suggestion that , nominations should be thrown open to all workers , and tthey emerged yesterday with this point firmly established.

Mr Whalen said that as machinery existed for electing shop stewards, the management had decided it would be wrong to set up a rival system for electing people to the new committees. Mr Eddie McGarry, chairman of the trade union side, compared the system with that used by governments. “Having been elected, a govemment does not go back to the voters to elect a cabinet. ” he said.

Mr McGarry made it clear that the workers spokesmen on the new committees would expect to review the participation scheme in a year’s time and to suggest improvements. They regarded the scheme as a continuing one that would be complementary to existing trade union activities in the fields of wage and conditions negotiations.

“Since public funds are involved it is our money as much as anyone else’s and our jobs more than anyone else’s. We have to make a success of this because if we fail it means we have lost our money and our jobs as well,” he said.

Mr Whalen felt that the company would benefit from the advice and views of workers , but it would be ” utterly wrong ” to expect the participation scheme to solve all of the company’s problems. “There is no doubt we shall still have our disagreements,” he said, although he made it clear that British Leyland hoped to see the decisions of the joint management improved and better supported because of the involvement of the workers.

Production was hit at two Leyland plants in the Midlands yesterday. Assembly of Allegros at Longbridge was stopped and more than 800 workers laid off because supplies from a Cheshire factory were not available. At Rover’s in Solihull, Rover 2200 production workers walked out after a disagreement with the management over the use of work study men.

Leyland’ s truck and tractor factory at Bathgate , West Lothian , where 2,000 production workers are on short time, was picketed yesterday by material expeditors who went on strike. The stoppage involves 22 men protesting about a workmate ‘s suspension following a decision not too cooperate with section leaders. The strikers claim their work was being done by section leaders.

Keith Adams
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