More than 31,000 Leyland car workers were on strike or laid off last night in protest at the dismissal of the Longbridge unofficial shop stewards’ leader, Mr Derek Robinson. BL yesterday refused to reinstate Mr Robinson, and stewards called for a national ‘ day of action and demonstration’ by trade unionists on November 26. Trouble mounts with 31,000 idle
By Donald Macintyre and Clifford Webb
British Leyland plants throughout the country were asked last night to support 12,000 workers at Longbridge, Birmingham, who have walked out in support of their dismissed shop stewards’ leader, Mr Derek Robinson. The unofficial BL shop stewards committee at the plant called for a ” day of action and demonstration ” by the trade union and labour movement on November 26.
The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers’ executive will hold an emergency meeting this afternoon. Yesterday they failed to persuade senior company officials to reinstate Mr Robinson, who was dismissed on Monday for urging industrial action to prevent the company’s recovery plan going ahead.
Mr Terence Duffy, the AUEW president, last night called the meeting to consider the union’s next step in what its leaders see as the deepening crisis facing themselves and the company. More than 31,000 BL car workers at eight plants were on strike or laid off because of the dismissal. However, there are indications that Mr Robinson, the Communist chairman of the unofficial BL combined shop stewards’ committee, is not receiving the all-out support he had predicted.
Six thousand Jaguar workers returned after a token 24-hour stoppage, and 8,000 men who walked out at Rover Solihull, yesterday afternoon, said they would be back at work this morning. With the majority of BL Cars’ 90,000 labour force still at their benches, Mr Robinson and his colleagues’ on the executive of the shop stewards committee met in Birmingham to discuss developments. At a press conference afterwards, Mr Robinson seemed to be indicating a change in his strategy from urging an all-out strike aimed at paralysing the whole of BL to a more modified campaign concentrating on his own plant, where 12,000 of the 14,000 manual workers are on indefinite strike. Requests for support from other plants are being interpreted as a call for financial donations to enable the Longbridge strikers to prolong their stoppage.
The two AUEW executive members responsible for BL, Mr Kenneth Cure and Mr Gerald Russell, failed to persuade the company to lift the dismissal at a four-hour meeting with the company at the Hotel Russell in London. Official support for industrial action has not been ruled out, though a decision could await next Tuesday’s regular meeting of the executive. The two union officials gave a warning during their meeting with Mr Geoffrey Armstrong, personnel director of BL Cars, and his deputy, Mr Ronald Savage, that the company’s stance could jeopardize the trade union co-operation which has-been built up. BL refused, however, even to change the dismissal to a suspension pending continued national talks.
The dismissal of an influential communist like Mr Robinson poses the executive, which is in exclusively moderate hands, with a dilemma. While Mr Robinson’s views, including those in the pamphlet attacking BL’s reorganization plans which led to his dismissal, are sharply opposed to their own, executive members are anxious to show that as in the recent engineering dispute they are ready to resist employers when necessary.
Mr Cure said last night: “I hope the company will think very carefully about what we have told them.”
Union conveners representing Ford’s 59,000 workforce said that they fully supported Mr Robinson
“in upholding the democratic right to express and publish alternative proposals to those emanating from employers . Denying freedom of expression constitutes an overall censorship of a Fascist nature in this country “, they added.