British Leyland shop stewards voted yesterday to strike on Tuesday. The management said it found the decision inexplicable and told trade union negotiators that the 6.8 per cent pay offer could not be improved. Management stand by 6.8% offer
By Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Correspondent
The 250 senior shop stewards representing all BL’s British plants voted yesterday by a substantial majority for an all out strike from next Tuesday. They claimed that last Thursday’s mass meetings of workers had voted by nearly 2-1 for a strike against the company’s 6.8 per cent pay offer. Mr Grenville Hawley, a national officer of the Transport and General Workers’ Union who chaired yesterday’s meeting in Coventry said: “Our members voted by 41,642 to 23,052. This is a clear mandate for strike action.”
He admitted that there was a big discrepancy between those figures and those of the company which indicated only a small majority in favour of a strike. “The difference is the company took employment figures at plants and we took actual voting,” he said. night BL Cars’ senior management told union negotiators that there could be no improved pay offer.
They found the strike recommendation “inexplicable.” The company said it would ensure that all employees are given the same stark facts as those given to negotiators to judge for themselves the effect of a strike. The five-day strike notice was a shop stewards decision and there must be doubt whether it would be supported. At the start of yesterday’s shop stewards’ meeting Mr Ray Horrocks, chairman of BL Cars, made a surprise appearance and was invited to address the meeting.
He spoke of the serious cash flow difficulties facing BL in the present recession and appealed for understanding and co-operation by the workforce to make recovery possible. At least two more years of sacrifice lay ahead before BL could be profitable, be said. It was the warning of hard times ahead after 5 per cent deals over the past two years which apparently convinced many stewards that they had to make a stand now. According to Mr Hawley “they were really incensed by the prospects of low pay deals for another two years “.
It was the second time in 24 hours that management had intervened to try to persuade unions that a strike was in no one’s interest. On Sunday a senior management team led by Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, had met national union leaders in a London hotel. He urged them to use their influence to avoid “blowing us off course at a time when we are seeking government finance to ensure our future model programme and the jobs of your members “.
He is reported to have said that a strike could well mean government rejection. Reports of a split between the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW) were discounted by Mr Hawley. There had been no difference of opinion between himself and Mr Ken Cure, Midland executive member of the AUEW. Mr Cure said: “This is a clear mandate for strike action. But having said that I cannot prejudge the result of tomorrow’s meeting of my national executive. Any action on making the strike official or otherwise must be theirs.”
Mr Hawley said he still hoped that the company would be prepared to negotiate further.