By Clifford Webb
Midlands Industrial Correspondent
Militant shop stewards at British Leyland suffered another crushing defeat yesterday when mass meetings of workers rejected their recommendations to stay on strike and voted overwhelmingly to return to work.
By this morning nearly 14,000 of the 18,400 strikers will be back on duty. The sudden collapse came after the Transport and General Workers’ Union decision to withdraw official backing for walkouts last Thursday against the draft peace terms with BL.
It shows that the union’s intervention on April 11 was the deciding factor in the strike’s rapid worsening last week.
The great majority of those joining the strike after the first three days were clearly only displaying their loyalty to union policy. But the transport union is still smarting under what many of its officials and members consider to be the desertion of other unions in the face of determined action by Sir Michael Edwardes, the BL chairman. That resentment has been increased by the statement of Mr Mostyn Evans, TGWU general secretary, that his union would still support any members who rejected last Wednesday’s peace settlement, which was drawn up by 11 manual unions and the management.
Sixty transport union conveners and senior stewards from BL factories met at the union’s Midland headquarters in West Bromwich yesterday under the chairmanship of Mr Brian Mathers, the regional secretary. They passed a resolution condemning the settlement as unrealistic and said they would look to Mr Evan’s to carry out his pledge of support if there was a breakdown. To display their anger with other unions they voted to withdraw the transport union’s regional automotive group from the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions’ Midland activities.
They will also press for bigger representation on BL Cars’ joint negotiating committee, which is to be reorganized under the terms of the settlement. Finally, to strengthen the union’s hand in dealing with Midland motor companies, they are to re-establish the transport union’s Cars Council for region five, which comprises the 10 Midland counties. It has not functioned for the past seven years. It was set up to provide information for the National Cars Council fostered by Mr Jack Jones, the transport union’s former leader.
The main surprise yesterday was the almost unanimous vote for a return to work by 7,000 employees at Rover, Solihull. More than half of them, Land- Rover and Range Rover workers, were among the first to take strike action. it was largely because of their pressure that transport union leaders made the strike official. About 400 shop stewards met before the mass meeting and voted by 395 to 5 to reject the peace terms and continue the strike. But when that was put to the mass meeting it was rejected.