By Clifford Webb
BL shop stewards took only one and half hours yesterday to accept a recommendation by union leaders that an all-out strike planned for next Tuesday should be called off.
Negotiations will reopen on Monday to secure improvements in the company incentive bonus scheme which is directly linked to productivity. However the 6.8 per cent basic, offer will not be improved. The last-minute reprieve will be seen as another victory for Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, and Mr Terence Duffy, president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. It was their seven hour meeting in London on Thursday, requested by Mr Duffy and attended by other union leaders, which produced the peace formula.
Mr Grenville Hawley national automotive officer of the Transport and General Workers’ Union who chaired the shop stewards’ meeting yesterday said-: “We have withdrawn the five days notice of strike action, but that only means we have postponed a strike in the hope that meaningful discussions will produce an improvement in the bonus incentive scheme. If our people are not happy with the result of further negotiations we can reinstate the strike.”
He denied that the decision to call off the strike was a climbdown by the unions and said he regarded it as a victory for commonsense. He did not think that the deciding factor had been Sir Michael’s warning that BL’s cashflow was so critically balanced that the company could be closed within two days of a big strike.
“I think our people were more concerned with the news that within three months substantial numbers of workers will be benefiting from the bonus scheme,” he said.
The intervention of Sir Michael and Mr Duffy upset some of the more militant stewards attending yesterday’s meeting in the works social club at Triumph Canley near Coventry. They complained that they had spent many long hours debating all the issues before voting for strike action only to see the matter being taken out of their hands.
The shop stewards of the Transport and General Workers Union said “What in God’s name is the use of having a formally constituted BL Cars negotiating body? We might just as well leave it to Edwardes and Duffy; At least my wife would see a lot more of me.”
But the overwhelming vote to call off the strike and the speed with which it was reached is an indication that most shop stewards welcomed the intervention. Last week the management said it was prepared to increase. the maximum possible bonus payments from £15 to £22.50 a week. Workers insisted, however, that in today’s depressed market production schedules were so low that talk of bonus payments was irrelevant.
Sir Michael told union leaders on Thursday that bonus payments were now rising as production schedules were increased.