BL yesterday threatened 18,500 strikers with dismissal unless they resume work by next Wednesday. The move puts Sir Michael Edwardes, the chairman, into direct confrontation with the powerful Transport and General Workers’ Union, which he accused of taking BL Cars “to the very brink and beyond” without regard for thousands of jobs. There were no safe places in the group, he said. Some plants might not re-open
By Clifford Webb
Midlands Industrial Correspondent
Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman of BL, yesterday took the biggest gamble of his business life. In a move which brings him into direct confrontation with Britain’s biggest union he threatened to dismiss 18,500 strikers, almost all members of the Transport and General Workers Union, unless they return to work by next Wednesday. The union was attacked by BL for seeming prepared to take the company “to the very brink and beyond” without regard to the frightening effect this would have on many thousands of jobs. It gave a warning that some plants might never re-open.
The dismissal threat, coming on the eve of today’s planned meeting between company executives and the leaders of 11 manual unions, is clearly intended to impress them with the gravity of BL’s position and the need for urgent action, not another endless round of talks. BL spent five months in fruitless negotiations with the unions before it imposed its controversial pay and working conditions package eight days ago.
The numbers on strike have risen sharply since last Friday when Mr Mostyn Evans, leader of the TGWU, intervened to announce official backing for ” bush fire ” strikes against the management’s unilateral action. By last night a further 8,500 workers had been laid off, making a total of 27,000 idle.
MG sports cars yesterday joined the nine other BL models on which work is at a standstill. With key components plants picketed and transport union drivers refusing to cross the picket lines, it is only a matter of days before all car production is halted, putting more than 50,000 out of work. BL is in no shape to stand such heavy losses.
Last month Sir Michael revealed that only emergency cutbacks in production necessitating thousands of layoffs had averted a serious cash crisis: It is undoubtedly “the make or break” nature of the situation facing the company which has encouraged him to make such a potentially dangerous move. As one of his senior colleagues said: “He had no alternative. He could not stand by and see the company bleed to death, with its factories shut, no cars reaching the dealers and the work of two and a half years thrown down the drain. He had to make some move, no matter how desperate, to try to avert that.”
Sir Michael has wasted little time in taking up the transport union’s gauntlet. He returned from a visit to South Africa only two days ago. The ” work or be sacked” threat was contained in a letter which appeared on notice boards at all 36 car plants. It appeared under the signature of Mr Ray Horrocks, managing director of BL Cars, but clearly carried the full authority of the chairman and the seven-man BL main board, which met at Longbridge yesterday for its monthly meeting.
The statement said “strikes by some employees are threatening to stop all production in BL Cars. Many thousands of hourly paid employees who wish to continue working normally have already been laid off because of the actions of less than 20 per cent of BL Cars employees. We cannot allow the jobs of those of you who are willing to work to be put at risk by those who are on strike and you should know how serious the situation is. We are in no shape to recover intact from this or any other strike. At the very best it means that some plants may never re-open. Even those who appear to be secure may have to be reviewed. There are no safe places in the group.”
This latter warning is directed at transport union members employed at Land-Rover, Solihull; Jaguar, Coventry; and Sherpa vans, Birmingham. They were the first to take strike action, apparently in the belief that because they were producing vehicles against long order books their jobs were not in danger.
The statement continued: “This fact has been recognized by a number of unions who are supporting the company by urging their members to work normally. In contrast the TGWU in particular seems prepared to take BL Cars to the very brink and beyond without regard to the frightening effect this will have on many thousands of jobs. Those employees on strike threaten the jobs of everyone employed in BL Cars. We therefore have to say that unless those hourly paid employees on strike return to work by Wednesday, April 23 their employment will be regarded as terminated. This would mean they will not get back pay or bonuses and will not qualify for termination or redundancy payments of any kind…….The unions must realise there is no more money — we have come to the end of the road in negotiations .”
Birmingham automotive district committee of the TGWU, which claims to represent 40,000 workers in motor plants, has urged the union’s executive council to call out every member in BL if the dismissal threat is not withdrawn.