By Clifford Webb – National union officials and shop stewards representing all 86,000 BL Cars’ manual workers yesterday called for an official strike beginning on April 8, the day the management intends to impose its pay and conditions package, which the unions have resisted for five months.
Senior stewards from all 36 plants are to meet next Wednesday to coordinate the strike. Mr Grenville Hawley, of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and leader of the 11 unions represented on BL Cars’ joint Negotiating Committee, said: “Sir Michael Edwardes took a gamble and we are prepared to call his bluff this time. We still hope there will not be a strike. But we are not going to run away from it any more. Sir Michael had forced the unions into a position from which there was no retreat.
We have come to the end of the road because we have nowhere to go ” ,he said, but a strike could be averted if Sir Michael was prepared to compromise. Mr Hawley was speaking at the end of a day long meeting of the union side of the joint committee, reinforced by some national officials.
It had been called to consider the unions’ reply to the letter sent by Mr Ray Horrocks, managing director of BL Cars, to all general secretaries. In it he said that after the breakdown of protracted negotiations, BL had no alternative but to put its pay offer into effect from April 8. Those not reporting for work then would be deemed to have broken their contracts. BL has offered a 5 per cent increase to most workers, with an extra 5 per cent for skilled craftsmen, but it is demanding acceptance of wide working changes.
Sir Michael has said that the new £275m Mini Metro will not go into full production at Longbridge until he has received a union commitment to a “fair” measure of improvement in working practices.
Mr Hawley said last night that the strike vote had not been unanimous. It is understood that among those voting against a strike were two representatives of the electricians’ union. The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers national executive indicated on Tuesday that it was reluctant to call a strike at BL because of the threat to jobs. Mr Kenneth Cure, Midlands member of the executive, said after yesterday’s meeting that his conveners would return to get the views of members on a strike, those views would he considered before the executive made a decision.
Jaguar shop stewards at Coventry yesterday called off a strike planned for next Monday after indecisive voting at two meetings of workers on Tuesday.
Production of the Mini was resumed last night after a two day strike by 30 trim shop workers who complained that sound-deadening material being fitted to the roof of the Mini was causing skin rashes. The management promised further safety checks.