From Clifford Webb, Birmingham
On a bitterly cold, mist shrouded playing field, 12,000 BL Longbridge workers yesterday voted by 10-1 against a strike to secure the reinstatement of Mr Derek Robinson, the communist shop stewards’ leader who had urged them to disrupt the, recovery plan formulated by Sir Michael Edwardes BL chairman.
A delighted Sir Michael heard the news eight miles away in Birmingham, where he was about to address a meeting of 800 industrialists. He told them: “Uncertainty about the future of BL is one bf our biggest problems. But there was no uncertainty this morning about our Longbridge employees’ determination to stay at work. That news is going to spread like wild fire through the country and it will make a big difference to our “Buy British’ sales campaign.”
Before the Longbridge workers mass meeting a confident Mr Robinson had said he was happy to leave his future in the hands of his fellow workers. When a sea of hands ended his reign as the single most powerful shop steward in British industry he shook his head in disbelief. As he climbed from the back of a lorry serving as the platform for speakers he blamed the media for conducting a sustained campaign against him.
Surrounded by a few dozen grim-faced supporters who jostled reporters, he said: “Our members have made the wrong decision here today. They will live to regret it for the rest of their lives. In the fullness of time they might even seek to canonize me as a saint.”
He said he had no plans to seek another job and there must now be considerable doubt about his ability to find employment.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said.
“I have not thought about what I should do in the event of a rejection.”
However, he said he might seek election as a full-time union official, probably by contesting the Midland seat on the national executive at present held by Mr Ken Cure, a member of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers’ three man inquiry team which found that he had been wrongfully dismissed. It was apparent from the time workers began to gather in the natural amphitheatre provided by Cofton Park playing fields adjoining Longbridge, that the anti-Robinson feeling was not only widespread but, unusually for men holding moderate views, organized.
Several groups composed of 500 to 600 men carrying placards declaring “Out with Robbo” and “On your bike. Robbo ” packed tightly together The first speaker, Mr Bert Benson, secretary of the AUEW’s Birmingham West district committee which recommended strike action, was subjected to incessant booing. The same noisy disapproval greeted the other speakers: Mr John Barker, the Transport and General Workers’ Union full-time official responsible for Longbridge, Mr William Jordan, Midland divisional organizer of the AUEW and Mr Jack Adams, chairman of the Longbridge joint stewards’ committee.
Finally Mr Robinson moved to the microphone. He was greeted with a shower of missiles which included large rubber washers and a few smaller metal ones. They were thrown high into the air and landed harmlessly around him. When the voting was taken less than 1,000 of the estimated 12,000 to 14,000 present put their hands up for a strike. The counter-vote was- estimated by most observers to be a majority of at least 10-1.
Union acceptance: The AUEW is almost certain to accept the Longbridge decision not to strike over Mr Robinson’s dismissal (the Press Association reports). The union’s executive does not meet until next Tuesday but its president, Mr Terry Duffy, said he had no doubt that it would abide by the vote and rescind the previous strike call.