By Clifford Webb
Midlands Industrial Correspondent
British’ Leyland car workers yesterday voted narrowly to take strike action over the company’s pay offer. A meeting of shop stewards on Monday will now decide whether to call an all-out stoppage.
BL Cars pointed out that fewer than half- the company’s plants had voted in favour of a strike. But a union leader emphasized that the largest. factories including Longbridge, where the Metro is made had rejected BL’s offer of a 6.8 per cent increase. Meetings of workers yesterday voted by 35,300 to 31,000 to take strike action. The final decision will have to await the outcome of Monday’s meeting of 300 senior shop stewards from all plants. They will decide whether there is sufficient shopfloor support to call an all-out strike. The system of voting adopted on Monday will be crucial. A free vote will almost certainly lead to a strike.
Only four days ago the same stewards voted, unanimously to recommend strike action but to await the result of yesterday’s voting. It was suggested last night that shop stewards should now vote in line with the result of individual plant meetings or in proportion to the members they represent. Mr Grenville Hawley, the national official of the Transport and General Workers Union, who will chair the meeting, said: “No decision has yet been made on the voting procedure to be adopted .It will have to be discussed with national officials of all the interested unions to reach an acceptable formula “:
A BL statement said: “Clearly this is a split vote in anyone’s language. Less than half the plants which have voted want industrial action (15 to 19) and when this represents over 30000 people, it is clear that a large proportion of our workforce do not wish to risk job security or the future of the company. We now await the outcome of the union meeting in Coventry on Monday morning to see if the unions feel they have any mandate for strike action.”
Overwhelming support for a strike at Longbridge (here the Metro, Mini and Allegro are made) and Cowley (Maxi, Ital and Princess), the biggest plants in the group employing more than 26,000 manual workers, led to speculation that if they decide to take unilateral action other plants will be forced to stop production. Shop stewards at both have said that they will accept the overall result but there are fears that the extent of the shopfloor support for a strike in their plants could force them to change their minds. Among the major plants which voted against a strike were Rover and Land-Rover at Solihull, two Rover feeder plants in Birmingham, and Jaguar Coventry and its Castle Bromwich body plant.
Mr Hawley, who leads the union side of BL Cars joint negotiating committee said: “The voting at the major plants is a complete rejection of the company’s offer and clearly shows the great resentment felt by our members. The paltry offer of 6.8 per cent coming after 5 per cent for each of the previous two years has poisoned the relationship between the shopfloor and management which made such progress in recent months.”
He said that even at this stage the unions hoped that management would come back with a better offer. “Nobody wants a strike at BL.”
Yesterday’s meeting of 10,000 Longbridge workers was a personal triumph for Mr Jack Adams, who replaced Mr Derek Robinson as convener, and chairman of the unofficial combined shop stewards’ committee after the company’s dismissal of Mr Robinson in February. Mr Adams said that since last autumn BL workers had lost purchasing power worth £26 a week. He accused the management of pursuing a “public showpiece policy” resulting from Government pressure.
The Metro was a magnificent car, made possible by workers co-operation, and their effort deserved something better than an insulting wage offer.