By Business News Staff
Threats of unrest in the motor industry were growing yesterday with disputes at the British Leyland Group, Rootes’ plant at Linwood, and a subsidiary of Ford Motor at Ponders End. The entire British Leyland Group may be paralysed by strikes unless Sir Donald Stokes, vice-chairman and chief executive of the new motor giant, changes his mind and agrees to meet the executive of the newly formed joint trade union committee, which claims to represent every plant in the group.
At the close of a meeting in Birmingham yesterday, the 28-strong committee composed entirely of shop stewards and headed jointly by Eddie McGarry, chief convenor at Standard-Triumph and Dick Etheridge, chief convenor at Longbridge-issued this ultimatum to Sir Donald: ‘Meet us before our next committee meeting in three weeks’ time or take the consequences.’
And the consequences, according to Mr. McGarry, are ‘as strong as possible’.
He told me: ‘You can place your own interpretation on our meaning. The men are in an ugly, apprehensive mood after all this talk about redundancies and if necessary we shall use whatever weapons are available to us. But like Sir Donald we are not going to tip our hand before the time comes to play it.’
Sir Donald, who was on holiday abroad last night and was not available for comment, has repeatedly stressed that while there may be redundancies within the group they will not be on the massive scale quoted in some reports. It is understood he made this point at a private meeting last week with the B.M.C. shop stewards committee.
At that meeting he said there was a frank, sensible and constructive exchange of views. But in case Sir Donald is not swayed by the threat, the men are trying a second ploy. They intend to ask “Government sources ” to convene a meeting of both sides, including full time trade union officials. A suggested venue is a committee room at the House of Commons.
The men take the view that as the Government, operating through the I.R.C., prepared the way for the Leyland-B.M.H. merger with a £25m. loan, thev have a responsibility for seeing that the future of the new group is not blighted by a labour con- frontation. The meeting heard a report from shop stewards at Pressed Steel Fisher. Coventry, that there were already indications that Sir Donald intended to close the plant and make the entire labour force of 1.000 redundant.
It was reported that moves were already afoot to switch work from P.S.F. Coventry to P.S.F. Oxford, but despite repeated requests from trade union officials. Sir Donald had declined to meet representatives.from the plant. In the event of a continued refusal, the meeting decided that plants throughout the group should be asked to reject work transferred from another plant After Sir Donald’s confrontation with B.M.C. shop stewards last Thursday (some of them were at yesterday’s meeting) a joint statement was issued which gave the impression that Sir Donald had at least been able to allay their worst fears.
But it was clear that further examination of this explanation by the men has convinced them that it was only a holding operation, and the real axe will fall within the next two weeks with announcements of complete plant closures and major redundancies.