BY JULIAN KOSSOFF
SENIOR cabinet ministers and anxious union leaders last night appealed to the new head of BMW not to abandon the 14,000 workers at Rover’s Longbridge plant, Britain’s biggest car factory. Following the boardroom drama in which the German car conglomerate’s chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, the greatest supporter of keeping Longbridge open, resigned, Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, spoke to his replacement, Professor Joachim Milberg, yesterday.
He stressed the importance the Government attached to Rover and Longbridge, near Birmingham, backed by an offer of financial assistance to BMW to help modernise the plant – if the company keeps the plant open. Up to 50,000 jobs in the Midlands would be affected if the giant factory shut.
Worried union leaders are also pressing for an urgent meeting with the new chairman. Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, said it was essential that the “sword of Damocles” was taken away after damaging speculation about the future of Longbridge.
He said Dr Milberg had taken no part in the blood-letting which led up to the dramatic developments in Munich in which the deputy chairman, Wolfgang Reitzle, was also removed. Mr Reitzle viewed the loss-making Longbridge plant as no longer viable and was its main opponent on the BMW board.
Union leaders say they are cautiously optimistic about Dr Milberg’s appointment. He is seen as open-minded and they hope he will honour past BMW promises to invest in Rover. In a letter to Dr Milberg, Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, said: “You will be aware that events of recent days have caused great anxiety and uncertainty to everyone associated with the Rover car company in the UK, and especially the Longbridge plant. The challenge now is to restore stability and confidence in the company and its products.”