Archive Car strike ‘a catastrophe’

By Geoffrey Whitely

Strikers at the heart of the disputes which have stopped all output at the Triumph car plant in Coventry were warned yesterday that continuation of the stoppage could only add to the depression of the industry. All four major manufacturers have been forced to launch cost-cutting operations. The warning came from Mr Richard Perry, deputy managing director of the Rover-Triumph division of British Leyland, as production losses because of labour troubles at the Coventry plant approached £16 millions. Mr Perry described the effects as ” catastrophic.”

There has been no production at the factory for four weeks, firstly because of a striike over a pay dispute by a group of key white collar workers, and now because of a walk-out by 1,000 assembly workers. More than eight thousand other workers are idle in Coventry. Birmingham, and Liverpool. Mr Perry said: “In the present economic climate, it is well known that motor manufacturers in America, Europe, and Britain are suffering, and that lost sales at this time only jeopardise the security of employment.”

In normal times, he said, the Rover-Triumph division expected to capture about 8 per cent of the home car market. But with British sales depressed, the company was more dependent than ever on selling sports cars in America. Serious interference with production meant that confidence in the company’s ability to deliver on time was being undermined. It could result in lost orders. The management is unwilling to concede the demands of the 1,000 strikers who want an improved agreement on lay-off pay when they are unable to work because of disputes.

The strike, which one trade union official has described as “a war of attrition and likely to last indefinitely,” shows every, sign of becoming a major battle of principle. It could settle for good the question of lay-off pay for the 170,000 workers in British Leyland plants.

Existing agreements mean that employees unable to work cannot receive lay-off pay if the strike is in their own factory. Assembly workers at Triumph have protested that other people’s strikes have reduced their earnings over the past year from what should have been an average of £55 a week to between £36 and £38.

They have suggested that the agreement which disqualifies them from lay-off pay should not apply when the strike involves white-collar workers, as did the recent two-week dispute at Triumph. But the management, aware that any gains by employees would prompt immediate demands for similar treatment throughout British Leyland, said it was not prepared to change what it considers a highly important agreement.

Mr Perry said the management had reached the limit of what it could offer. To meet demands in full, it is thought, would cost about £400,000 a week in the Coventry plant alone.

Keith Adams

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