By R. W. Shakespeare
Production at British Leyland’s huge Austin-Morris car plant at Cowley, Oxford, continued yesterday and seems likely to do so again today in spite of a decision by 250 key engine tuners to resume their strike over a grading dispute. The strike vote at an early morning meeting yesterday was carried by 123 to 107 after a breakdown in talks between senior management and national union officials on Wednesday night.
It had seemed inevitable that if the tuners decided to strike again, over their claim to be reclassified as skilled workers, the 12,500 production workers would have to be laid off again as they were on Monday when the first walkout took place. However, British Leyland announced that it intended to keep the plant open because, as a management spokesman put it, “the majority of employees seem to want to work”.
This can only mean that production workers are ready to cooperate with the management to keep the assembly tracks moving. Yesterday the tuners decided not to meet again until next Thursday. However, in view of the narrow majority vote and that they appear to be under strong pressure from other workers, some earlier moves can now be expected. The tuners’ demand to be given skilled status would bring them no immediate pay increase, but in the current round of wage negotiations at Cowley union representatives are seeking to establish a skilled differential in addition to any increase in the main production grade which at present pays £51.20 for a 40-hour week.
British Leyland management has resisted the tuners’ demand because it says it wants to maintain a single production grade wage rate. The management clearly fears that any concession to the tuners would lead to similar claims from other groups Cowley produces about 1,000 cars a day and for the time being these will have to be stockpiled. Storage space is limited. Clearly the management’s hope is that if it keeps the plant in operation until tonight the weekend will provide a breathing space for yet another attempt to find a peace formula.