Archive : Disputes in car plants may cause more shutdowns

Production at British Leyland’s Austin Morris plant at Longbridge, the largest in Britain, could be halted within the next 48 hours by a strike of 130 sewing machine operators. The women have rejected an offer of pay increases ranging from £7 to £10 a week because they claim that acceptance would mean “selling the men here down the line” on a new system of payment.

The 130 women, who prepare upholstery and interior trim for every car made at Longbridge, are askng for a 15 per cent increase in their piecework rates. The company has offered increases of up to 33 per cent but only as part of the new flat day rate system which it is trying to substitute for piecework throughout its factories. An official of the women’s union, the National Union of Vehicle Builders, said: “The future of standard day work at Longbridge is a matter for all the unions in the plant. We could not accept the offer in isolation.”

The first 30 women walked out last Friday and were joined by the rest on Tuesday. Upholstery and interior trim work has been at a standstill for two days. Last night the company declined to comment on the effect on car production but it is understood that a decision to stop the assembly lines is near.

With 16,000 men already on strike or laid off in the industry two important meetings of strikers were to take place today. At Triumph’s plant in Liverpool, 650 men who walked out a week ago over the dismissal of two men are to hold a meeting to consider the company’s refusal to reinstate them. A further 4,500 are laid off at Liverpool and Coventry and this severely limited car production which was possible for a few days ended last night.

A company spokesman said: “All car production will be at a standstill tomorrow and more men will have to be laid off although the total number involved may not be increased because we are re-calling some men to do ancillary work.”

The second strikers’ meeting is to be at Jaguar’s Coventry plant where more than 100 engine workers have been on strike for the past fortnight, with 2,500 men laid off.

At British Leyland’s lorry and tractor plant at Bathgate, West Lothian, 3,500 men, on strike since Friday were expected to hold a meeting today when they collected outstanding wages.

One man’s late arrival for a meeting led to a strike by ten others which halted production of the Morris Marina at the Austin Morris assembly plant at Cowley yesterday. The latecomer was a shop steward due to attend a meeting to discuss the grievance of ten inspectors over manning the paintshop. When the steward failed to arrive on time the inspectors stopped work and an hour later the assembly lines came to a standstill. The inspectors went home at lunchtime and hundreds of production workers were sent home later A company spokesman said they were prepared to discuss the men’s complaint when normal working was renewed.

Keith Adams

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