By Paul Routledge and RW Shakespeare
Mr Terence Duffy, the engineering workers’ leader, last night attempted to preserve the fragile peace in British Leyland car plants after the emergence of a fresh strike threat.
He appealed to BL men not to follow the lead given yesterday by 9,000 workers at the Cowley, Oxford, plant in rejecting the state firm’s 6.8 per cent pay offer. A meeting at the Austin Morris plant there voted to give five-day strike notice. Mr Duffy, president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, said: “Any disruption of production at BL would be disastrous, not only for the company and its employees but for all the people who supply the nuts and bolts, and for the nation as a whole.”
He, asked for loyalty to union negotiators who had secured “the best deal possible when you look at the parlous state of the company”, and added: “We understand how, frustrated the workers feel, but to obtain good wages we must sell the products “.
In the Mini Metro, BL had a car that would sell well to, enable the workers to, obtain higher wages. “‘It is in their long-term interests that they accept that this is the best possible deal they can obtain at present.”
In contrast to the overwhelming vote at the big Cowley plant; about 540 workers at the BL Oxford Exhaust factory voted by more than three to one to accept the offer, as did 500 hourly-paid’ staff at the Land- Rover gearbox factory in Cardiff, There was a similar majority at the SU Carburettor factory in Birmingham, which employs about 600. The 17000 workers at BL’s largest plant, at Longbridge, vote next week. Shop stewards from all the BL plants meet at Canley, West Midlands, next Tuesday to consider the result of the meetings, including that of Longbridge.
Earlier this week national union officials and senior shop stewards who represent the 73,000 BL workers agreed reluctantly to recommend acceptance of the deal. Sir Michael. Edwardes, the BL chairman, has insisted that the pay offer could not be improved and gave a warning that a strike would lead to permanent closure of operations within days. After two days of talks with management union negotiators got no improvement in the 6.8 per cent offer and only a modest concession on bonus payments.