HOME NEWS. By Clifford Webb
A meeting of 2,400 workers at British Leyland’s Jaguar assembly plant in Coventry yesterday voted by a majority of 286 to strike in protest at the management’s plans to impose its pay and working conditions package from April 8.
Later about 1,000 night-shift workers voted by a substantial majority against strike action. It is understood that the combined day and night-shift voting resulted in a majority in favour of strike action of less than one hundred. As a result shop stewards at the plant are expected to tell management today that they do not consider that is a mandate for an all-out strike. The small majority was a blow to militants who had hoped that overwhelming support for a strike would influence the outcome of today’s crucial meeting of national union leaders and shop stewards on BL Cars joint negotiating committee.
The reported anger of Jaguar employees at plans to downgrade assembly workers had seemed to support that hope. But the narrow decision only reaffirmed recent evidence that increasing numbers of BL workers now realize that a sustained strike could wreck the company’s recovery plans and lead to more job losses. The earlier meeting began quietly with a recommendation for a strike from the close of work on Friday night being put by Mr Ronald Newcombe, chairman of the joint shop stewards’ committee.
He emphasized that the main concern was the proposed implementation of the new five-grade wage structure for the whole of BL Cars. That would reduce assembly workers at Jaguar from their present top-grade position, in future to be reserved only for skilled craftsmen, to grades two and three. When the vote was called for on a show of hands Mr Newcombe announced: “That looks pretty unanimous for strike action.”
His words were drowned by a roar of protest. There were repeated shouts of “rubbish ” and ” it’s a fix” After consultations with other stewards, Mr Newcombe asked the meeting to split into two groups, those for and those against, the recommendation. That again failed to show a clear majority and finally the two sides filed through seperate gates and were counted.
Later men complained that one union had boycotted the meeting, and that several hundred workers from other unions had stayed away. Men at a second Jaguar plant, the Radford engine works, which employs 3,100, have still to consider their response to the strike call.
It was generally thought last night that an all-out strike will be avoided but that strikes at key plants could take place. That would be almost as damaging.
Management is reported to have offered to bring in other materials to settle the strike by 30 trim shop workers that has stopped production of the Mini at Longbridge. The men are complaining that a new type of roof material causes irritating skin rashes.