by DAVID WILSON, our Labour Correspondent
British Leyland could have survived without Government intervention but for one strike this month – the dispute at Standard Triumph in Coventry, which has stopped production for a month and made 10,000 idle. This argument is put forward by defenders of Lord Stokes, the chairman, who fought, but failed, to keep British Leyland in private hands.
They say that if Leyland had survived the winter, a batch of new models would have restored its finances in 1975. First on the market will be the ADO71, a replacement for the Austin 1800/2200; it is due out in April but could be earlier. Then there are two new sports cars, the Triumph Bullet and the Jaguar F-type, and a replacement for the Rover and Triumph 2000 saloons. There will also be facelifts for other Triumph saloons and an Allegro estate.
But the strike at Coventry proved too much for the company’s finances. Management said it was catastrophic. Some 800 assembly workers are out, demanding payment for the time they were laid off earlier, by a strike of white collar colleagues. Even union leaders have condemned the dispute, which has caused £17 million production losses.
‘It is totally unnecessary and counter-productive,’ Mr Bob Wright, of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, said yesterday.
Talks about long-term Government assistance preceded this dispute by several months, but it seems to have been the catalyst for Mr Tony Benn’s intervention. One bright spot is that 7,500 workers at the Cowley body plant have submitted a claim, strictly within the lines of the social contract. This means roughly £10 a week more, on the production rate of £49.80. Their settlement, due in February, usually is duplicated at the militant assembly plant, where the men want £16 a week more, on the other side of the the Oxford bypass.
Mr John Barber, Lord Stokes’s deputy chairman, yesterday failed to persuade the Spanish Government to authorise the sale of British Leyland’s Authi plant to General Motors for nearly £28 million. The Government wants it to be bought by a European consortium, at a lower price, and talks are to continue in Madrid next week.