by R. W. Shakesneare
British Leyland’s main Triumph car plant in Coventry was brought to a standstill yesterday within 24 hours of reopening, after a two-week shutdown because of a strike. Production was also badly hit at the company’s car assembly plant in Liverpool, and in all, nearly 9,000 workers are once more idle, either because they are directly involved in strike action or have been laid off. Already Triumph has lost more than £8m worth of output over the past two weeks, and it now faces the prospect of mounting losses at a rate of about £1m a day.
The present round of troubles in Triumph plants began with a strike by a small group of key control room workers in Coventry over pay and a stoppage by paint shop men in Liverpool over a manning grievance. The two disputes led to a shutdown of production with the lay-off of all workers in the two plants, together with a further 250 at the body pressing factory in Birmingham. On Monday, both groups of strikers agreed to resume work. pending further negotiations with the management on their respective demands.
When the Coventry plant reopened, however, the management was immediately faced with a claim by shopfloor workers who had been laid off during the shutdown for payment in full for the time they had lost. After a management promise of talks and a meeting of the men involved in the claim, there was a resumption of some car production on Monday, but yesterday morning 1000 assembly workers walked out and the remaining 7,000 had to be sent home.
In Liverpool, full production had not been resumed, because of the continuing effect of the internal dispute there and the earlier shutdown at Coventry, on which the Merseyside assembly line relies for vital components. Although the dispute involving paintshop workers now appears to have been settled, the new shutdown in Coventry may again lead to extensive lay-offs. In Liverpool, British Leyland’s difficulty about the claim by the Coventry workers is that it had a clearly defined agreement with the car unions about how its guaranteed lay-off pay arrangements operate.
This specifically excludes payment to workers who are made idle by a dispute within their plant. To abandon this principle would clearly make managements extremely vulnerable to “leap-frogging” pay demands within each plant, with militant groups being free to take strike action without exposing other workers to loss of earnings through lay-off.