By Clifford Webb
British Leyland yesterday made the important breakthrough in its fight with the unions to end piece-work rates at Longbridge, near Birmingham, its biggest car plant. An immediate bonus was the ending of the strike by 130 women sewing machinists which has cost the company £6m worth of cars and put 4,000 people out of work. A mass meeting of 700 Longbridge shop stewards was held last Friday and resulted in a surprising about turn.
The stewards who had adamantly refused to discuss changes in the system of payment voted by 690 to 10 to open negotiations with management. The meeting was held under conditions of strict security and those present were warned not to talk under any circumstances. On Monday, however, Mr Moss Evans, secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union automotive group revealed the result of the vote after he had addressed shop stewards from most of the group’s factories at a meeting in Birmingham.
On Tuesday the Longbridge works committee under Mr Dick Etheridge, its chairman, took part in informal talks with management. This led directly to a peace formula which was accepted by the women yesterday afternoon. Last night there was some disagreement over the terms for a return to work.
Mr John Barker, a Midland official of the National Union of Vehicle Builders, which represents most of the women. said: “They got exactly what they asked for, piecework and all. But it is in the form of an interim settlement while negotiations take place between the company and the works committee for a plant wide agreement on a new wages system.”
A statement by the company made no mention of piecework being retained. It said: “Subject to a suitable factory agreement being recommended by the existing pieceworkers at Longbridge it is accepted that there will be a change from the piecework system of pay in the sewing room.”
In the meantime and until a detailed agreement is finalized the women sewing machinists will be paid a £25 lieu Payment for a 40-hour week. In spite of the agreement to open talks on the ending of piecework rates there still remains a considerable stumbling block. When a flat day rate was substituted for piecework at the company’s plant at Cowley. Oxford, a year ago it did not make provision for joint negotiations on changes in assembly line speed, manning and performance.
The TGWU has already warned its members at Longbridge that under no circumstances should this omission in the Cowley agreement be repeated at Longbridge.
Marina strike over:
Production was back to normal yesterday on the Morris Marina line at British Leyland’s Cowley assembly plant. About 1,200 men were sent home on Monday after four men who drive Marinas off the production line refused to move the cars outside the factory. The dispute- which cost £400,000 in lost production-started after heavy rain caused flooding.