By CLIFFORD WEBB and GILES SMITH
Lord Stokes, chairman and managing director of British Leyland, yesterday spelt out the serious consequences of continued industrial disputes to the group’s 168,000 employees in 60 plants throughout Britain. Further pressure on the 8,500 strikers in Leyland’s Lancashire plants to go back to work came yesterday from the Government. In talks at the Department of Employment and Productivity in London, which tinally ended in deadlock, Roy Hattersley. Joint Under-Secretary at the D.E.P., told Hugh Scanlon. the engineers’ leader, and stewards from the plants in the strongest possible terms that the strikers should “go back into procedure”. so talks could resume. In his statement Lord Stokes said:
“The situation is becoming so serious that I felt I must warn all employees in all our companies in the group that we are putting at risk and into serious danger the continuity of future employment if we lose the confidence of our customers at home and overseas, and this is happening due to delays in delivery of finished vehicles. There is bound to be widespread unemployment and short time working, which brings to ruin the successful efforts which we have all made in the past few years.”
His statement-prominently displayed in group newspapers, went on to say that an unprecedented number of unofficial strikes in recent months had caused a dramatic drop in production of vehicles, spare parts and components.
” All this is particularly unfortunate at a time when British Levland is fighting the Americans and other international motor manufacturers for a reasonable share of the world market . If we lose the confidence of our customers at home and overseas – and this is happening because of delays in delivery of finished vehicles – there is bound to be widespread unemployment and short time working , which brings to ruin the successful efforts which we have all made in the past few years .
“At present the United Kingdom market for cars is very depressed – 90000 cars sold on the home market in March this year , compared with 130000 in the same month last year . This means that foreign car manufacturers are fighting us – the only major British firm – even more strongly for what sales are available . Design and quality have brought us reasonable success so far , but people will not wait indefinitely for our cars just because we have some sort of a dispute at a particular factory , when other types of cars are available,” Lord Stokes said.
He went on: “Overseas we have the best order book we have ever had in the history of the company, but here again people are getting fed up with having to wait for delivery of our cars, when they can have Japanese. German or American cars off the shelf.
You cannot expect either me or any of our overseas salesmen to keep on going round the world getting contracts for the supply of vehicles and components , and then finding that the home factories are unable to supply because of industrial disputes .
“I am merely stating the elementary facts of life , as it is my duty and responsibility to do . If we can keep the British Leyland factories going at full production with goodwill on the part of everybody , with all of us trying to resolve disputes , which we must inevitably have from time to time , amicably and without cessation of work ,with all of us co-operating to overcome the problems rather than magnify them , then I can see a rosy future for every one of us .
“The simple fact is that despite what politicians , the welfare state or anyone else may say , if you have not got any orders you cannot get paid and you cannot run your factory .”
After warning that British Leyland plants overseas will soon be running short of parts, Lord Stokes urged employees not to resort to unofficial disputes while their claims are being examined. The indications last night were that the three-week-old strike, which has now cost nearly £2m., half in exports, will continue. The London talks aimed at bringing the two sides together ended in deadlock after two and a half hours, without any significant progress being reported. Shop stewards said a recommendation to continue the strike was likely at today’s mass meeting, and Mr. Scanlon said a deci- sion on whether to declare the strike official would be taken next Tuesday.
Mr. Hattersley, who was standing in for Mrs. Barbara Castle, who is away, was trying to find a way of bringing the two sides together again after Monday’s breakdown in talks. The previous day he held talks with officials of the Engin- eering Employers’ Federation and Leyland. A statement issued by the shop stewards after the meeting accused British Leyland of breaking a verbal agreement to make no public statements, and claimed this would create greater determination for a written agreement before any return to work. Mr. Scanlon declined to com- ment, except to say the union was prepared to meet Leyland ” at any time “.