From GEOFFREY CHARLES – Paris
British Leyland has had a “showdown” with its component supply companies. The recent series of strikes has cost the group about 4,000 cars a week in lost production, equal to a fifth of its potential sales. Executives of 1,000 component manufacturers have been called together to be told in no uncertain terms that if the strikes cannot be halted, and orders cannot be delivered on schedule, it will go elsewhere for its car components.
With some 500,000 employees working in the component factories the group’s decision can be interpreted almost as a direct threat to the unofficial strikers to support their companies 100 per cent or face permanent unemployment. In recent days there has been a series of four meetings in London at which directors of B.L.M.C. have held discussions with their component suppliers in groups of 250. Each meeting has been held in strict secrecy. Currently, British Leyland’s orders are outpacing its production, which has been hit by the strikes. Sir Donald Stokes, the chairman and his fellow directors have clearly decided the time has come for a firm stand to be taken.
Clifford Webb writes: The motor manufacturers began 1968 with high expectations. Devaluation had given them the edge on export prices they had sought for so long, particularly on the Continent to become sufficiently competitive to mount a real drive in the world’s fastest-growing car market. But right from the beginning of the year they have been hit by a disastrous series of strikes at the plants of key component suppliers.
The first to bring the industry to its knees was Automotive Products of Leamington, which supplies 90 per cent of the clutches and 50 per cent of the brakes. This dispute seriously affected production at a time when every effort was being made to meet booming export orders. Pressed Steel-Fisher. British Leyland’s huge body building subsidiary which supplies firms outside the group has been in continual trouble throughout the year, mainly because of attempts to simplify its very complicated wages structure.
B.M.C. is thought to have lost 100,000 orders for its best-selling 1300 model because of serious holdups in production, some of Which were due to strikes at foundries and other suppliers of parts for the new engine. The recent strike at Girling plants left half the industry short of brakes and caused wholesale shutdowns. Before that was settled trouble broke out at the Birmingham plants of Joseph Lucas, which supplies 90 per cent of the industries electrical components.
It was only settled yesterday. When Sir Donald Stokes visited Japan recently, the question of components supply was one of the key issues he discussed. Again, at the Commercial Motor Show in London last month, west German component suppliers were conspicuously present, stressing their ability to guarantee deliveries. Any. large-scale move by so large a motor group as British Leyland would entail a serious additional burden to Britain’s balance of trade quite apart from the problems it caused for British suppliers with no other obvious customers.
But there was still no move to settle the unofficial strike which has now cost the Rover company the production of 2,000 Land Rovers, worth about £2m. AEF chief for car talks Hugh Scanlon, president- of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers. has told Mrs. Castle. Minister for Employment and Productivity, that he will be at the next meeting to be held under her chairmanship to discuss industrial relations in the car industry.
This meeting of representatives of the motor manufacturers, the leading components firms, the Engineering Employers’ Federation and the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions has been arranged for next Monday at Mrs. Castle’s department in London. They hope to get down to making specific suggestions to establish more settled conditions within the industry.