by Paul Routledge Labour Editor
The Government yesterday launched a move to get trade unionists fully involved in the financial rescue of British Leyland. At talks between Mr WedgWood Benn and leaders of the Confederation of shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, the Secretary of State for Industry put to the unions four points on which he wants their guidance and help.
The unions are to have preliminary discussions with Sir Don Ryder, the Government’s industrial adviser, before taking full soundings from all their British Leyland shop stewards at a meeting on February 3.
The four issues on which Mr Benn sought a trade union response are:
- Their analysis of reasons for the company’s difficulties.
- Their proposals for the future and views on the degree of public ownership of British Leyland that is desirable.
- How the workers could contribute to a better climate in the company through improved labour relations and ” industrial democracy “.
- How they would consult members to ensure that their proposals fully reflected members’ views.
Before the talks Mr Roy Sanderson, a national officer of the Electricans Union, proposed a 12-month moratorium on strikes by British Leyland workers. but his suggestion was not seriously taken up at the meeting.
Mr Robert Wright of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, said-‘ afterwards: “I think the workers themselves recognize the need to do everything possible to avoid industrial conflicts which cause further economic difficuilties”.
Hope of ending strike
Hope of an end to the strike by 250 tuners-and rectifiers at Britisb teyland’s Ausin Morris car plant at Cowlev, Oxford, which caused 12,000 production workers to be laid off yesterday, hang on an early morning meeting of the strikers today (our Business News Staff writes).
The management at Cowley decided,yesterday to recall all day-shift workers today so that they will be available if it becomes possible to resume production . The.dispute is over demands by the tuners and rectifiers to be brought into the top skilled grade. They are classified as production grade workers. Upgrading would bring them no immediate salary increase, but in a fresh round of pay talks now taking place at Cowley, the men’s union, the AUEW, is seeking to establish a differential for skilled workers.
MP reinforces warning: A Labour MP told British Leyland shop stewards yesterday that the Prime Minister’s outspoken criticism of strikes in car plants was a warning that if Leyland could not produce the cars it would not survive, whether publicly or privately owned (the Press Association reports). Mr Raymond Carter, MP for Birmingham, Northfield, was addressing 600 shop stewards at their annual meeting at the company’s plant at Longbridge. He said that Mr Wilson’s comments on Friday were directed primarily to Leyland’s plant at Cowley, “where no one but the blind or prejudiced could deny there has been an appalling record of disputes and lost production”.
The same criticism could not be directed at Longbridge and any solution to British Leyland’s troubles must involve an examination of why there was so big a difference between industrial relations at the two plants.
“Longbridge, unlike Cowley, has a long record of trade union organization. It is almost unique in having a workers’ committee that oversees the whole plant and in the past 10 years, with more enlightened management, relations have improved.”
Good industrial relations and strong trade unions went hand in hand. “They are not perfect at Longbridge, but they are light years ahead of Cowley.”
Mr Carter said the, most damaging forces in British Leyland were sloppy managers who could not deal with the trade unions or tried to undermine them; and those workers who, for selfish or destructive reasons, tried to undermine the organizations of which they claimed ‘to be a part.