By CLIFFORD WEBB,
Midland Industrial Correspondent
The long-awaited confrontation between Sir Donald Stokes. chief executive of British Leyland, and the powerful joint shop stewards committee which holds such sway in BLMC’s 12 main plants took place yesterday behind a tightly maintained security curtain.
Works police allowed no one to approach the exhibition hail during the two-hour meeting between Sir Donald and the 34 shop stewards. Reporters were turned away at the works gate. In a 20-minute speech Sir Donald made no attempt to gloss over the basic truths of merging the two groups. 1 understand that he told tlhe shop sftewards that there would be redundancies but on nothing like the massive scale quoted in some reports.
Afterwards he said: ‘I cannot discuss the contents of the meeting because this was confidential between the stewards and myself but I would like to say that I enjoyed the opportunity of having this first meeting at which there was a frank. sensible and constructive exchange of news on both sides.’
As expfected. Dick Etheridge, the veteran chief shop steward at Long- bridge, put the union’s case for the earliest possible consultation before redundancies were announced. He stressed that the continuing uncertainty about their future employment was affecting morale through. out the group. A no-punches-pulled question-and- answer session that followed must have made it abundantly clear to Sir Donald that, small or big, redundancies in BLMC plants would be fought tooth and nail.
In the middle of the Longbridge meeting news was brought in that 2.000 workmen – the whole of the day shift – had staged a one-hour token stoppage at another of the group’s Birmingham plants. They were protesting at the exclusion oi their shop stewards from the talks.
The walkout at Pressed Steel Fisher, Common Lane, involved the whole of the day shift. A spokesman for the shop stewards committee said they had asked to see Sir Donald because of increasingly persistent reports that the Common Lane plant would be one of the first to be closed as a result of the merger.
A Leyland spokesman said: ‘Today’s meeting was arranged some time ago and only related to BLMC shop stewards. Sir Donald will be meeting shop stewards at other factories in the group such, as this one as soon as possible.’
More than 3,000 men and women are employed at Common Lane on the production of body parts for Morris Minors, Travellers, vans and outside jobbing contracts. The Minor will soon celebrate its twentieth birthday and is clearly an early candidate for the axe in any comprehensive rationalization of British Leyland’s overloaded model range.