By Angela Singer
A workforce of 360 men and one woman, Mrs Pat Harvey, work in the spanking new British Leyland paint shop at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham. The plant, made in Germany, cost £28 million when it was installed 14 months ago, and British Leyland plan to close it in two years. It was discussed bitterly at yesterdays Leyland workers protest march in London.
“The terrible thing is,” said Mr Mich Ruddy, a Castle Bromwich shop steward, “that nobody’s ever published the fact that it’s never worked properly. We’ve got a machine that’s supposed to produce 35 cars an hour and we’re producing 60 a day. We are able to do 2 1/2 hours work a day. They are blaming us for not being able to produce the Jaguar and the TR7 when the machine breaks down nearly every day with electrical faults.”
Mr Ruddy has worked for BL for nearly 20 years. He said the workforce was obviously depressed.
“We were building up to a nightshift, 150 men were recruited for it and they’re now standing against the wall without work. We first heard a month ago that Castle Bromwich was finished. Edwardes says he doesn’t like losers. The old plant was producing 1,600 cars a week.”
The mood on yesterdays march was grim. About 2,000 people walked virtually in silence with only sporadic bursts of “Edwardes out” and “what do we want ?—work”.
But the prevailling atmosphere reflected the certain misery of unemployment and poverty ahead. Mr Grenville Hawley, the National Secretary of the automotive group of the Transport and General Workers Union, told the brief rally at Hyde Park that Sir Keith Joseph, the industry secretary, had said he would need a lot of convincing before he would give even the balance of the money already promised.
Yesterdays march was organised by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions BL Emergency Committee. En route from Euston to Hyde Park a confederation statement was delivered to BL offices in Piccadilly. The police had refused permission for the march to stop.
The statement attacked the board’s 1980 Corporate Plan as “riddled with inconsistencies.” Why close Castle Bromwich after investing £28 million and Canley after spending Â£23 million ? Why close Park Royal with a three year order book, rather than solve the industrial relations problem ?
Mr Jim Pickard, the chairman of the works committee at Park Royal, who was marching yesterday said the closure was for spurious reasons.
“BL was not prepared to pay competitive wages.”
The confederation believes the present proposals mean the end of BL within five years. The demonstration was strongly opposed by Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, who wrote to Mr Tod Sullivan, the national secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union and supplied Mr Sullivan with enough printed copies of the letter to hand out on the march.
Sir Michael wrote that the march was symptomatic of the reluctance to face facts and be realistic about the ability of the British motor industry to survive.