By Clifford Webb Midland Industrial Correspondent
British Leyland’s long-delayed hopes of ending piecework at Austin-Morris, Longbridge, rose last night when shop stewards surprisingly agreed to reopen negotiations broken off nearly two months ago. The 300 stewards representing all sections created a stir in the plant by also refusing to call for financial support for a strike due to begin tomorrow and recommending that it should be deferred.
The strike by 100 engine assemblers is viewed as a test case for the whole piecework issue. The engine men’s claim for higher piece-work prices had gone through the newly agreed disputes procedure without producing a single concession from the management. The way was clear for the men to take official strike action and they had given formal notice of their intention to do so beginning tomorrow.
In the meantime they asked the shop stewards’ committee to consider a factory levy to support them financially. Without this aid it now seems doubtful that the strike will take place. The stewards’ decision to reopen talks represents a considerable shift from the position they took up when rejecting the management’s offer of £44.20 rising to £50.25 over three years as part of a new flat rate system of working.
At that time the stewards said they would have nothing further to do with a new system and were only prepared to talk about more cash. Since then, however. the management has sounded out some 8000 manual workers in the plant and insists that the large majority want negotiations reopened. Management is also making in- creasing use of the success of a similar new pay deal at the adjoining Cofton Hackett Maxi engine works.
It has pointed out that 2000 production workers there are earning more over a full year than Longbridge piece workers whose earnings are continually cut by strikes. The Jaguar strike committee yesterday decided not to take advantage of weekly collections throughout British Leyland car factories. This move was proposed last week by the unofficial British Leyland combined shop stewards’ committee.
The Jaguar strikers are looking instead to local factories for financial help. Appeal leaflets are being printed and will be distributed by shop stewards. The committee also rejected a call from some of the 2,000 strikers to spread the strike, now in its eighth week-to other factories in the group. It is thought British Leyland has already lost between £2m and £3m profit as a result of the Jaguar strike.
The group’s total profits before taxation last year were £32.4m. Jaguars are its most expensive and profitable cars. So far 4,500 vehicles, worth £14m, have been lost because of the strike.