By GEOFFREY WHITELEY, Northern Labour Correspondent
Shop stewards representing 16,000 British Leyland workers will decide today whether to call a strike that would halt the company’s bus and truck factories in London, the Midlands, Lancashire, and Scotland, in support of 700 employees who have been sitting-in at a BLMC heavy transmissions factory at Basingstoke for the last two months.
The sit-in is a protest against BLMC plans to sell the factory, which supplies transmission units for most of the company’s truck and bus range, to the Eaton Corporation of Ohio, USA, making more than 300 workers redundant in the process. The campaign at the Basingstoke plant, the former Thornycroft factory, now has the support of the powerful BLMC stewards combine, which last week threatened supporting strike action unless the dispute was settled by today.
The dispute, however, showed signs yesterday of producing a split between the stewards and their official union leaderships. After a meeting of the national executive of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, the president, Mr Hugh Scanlon, said it was felt that settlement terms, which emerged after 10 hours of negotiations last week, should be accepted by the Basingstoke workers. The shop stewards at the plant feel differently. They have already turned down the terms, and at a hurriedly called meeting on Sunday, attended by 320 of the Basingstoke employees, the proposals were overwhelmingly rejected.
The factory occupation committee’ composed mainly of stewards, was due to meet national union officials this morning before putting a recommendation before a full meeting of workers, but this was cancelled yesterday. National union officials will not now visit the plant until tomorrow, and a full workers meeting will probably follow.
But by that time the shop stewards committee from other truck and bus factories will have met to decide whether to take supporting action. Many BLMC workers at other factories could, in any case, be made idle because of the Basingstoke dispute. The loss of transmission units normally made at Basingstoke is causing production problems in some plants, mainly the former AEC factory at Hayes. Middlesex, where workers are likely to be laid off from this weekend.
Production schedules are being rearranged at the Leyland factories in Lancashire, and lay-offs have been avoided so far. British Leyland has offered to delay the handing-over of the plant to the Eaton Corporation until January, three months later than the originally agreed date. It has also promised each of the Basingstoke workers a lump-sum payment of £100, or four weeks pay, whichever is greater, to cover part of the period of the sit-in. But the dispute has now resolved itself into a conflict over the number of jobs which will be left at the factory, which originally employed 1,100.
New moves were made last night in another dispute which threatens to make another 5,000 workers idle at the Triumph car plant in Coventry, where 2,000 are already laid off. Disruption has been caused by a strike of 50 works security staff, who have been turning away lorries carrying components to the factory. Last night, however, the strikers union, the Transport and General Workers, said that the management had suggested talks about the pay dispute. Meetings will be held today.