By R. W. SHAKESPEARE, Northern Industrial Correspondent
An unofficial strike by about 8,500 production workers kept British Leyland’s five Lancashire factories idle for a second consecutive day yesterday. A management spokesman described the position as “deadlock” and said the company could not resume discussion of any kind until there was a return to work. Meanwhile, local representatives of Britain’s biggest engineering union, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers, to which the majority of the strikers belong, were appealing to their national leaders to give the stoppage official backing.
But at the weekly meeting of the union executive in London last night no decision was taken on whether to make the strike official. Arthur Hearsey. an executive council member, was instructed to seek an early meeting with British Leyland executives. The standstill, over a pay claim, is hitting British Leyland’s top export plants. The five factories , four at Leyland itself and one at nearby Chorley, house the company’s bus and commercial vehicle division, together with the diesel engines and spares workshops.
Between them they have total output worth Â£1m. a day, and some 60 per cent of that is sold abroad. They employ some 9,200 people so that the unofficial strike seems to be being supported by almost the entire shop floor labour force. Pickets were on duty at the factory gates yesterday morning but they stayed for only an hour when it was apparent that no production workers were prepared to enter the workshops or assembly lines. The stoppage is a tragic one for Leyland.
The vehicle factories on which the whole town depends have a remark-able record of trouble free labour relations and this is the first strike of any size for nearly 40 years. How has it come about ? The origins lie in the B.M.H./Leyland merger and the subsequent claim by workers in Lancashire plants for parity with the group’s Midland car workers. The claim which has brought things to a head is for higher piece work rates, a guaranteed wage of Â£23 13s. 4d. for skilled workers and a new basic of Â£18 10s. for new recruits and women workers.
Talks have been going on for several weeks. The management was prepared to continue negotiations but shop floor representatives accused the company of being unwilling to reach a reasonable settlement. They rejected both an offer from the management and the proposed timetable for its introduction. Attitudes have now hardened. The company accuses the strikers of being in breach of agreement. British Leyland is a member of the Engineering Employers’ Federation and therefore a party to national disputes procedure the so called York Agreement, and can rightly claim that any strike action is ” unconstitutional ” before this procedure is exhausted.
8500 Leyland Strikers Told – Go Back Before Talks
By CLIFFORD WEBB
British Leyland’s five commercial vehicle plants at Leyland and Chorley, Lancashire, were closed yesterday by a major strike-the first for 40 years-involving 8,500 men and women. The company said last night that ‘ it had lost about Â£200,000 worth of production yesterday, half of it for export.
It has warned the strikers that they must return to work before talks on their demand for Â£24 a week for skilled nmen and Â£18 1Os. for newcomers for a 40-hour week can continue. The stoppage was in breach of the works agreement and the company had shown itself willing to continue negotiations. Union officials claimed that younger executives brought in following the reorganization of the groups truck and bus division after the B M.H.-Leyland merger last year had adopted such a hard line in discussions with shop floor representatives that, as one put it last night, ” thev have gone a long way to-destroying the trust and understanding built up over many years”
He admitted that since the merger and closer ties with the former B.M.H. factories in the Midlands, Leyland members had been pressing for pay increases to bring them more into line with carworkers in Coventrv and Birmingham who were earning Â£5 to Â£10 a week more. Slogans chalked on walls at Leyland last night demanded “Parity with the Midlands “.
A kev factor behind this new militancy is the unofficial but extremelv powerful British Leyland Joint Trade Union Committee which was set up soon after the merger to coordinate the activities of shop stewards at the group’s 60 factories. It is dominated by two Midland convenors, Eddie McGarry of Standard-Triumph at Coventry and Dick Etheridge of the Austin- Morris division’s Longbridge plant, who sit as joint chairmen.
The Leyland strikers are also demanding an increase in piece- work rates and equal bonus rates for women. Last minute talks failed to persuade the men to withdraw their threat and the stoppage was almost 100 per cent, with pickets out at most of the four Levland works and at Chorley. Last year the group exported trucks and buses worth ?20m. and has orders worth many millions of pounds on its books.
Strike Hits Jaguar
Jaguar’s Coventry plant was hit by a lightning strike yesterday when two employees were suspended for two days for “defective workmanship”.
GO SLOW ENDS
Workers at Morris Motors, Cowley, ended their go-slow yesterday over disputed piecework prices on the Austin Maxi line.