By Clifford Webb Midlands
Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman of BL, has won yet another round in the battle with union militants. All 14 car plants due to return to work yesterday after their Easter holidays ignored strike calls. Of the 22 plants due to return only three expected trouble.
Management had warned the 86,000 manual workers that those reporting for work would be deemed to have accepted the 5 to 10 per cent pay offer and radical changes in working practices which the 11 manual unions have resisted for more than five months. The latest to defy their shop stewards were-5,000 workers at the big Cowley body plant. They were called to a mass meeting to hear a recommendation for an immediate strike. Although all are members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union which has led the fight against the company’s proposals, the meeting voted by a substantial majority to resume work immediately.
A similar decision was taken yesterday by 650 workers at Oxford Exhausts, a BL component factory. Men at the adjoining Cowley assembly plant, MG Abingdon, and Swindon body plant rejected strike action last week. Shop stewards at Longbridge, BL’s biggest. car plant, chose not to put the issue to a mass meeting, although Mr Jack Adams, the TGWU shop steward who succeeded the. dismissed Mr Derek Robinson as works convener, has been a leading figure in the opposition campaign. Longbridge workers are expected to report for work as usual today.
This is particularly good news for Sir Michael, who is pinning the company’s recovery hopes on the successfull launch of the £275m Mini Metro car, which goes into production there in about seven weeks.
About 4,000 men are expected to obey the strike call today. The majority, about 2,500 are TGWU members engaged in Land-Rover and Range Rover assembly at Solihull. The remainder are employed at Jaguar Coventry and Austin Morris, Common Lane, Birmingham. The picture at Jaguar was confused last night, with some shop stewards claiming that more than 1,500 men would not report this morning. This is less than a quarter of the labour force but sufficient to halt Jaguar factories within days. Despite their failure to muster an all out strike the militants are regrouping for the next round.
They insist that will come when management tries to implement the new working practices. But a management source said last night: “We shall not go in like a bull in a china shop. First we shall get the computer cracking on the back pay due to the men since November 1, plus stage three of the parity payments due to some plants, and the productivity bonuses which 14 of the 36 car plants are already earning and would have been paid but for the protracted negotiations.
That will take about a fortnight. The plant managers will begin a tactful communications exercise to put the proposed working changes to the men in terms which explain quite clearly why they are imperative if BL is to be saved – In recent months employees have shown that they are ready to respond to such an approach.”