HOME NEWS By Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Correspondent
BL management will have to wait until Tuesday to learn whether 18.000 striking workers obey the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) recommendation to accept the company’s pay and conditions package and resume normal working. Senior shop stewards from many of the plants involved have been called to the union’s Midlands headquarters at West Bromwich on Monday morning to bear the terms of the settlement explained by Mr Brian Mathers regional secretary. The stewards in turn are expected to report to mass meetings later in the day or before work on Tuesday morning.
The picture yesterday was one of total confusion, with a few hundred workers drifting back, some pickets removed, but most strikers insisting that they would do nothing until they received formal notice from the union that it had withdrawn official backing for the dispute. There are fears that some of the more militant plants will stay out, if only for a few days longer, to demonstrate their disgust at what some shop stewards have described as “a sell-out ” by Mr Mostyn (Moss) Evans, general secretary of the TGWU. Company sources pointed out last night, however, that under the terms of the settlement the company could reinstate its threat to dismiss strikers if they do not report for work on Wednesday.
The actual wording is: “Subject to such resumption of normal working the company undertakes not to proceed with the action announced on April 16.”
If groups of workers choose not to resume normal working it is understood that the company considers itself free to proceed with dismissals. The strongest opposition yesterday came from shop stewards at Land-Rover, Solihull, and Jaguar, Coventry, who were among the first to strike. Jaguar could prove to be the most difficult to settle. The issue there is complicated by a local matter deeply resented by about a third of the workforce. Jaguar assembly line workers have traditionally been among the highest paid in the industry because, it was asserted, they had to possess more skill than their opposite numbers assembling less costly and less complicated cars.
The new pay deal, based on five grades, demotes them from grade 5 to grade 3 to bring them into line with all other BL assembly workers. Sir Michael. Edwardes’s gamble in threatening to dismiss the strikers is now seen in a different light by industrial relations executives at other companies. On Wednesday, some of them predicted that he had “gone too far this time “. Last night they admitted that without the dismissal ultimatum BL’s negotiators have gone empty-handed into Thursday’s meeting with union general secretaries. Its withdrawal enabled them to make a face-saving concession to union leaders without compromising the crucial 5 per cent to 10 per cent pay and working conditions package.
The other “concession “, the 10-day cooling off period before implementing important changes affecting employees, only formally acknowledges something the company had already intimated in private to union leaders.
Production of the Mini resumed at Longbridge yesterday after the lifting of pickets at a warehouse holding buffer stocks of body panels produced at the strike-bound Castle Bromwich plant. It is hoped that MG sports car assembly will resume at Abingdon on Monday, after the removal of pickets at the Drews Lane, Birmingham, axle plant. A mass meeting yesterday of workers on strike at the Swindon body plant voted by a small majority to stay out and to meet again on Tuesday, by which time it was hoped that the transport union’s position would be clearer. Yesterday’s meeting had been arranged before Thursday’s peace formula was known and the decision to stay out is not significant.
The first good news for BL yesterday was the restart of Mini production at Longbridge , Birmingham , and the removal of pickets from the cities key Drews lane components factory . As a result , vital transmission were released for the Princess , Maxi and Marina lines at Cowley , Oxford , which might have otherwise have been brought to a standstill.
By Terry Pattinson
Five thousand men at Leyland’s truck and tractor works in Bathgate yesterday accepted a 14 per cent pay rise backdated to January.