British Leyland has laid off nearly 4,000 workers at its Austin-Morris plant at Longbridge, Birmingham, and the car body works at Castle Bromwich because of a strike by 134 women machinists, who make seat covers. Production of Minis and 1800s is already badly disrupted and more lay-offs are likely. The women want an “increase without strings” in their piece-work rates but the management is insisting that any pay increase must be conditional on a change from the piecework system to fixed hourly rates.
This dispute is crucial for British Leyland, still trying to abolish piecework in all its plants. It is meeting stiff opposition in the Midlands where the piecework system has meant high wage rates.
British Leyland faces more serious trouble at its Bathgate truck and tractor plant in West Lothian, where production has been stopped by a strike of 3,000 workers. They are demanding a substantial, but unspecified pay increase and have turned down an offer bf £2. British Leyland also faces the prospect of further disruption at the Austin-Morris plant at Cowley, Oxford, and the five bus and truck division factories in Lancashire.
At these factories huge pay and conditions claims have been submitted as a result of the engineering unions’ decision to abandon their national pay claim and press for settlements on a plant-by-plant basis. The Cowley men want a basic £52 for a 35 hour working week.