After three hours of informal discussion no basis for agreement was reached today on a trade union request to the Standard Motor Company to withdraw dismissal notices issued on Monday to their body shop men employed on their new Triumph Herald models.
The union request had been made in a telephone call to the firm. The talks between representatives of the management and union officials are to be resumed tomorrow. The 117 men involved were dismissed in a dispute over piecework rates. The company said that the men were demanding a rate which would have given them £40 to £50 a week.
Today the 117 reported to the factory but were told that they had no business on the premises. They then left in an orderly manner. They are to meet later tomorrow to hear a union report. Three unions are involved-the Transport and General Workers’Union, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and the National Union of Vehicle Builders. A spokesman for Standards said that production of the Herald would continue with an alternative supply of bodies they were receiving from Mulliners in Birmingham.
Mr A. Dick, managing director of Standards, tonight described the men’s rejection of the firm’s offer as a ‘pretty sore blow ‘to the company. ‘If you offer men £20 a week for day work and they turn it down, I do not think you can regret taking action on that aspect,’ he declared.
‘We were met here with an unusual set of circumstances, and we have taken an action which is perhaps unusual to apply, but you could say it is unusual for employers to offer £20 a week and for employees to turn it down. I think we have been more than reasonable in many ways. We pay pretty good wages to men who are prepared to give effort, and I would stake our reputation on the sort of money we pay for effort against anyone else in this country. The ultimate success of this motor car is going to depend on its price and the maintaining of that price, but this has cost us thousands of motor cars and a good deal of good will.’
Further Threat To Herald Car
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
In one of a series of strikes in car factories in the Birmingham area to-day there was a further threat to the production of the Triumph Herald car.
Twenty-four maintenance men at Mulliners Ltd., a car body firm which is a subsidiary of the Standard Motor Company, makers of the Herald, staged a 24-hour token strike as a protest against the breakdown in negotiations for a wage increase. This resulted in 300 other men being laid off and a complete closure of the Herald bodyline. There was also a holdup here of bodies for the dollar-earning TR3 sports car. The men, who are members of the Electrical Trades Union and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, earn an average of about £20 a week, excluding overtime. They made a claim for an additional 1s. an hour and talks broke down when the management offered 5d. an hour.
For the fourth time in less than a fortnight the British Motor Corporation’s body building subsidiary of Nuffield Metal Products at Birmingham was closed because of an unofficial strike. As 42 tool setters, whose strike on Monday had been settled, returned to work another 600 day workers stopped after a breakdown in their wage claim for an increase of 6d. an hour. These men included crane drivers, slingers, transport drivers and storekeepers. Most of the other 2,100 workers at the plant were sent home.
A third Birmingham strike was at the Rover Company’s factory at Solihull. Here 250 workers on the Landrover lines stopped work. This dispute is also over piecework prices.
Said the man in the Coventry street to me: ‘IT’S A DAMNED GOOD CAR, IT’S A DAMNED GOOD WAGE, WHY SHOULD MEN CUT THEIR THROATS?’
By Donald Gomery, Coventry
Naked steel girders stretched 60 feet towards a cloudless sky, marking the spot where the new £2,500,000 building, 1,000 feet in length will stand next April. It is for the new assembly lines for the Triumph Herald car. A Standard Motors executive points proudly to the vast area at Canley, Coventry, that the new factory will cover. There is pride right through this firm, pride in the revolutionary new car. Make no mistake of that. Behind the girders the present assembly lines throb busily.
But there is one building silent, the new bodv shop. Here, no one is working. Here, 115 men have been dismissed in the wage dispute after ‘the bosses patience had been exhausted.’But the 115 turned up for work yesterday, promptly at 7.30, although they had been given a week’s pay instead of notice. They were turned away. Out came Eddie McGarry, big and burly from Scotland, he is a works convener and prospective Socialist candidate for Burton. He told the 115 to meet at Transport House in the centre of the city. The sacked men have been warned not to speak to anyone outside the meeting. But one did speak to me with anger at the statement that the 115 had at one time been asking up to £50 a week.
‘We all volunteered for this job in the new body shop,’he said. ‘I was getting about £22 on piece work in the factory, but after I volunteered for this new job 1 went down to £17 10s. or £18. Where’s the £50 in that?’
Yes. he had a car. Yes, he was buying his house.
‘And yes, I’ve got four children.’
He went on: ‘The firm says we’ve been trying to set up a ‘favoured class of worker’. Where’s the favouritism in losing money? There should have been a works conference first before there was any suggestion of the men being sacked.’
Will there be a sympathy strike by Standard’s 10,000 workers on behalf of the 115? All day the discussions went on as the huge factory teetered on the edge of a walk-out. It is three years since the last walk-out at Standards, then the men all came out over automation, the bogey word of that time. Talk to any worker now:’Oh, automation is all right.’Down to Transport House went the 115. There sat Mr Douglas Fairbairn, district organiser of the Transport and General Workers Union, one of the three unions involved. He addressed the 115 men. Afterwards he said to me: ‘The company has gone off the rails in sacking these men.’
Reinstatement first, then a pay agreement is the demand. What would be a reasonable wage for the 115 men?
Said Mr Fairbairn: ‘About £23 a week.’
The meeting over, four works conveners sat over beer and shandy in the nearby pub. One was Bill Warman, with white singlet and peace dove badge, chairman of Canley Shop Stewards committee. He is also a member of the Communist Party Executive Committee. He was also a leading figure in the 1956 strike.
‘But I’m not directly concerned in this,’
he says. But he was there. Is there much Communism at Standards?
‘No, not really,’said his three companions, they are not Communists. Mr Warman did not comment. Dick Johnson, works convenor for the AEU drank his beer and said: ‘Someone always has to bring Communism into it. Look, in nine out of 10 disputes it’s the men who are blamed for taking unofficial action. But in this case it’s the firm which has taken unofficial action.’
Then he added, in very official language: ‘It is a necessary prerequisite to any discussion on piecework prices that these 115 men be reinstated.’
That £50 a week though. Back at the factory a spokesman of the firm said: ‘Oh yes it was true all right that the men were asking up to £50 a week at one time. The men may not have realised it, but the unions should have known. The nut of it is this. Assume that a job by reasonable, not sweated, effort takes an hour to do and assume that the firm is prepared to pay £20 a week. If the men say that the job takes two hours to do, what happens to the piecework wage? It goes straight up to £40 a week.
‘The body shop is the only place we’ve had any trouble over piece-work rates. Ours is a happy factory apart from this. When a new shop is set up like this one then it is a pretty easy job at first, with a very high wage. At first only one or two cars are turned out. naturally enough. But that effort has to be increased. Everyone understands that, and time brings more efficiency, not harder work. The trouble here is that the effort these men have been putting in is too low for what we pay, and they want negotiations on their present rate of effort. That is not good enough.’
What would be a reasonable wage for these 115 men?
‘£23 a week.’he said, which is the same figure that Mr Fairbairn suggested. Last word of the day came from Mr Alick Dick, managing director of Standards: ‘It’s a very sore blow to the directors to find that such a generous offer, a guaranteed minimum wage of £20 a week, was rejected out of hand. I would stake our reputation on the money we pay for effort against any employer in the country.’
But stop anyone in the streets of Coventry, and I stopped a dozen, and they all say something like this: ‘It’s a damned good car, it’s a damned good wage, why do men try to cut their own throats? ‘