By Sidney Wiliams and James Beecroft
The writing was already scrawled in black paint on the walls round Leyland—”Parity with Midlands now !” Lord Stokes, boss of the British Leyland Motor Corporation, probably never read the signs as he drove into the Lancashire town on the morning of April 28 for the usual monthly meeting with management and union representatives .
The meeting, following the tradition of forty – three happy trouble-free years, was placid. Lord Stokes met Len Brindle, 33 , Leyland works convener and other union men, in the firm’s social club. They all shook hands and sat down for three hours to talk about factory affairs, and the only change requested by the union men involved more rubbish boxes for factory floors.
The vital question of equal pay with the company’s Midlands car workers was not discussed. Neither was the question of higher bonus payments at the Leyland factories. When Lord Stokes said goodbye and drove out of Leyland in the late afternoon, he had no idea that his happy ship was heading fast for the rocks.
That same afternoon Scottish born William Ferguson Deans, a miller in the machine shop at Leyland’s North Works, had refused to work on a gear-box assembly. He wanted a specific bonus for the job, which had not yet been assessed by the time and motion study men. If he worked on the gear box without knowing his bonus rate, his pay would suffer, he claimed. The following day Mr Deans was told to get on with the job or go home. He went home. And the rest of the shop—200 men went out with him in sympathy.
” It could have been anyone who did it,” said Mr. Deans at his home in St. Gerrards-road, Lostock Hall, a few miles from Leyland.
” I worked it out. If I did this new job without them fixing a rate, I was going to be out of pocket. I asked them to fix a price and pay me an average wage while they did it. They told me to go home, and the rest came out with me.”
Mr Deans, father of two young sons, says that after twenty-two strike-free years with the company, he can hardly be called a “militant.”
“This has been brewing up for a long time,” he said, referring to the major strike. ” But my decision to make a stand that day was my own. Although it hasn’t really been brought into the issue yet, the real trouble is the difference between our wages and those in our Midland factories.”
The Leyland men claim that the firm’s Midland workers earn an average of £30 a week compared with their £20. “Why should we earn £10 a week less for doing the same jobs ? I am lucky if I take home anything like £20 a week, and I have to work hard for it.”
But, he said, there were also disparities in the internal factory wage structure which had to be ironed out. Mr Deans told me about a meeting field three days before his walkout at the North Works when the men decided to press for parity with the Midland workers.
“But my case has nothing to do with that meeting,” he said.
“I was not put up by the men to be the first one out.”
In fact, details of this meeting of the North Works men were not made known to the management until the day after Lord Stokes left the works thinking that everything was running smoothly.
On April 30, convener Len Brindle met Ronald Ellis, managing director of the Leyland bus and truck division, and took up Mr Deans’s case. Mr Deans and the rest of the men went back to work that day. It was revealed to Mr. Ellis that ” feelings among the men were running high.”
The next day, Mr Brindle went back to the management and said that higher bonus payments were wanted, not only for Mr Deans, but also for many more Leyland men. The following day, Mr. Brindle took further proposals to the management. They involved a minimum wage of over £23 for about 3,500 machinists, and a guaranteed £18 10s. for newcomers. Women would receive the same bonus payments as men.
The management set up a committee to look into this claim which involved altering about 100,000 time rates on different jobs. A few days later, on May 9. Mr Brindle went back to the management and extended the claim further so that it involved all the 4,500 pieceworkers at Leyland. The company asked for a month to sort the matter out and the union men agreed that there was a lot of work involved in the claim.
On Wednesday, May 14, 6,000 workers decided at a mass meeting that it nothing was done to settle their pay claim quickly they would stop work from the following Monday. Two days later when the Leyland Motors factories closed down for the weekend, the number of people threatening to stop work had grown to 8,500, and a last ditch attempt to prevent a stoppage had begun.
Talks between the management and the shop stewards continued throughout the weekend at Leyland, but finally there was a breakdown. The strike started in five plants in Leyland and at neighbouring Chorley on the morning of Monday, May 19, with a picket line on duty—but there was no need for pickets. The stoppage was 100 per cent solid. By the end of the third week. when morale might have been expected to sag because the strike had still not been made official , the deadlock was as firm as ever. The company continued to insist there could be no resumption of negotiations until there was a return to work and the men kept to their demands that there must be a settlement before they would go back.
The vast majority of the men had never been on strike before but our U;showed clilks with some of them early that four factors contribute to their strength of will:
- Though they were worried about their holiday prospects this summer, and were hard-up, they were not in desperate financial straits—they had had one full week’s pay since the strike began and had been getting income tax rebates and social security benefits.
- They had been angered by a tough warning from Lord Stokes hinting that the strike was endangering their jobs.
- They had received offers of financial support from a number of car plants.
- But men buoyed up by an offer. lost or all, their morale had be from engineering union leader Hugh Scanlon ally in pe; invitation, to take part personice talks-
However , Mr. Scanlon’s attempt at a settlement at talks in London involving the Engineering Employers Federation, as well as Leyland bosses, ended in failure. And soon afterwards , the executive of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers, to which the bulk of the strikers belong, made the dispute official. This meant that strike pay at the rate of £3 10s. a week would be back-dated to the start of the stoppage, and the fact that they had the full support of the country’s second biggest union gave their hopes a terrific uplift.
The question of parity with Midland workers is the major issue. Last Thursday, 8,000 strikers voted unanimously to extend their claim to cover this, but they agreed to drop this demand until discussions had been held between union men. If they do go ahead for this equality, it can only mean a bitter tussle with Leyland management who would inevitably be faced with further demands for increases from the Midlands workers, to keep their differentials.
Len Brindle, the works convener, told strikers at a recent meeting that he had warned the management that they were ” on
a collision course.”
He said that he had noticed the deterioration in industrial relations in Leyland factories for the past five years. Colin Fishwick, AEF official who acts as deputy to Mr Brindle, spoke to us before Thursday’s meeting. In one sentence he accused Leyland of industrial dishonesty, chicanery and broken agreements.
“We can no longer trust them,” he said. ” This place has been a powder keg for months, and now it has blown up.”
We asked him for his views on the question of lost exports. He replied that he was just as concerned about the loss as Lord Stokes.
“But we do not think that only the workers should think about the national interest. Lord Stokes talked about the factories closing down if the strike went on. Was he acting in the national interest when he said that ? Well, now we’ve closed them down.”
The management man al the top of the bus and truck division, Ronald Ellis, has, so far, not become involved in a public discussion on the rights and wrongs of the dispute. But he does allow himself to say that he had no idea this matter was blowing up. He thought he was running a happy factory. And so, obviously did Lord Stokes of Leyland.
Today, with the strike entering its fifth week, there is no sign of a crack in the strikers’ determination. Their stubborn fight has been encouraged by militant shop stewards from Midlands car plants that are now part of the British Leyland empire. These men have described the Leyland claim as modest—and by the pay packet standards of the Midand car workers, it is modest. The majority of the strikers would probably recognise that the dream of parity with the Midland men could never be achieved in one go.
Lord Stokes, only a few years ago the contented boss of a successful Lancashire business that had grown from a small family concern to be the country’s biggest exporter of buses and trucks, will always have a soft spot for his Leyland factories. This is where he grew up. This is where he began as an engineering apprentice before World War II. This is where he first hit the headlines as a top industrialist.
But if he does not recognise it already, he will have to recognize sooner or later that the old place will never be the same again. For this strike assuredly marks the end of an era in Leyland. . . .
Adding up the cost in cash and orders
The strike which has paralysed the five factories at Leyland is costing £1,167,000 a week, half of which represents export orders.
It has also caused lay-offs in Glasgow, where Albion trucks are made, because Leyland supply some engines. The weekly cost there is £450,000—half of this in exports.
At Jaguars (where Leyland supply cylinder block castings for some engines), 160 cars a day are being lost—70 per cent, of them ordered by overseas customers, at a daily cost of £320,000.
Two big export orders for trucks have gone to foreign competitors because the strike has threatened delivery dates. A Danish firm switched its contract to a manufacturer in Sweden and a customer in Uruguay gave his order to a Spanish firm. They were worth a total of £58,000—” and we’ll lose more as the strike goes on,” predicts Mr Trevor Webster, deputy managing director of British Leyiand’s Overseas Division.
The car industry has had nearly ninety disputes since January, and every major manufacturer has been affected. The worst strike of the year so far was at Ford’s, where a three-week stoppage which began in February cost £34,000,000—half in exports. This represented 51,200 vehicles, including 41,000 cars, 6,800 trucks and vans and 3,400 tractors. Production lost in Europe through lack of spare parts and bodies from Britain cost £9,000,000.