By Gordon Wilkins
Labour troubles have forced British Leyland to withdraw its new car, the Triumph Dolomite from next months Motor Show in London. This was the only new model expected from a major manufacturer and it leaves new foreign models free to monopolise the limelight at a time when the industry is fighting against increasing competition at home and abroad.
It is a repeat of last years situation when labour disputes forced Triumph to withdraw its redesigned Spitfire Mk4 from the London show. The Spitfire eventually made its debut at the Turin show in November. A British Leyland executive said yesterday: “We haven’t even fixed a new date for the Dolomite. I certainly don’t think it will be at Turin.”
The company’s advertising campaign for the new car has been postponed indefinitely and urgent action had to be taken to withdraw details of the car from four million copies of the AA magazine Drive which was already at the printers. The decision came a few hours after the Triumph chairman and Chief Executive, Mr Bill Davis revealed that Triumph had not achieved acceptable levels of production at any time in the present financial year.
He warned workers that the firm would face extremely severe competition from new Japanese cars. Triumph has been hit by three disputes , in the past few days. internal drivers, members of the Transport and General Workers Union, refused to move cars from the assesmbly lines because of a manning dispute. Skilled toolroom. workers are operating an overtime ban and a policy of non co-operation as part of a campaign by the engineers union to prevent employers, ending the wartime Coventry toolroom agreement. Employers maintain that tbe agreement is a major cause of wage inflation.
Finally there is a dispute over piecework rates on the Dolomite. Under the piecework systern every new or modified model can start big claims for increased pay. Jaguar suffered heavily when production of the XJ6 was stopped for six months after it had been announced. Lord Stokes , Head of British Leyland , is now adamant that no new models will be announced until there are stocks available for for delivery. The piece-work system also discourages tbe introduction of necessary improvements.
One chief engineer in the Midlands told me some time ago: “I never improve a car if I can possibly avoid it. The unions destroy you as soon as you try to change anything.”
It was to eliminate haggling every, time a car is changed that British Leyland introduced measured day work at Cowley. The same system has been adopted at Rover and negotiations, are going on at Longbridge. But there are no plans yet for Triumph, which gained a reputation as pacemaker in wage demands in the post-war years. While British and Italian factories are crippled by labour disputes the Russians are making plans to bring the VAZ, their version of the Fiat 124, to the London Motor Show.