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Union calls Robinson strike, but decision left to all the workers by Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Correspondent

The engineering union last night called for an official strike at BL’s Longbridge plant to secure the reinstatement of Mr Derek Robinson, the dismissed shop stewards’ convener. But the strike call will have to be endorsed by a mass meeting of 17,000 manual workers at Longbridge, which will probably be held tomorrow. The decision to call a strike was taken at a two-hour meeting of the union’s Birmingham west district committee, which was addressed by Mr Robinson.

It was the second time the committee had met to consider the findings of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers’ inquiry into Mr Robinson’s dismissal. The inquiry recommended strike action, but it was postponed to give local officials time to assess the response of Longbridge workers.

At a press conference last night Mr Bert Benson, Birmingham west district secretary, said: “We have taken a lot of time to consider all the facts and the feelings of our members. We have had advice from all the shop stewards and from Mr Robinson himself. But the final word will rest with a mass meeting of members. If the meeting votes ‘No’ to a strike. that is the end of the Robinson affair.”

Mr William Jordan, the union’s senior official in the Midlands, said:  “Mr Robinson is a man of principle and he is on record as saying, ‘If I am rejected by my members I shall accept their will'”.

The surprise in last night’s decision was that the final word on a strike will not rest solely with members of Mr Robinson’s union. The mass meeting will be open to members of all unions employed at Longbridge. Questioned about that, Mr Jordan said it would be idle to think that the AUEW could sustain a strike on its own, although it had more than 6,000 members at the plant. There are still doubts, however, about the response of the. Longbridge labour force. More than 2,000 engineering union members have signed petitions, telephoned or written letters to the union’s Birmingham headquarters opposing strike action.

Committee members leaving the meeting last night admitted that there was not unanimous support, but insisted that if the strike was, announced as official and pickets introduced at the gates, few unionists would cross the picket lines.

Longbridge produces the Mini and Allegro, the only two of BL’s popularly priced cars which are still selling reasonably well. The plant also manufactures engines for the Maxi, Princess and Marina models, which are assembled at Cowley. These cars are heavily over-stocked, and extensive layoffs come into effect at Cowley from Friday week.

Keith Adams

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