Archive : Union inquiry on militant defuses crisis at BL

The executive of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers has backed away from a confrontation with British Leyland after reaching an interim agreement over the dismissed Longbridge shop steward. The union will conduct an inquiry into the case, which the company is not bound to abide by. The TGWU meets today to decide on continuing support for the stoppages. TGWU strike leader deplores pact
By Donald Macintyre

The executive of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers yesterday backed away from entering a confrontation with British Leyland in defence of Mr Derek Robinson, the dismissed Longbridge shop steward. The union instructed its Leyland members yesterday to return to work after reaching an interim agreement with the company which appears to leave management’s position fundamentally unchanged and the Transport and General Workers Union increasingly isolated in its more militant stance.

Under the formula, the company has agreed to pay Mr Robinson while three members of the executive carry out an inquiry into whether or not he was unfairly dismissed. Senior union officials said they did not expect the report for a few weeks. The AUEW executive’s deferral of a widely expected decision to make the dispute official, without winning any commitment from the company to abide by the findings of the inquiry, came three hours after the TGWU, amid confusion, had publicly declared the dispute official.

The finance and general purposes committee of the TGWU Midland regional committee will meet today to consider whether to continue backing for strikes in protest against the dismissal of Mr Robinson and official warnings to three other shop stewards.
Mr John Barker, chairman of the strike committee set up by the TGWU regional committee, said last night

“We can only deplore the action ( the AUEW decision). It has come as a complete bombshell. It was like the carpet being swept from under our feet. We were elated when we heard the news that our general secretary had made the dispute official. We could have closed Leyland immediately. Then Moss Evans phoned. He was very upset with what had happened. We view the action taken by the engineering union with disgust.”

It remains to be seen whether the TGWU can maintain support for protest strikes in the face of the AUEW decision and, as the company reported yesterday, a further drift back to work by several thousand employees. Sir Michael Edwardes, BL chairman, wvho has told the union he is willing to appear before the inquiry, said as he left the talks at the Stafford Hotel in St James’s Place, London: “We have not re-instated him (Mr Robinson). There has been a positive outcome to a long session of talks.”

Asked whether the company had modified its stance, he said  “That is a very wide question and I do not think you would expect me to answer it.”

Mr Terence Duffy, president of the AUEW, was jeered by a small group of pickets as he was ushered by police from the hotel. There were cries of “Scab” and “sell out” as Mr Duffy left. Mr Duffy said that if it found that Mr Robinson had been unfairly dismissed, his union had already made it clear to the company that it would “embark on an official strike “.

Mr Duffy, who had said at the weekend that he expected the dispute to be made official at the executive meeting yesterday, said after the talks:  “While Sir Michael is still insistent that Mr Robinson has not been reinstated, we are still insistent that he has not been dismissed. We have obtained a formula that will enable us to get the show back on the road.”

The remarkable turn of events started shortly after 11 am when the executive members adjourned their regular weekly meeting, eluded reporters, and drove across London from the union’s Peckham headquarters to the talks. Mr Mostyn Evans, general secretary of the TGWU, the biggest union in Leyland, to which two of the reprimanded shop stewards belong, had previously proposed a meeting involving general secretaries of all the unions in the company. After yesterdays talks with the AUEW, Mr Pat Lowry, group director of personnel, said that payment for Mr Robinson pending the union inquiry was not unusual.

“The union has not accepted the dismissal “, he said.

“We have not accepted the reinstatement, re-engagement or reemployment of Mr Robinson.”

The company said yesterday that 5,000 more men had drifted back in various plants, leaving a total out on strike of 17,000.

Keith Adams

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