R. W. Shakespeare
Within 24 hours of a ballot at British Leyland’s Austin Morris car plant at Longbridge, Birmingham, in which 17,701 workers voted to accept a new pay deal and just 1,544 voted against, car production was brought to a standstill by unofficial strikes yesterday. The shutdown followed a walkout by two separate groups of workers, 300 men in the forge shop, and another 350 who handle body panels and body shells, protesting that the increases they will receive under the new pay agreement are too low.
This flare-up of fresh trouble at Longbridge, which meant the loss of more than £11m worth of car output yesterday, leaves British Leyland in an uncertain situation, as the Birmingham plant and others closed last night for the September week’s holiday in most of the car industry. The men involved in the strike are apparently objecting to the fact that in the two- stage pay deal, they will get only 85 per cent of the rises of £3 and £4.50 that will go to the main production workers. By November, when the second stage takes effect, the main production grade will be getting a basic rate of £55.50 a week, while the “semi-direct” workers will get just over £47 a week.
The strikers say this differential must go. During the shutdown yesterday 3,000 of the rest of the 20,000 workers at Longbridge had to be sent home. However, like the entire labour force at the plant, they are covered by a guaranteed shift agreement, and will in any event have to be paid for the full day. There was no night shift last night because of the holiday shutdown.