Archive : ‘We’re all losers’ is the shop floor reaction

By Paul Johnson

As thousands of shift workers streamed out of BL’s Longbridge plant last night little sympathy was expressed for the predicament of the sacked convenor, Mr Derek Robinson.  But if few pledged support for the communist convenor equally few expressed a desire to cross any official picket lines which might be mounted in an all out strike.

“We are all going to be losers in this one—the company, the workers an Robbo himself,” yelled one angry shopfloor worker emerging from the plant. Inside the huge factory the aerosol paint spray squads have already gone to work.

“Robbo is innocent, OK!” The legend adorns the lavatories opposite no. 3 engine shop.

While Derek Robinson is the man the graffitti artists love, the man they loathe. Sir Michael Edwardes, is pictured as “Mick the Knife” on unfavourable inscriptions and posters inside the plant. But there was plenty of evidence yesterday to suggest that those whose slogan is  “No Robbo — no Mini Metro” are in the minority. While those supporting Mr Robinson make their favour known in a somewhat anonymous way, the management are more open.

As they reported for work yesterday thousands of the labour force recieved another salvo in what has become BL’s propaganda war. They were handed an information sheet attributed only to “operations management”. It began : “It is being suggested that the AUEW report exonerates the actions of Mr Robinson and justifies his opposition to the recovery plan. This is not true.”

The statement then goes on to quote extracts from the enquiry teams findings — all critical of Mr Robinson. As far as much of the workforce was concerned such persuasion was unnecessary. Over the spam fritters and Swiss potatoes being served up in the canteen near the site of the new Mini assembly line, talk was of the shopfloor union chief. Most of the men there were scathing rather than sympathetic in their judgement on the man who has been convenor at the plant for five years.

A fitter who claimed to have worked at Longbridge for 22 years described Mr Robinson as “a man without remorse”. He went on : “If BL is going to get back on its feet then we have got to avoid disputes and try and push up production. Robinson just isn’t interested in that.”

Inside No. 4 paint shop most of the workers approached were vehemently anti-Robbo. Sevearl men claimed to be not at all interested in the AUEW enquiry or Sir Michaels response because “there is no way we are going on strike, whatever happens.”
On the Mini assembly lines men were clustered in groups having their lunch break while listening to the radio. Several sat in half completed cars eating their sandwiches. These men expressed a subtler view of the situation than their paint shop collegues.

According to one: “We are to blame. It was us who put Robinson where he is and we can’t abdicate responsibility now. If supporting the union is supporting Robinson, then we will have to do it, no matter what we feel about the man personally.”

“When it comes down to it,” said another, “we could be asked to cross an official picket line. Even those who hate Robbo would have second thoughts about doing so.”

Ray Horrocks is quoted as saying :
‘A strike will not change our decision . Right now on his track record , Mr Robinson is a person not suitable for employment by this company . Since he became the union convener three years ago we have had 523 industrial disputes at Longbridge at a cost of 113,000 engines and 62,000 cars ……….Austin Morris and other major parts of the car division will stop . All new investment will be halted . This does not mean that we will not introduce the new Metro Mini in October . But it could mean that we will be criticized once again for not having enough cars ready for customers .”

At Longbridge itself the mood was against a strike .
Assembly worker Daniel O’Mahoney , 34 year old father of three said : ‘People have made up their minds and 85 percent are against Robbo . We don’t want to lose any more money . I have got no intention of striking , even if there is an official stoppage .”

Trim shop worker Malcolm Tanner , 23 , said : ‘There has been no trouble since Robbo left three months ago . I think he is a troublemaker and I am sure most of the men feel the same .”

Keith Adams
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