By GILES SMITH
Lord Stokes, chairman of British Leyland Motor Corporation, yesterday launched his second major attack this year on industrial relations in the motor industry. As he spoke two unofficial disputes broke out at the company’s Longbridge plant. Addressing an extraordinary general meeting of shareholders in London Lord Stokes pleaded for “sanity” in industrial relations and warned shareholders and workers that the group’s profits were still at an “extremely low level”.
A group spokesman also disclosed yesterday that because of strikes within and outside the British Leyland group, nearly 100,000 cars, worth an estimated £80m., about 10 per cent of total annual production, had been lost this year. Lord Stokes’s speech was the first since his ” anarchy ” attack on industrial relations in February. Last month leaders of 15 manual unions rejected Leyland’s plan to set up a joint industrial relations council in a bid to improve deteriorating labour relations.
He describes the two years since the merger of Leyland and B.M.C. as being “even more difficult ” than he had warned at the time. And he made yet another plea for more sympathetic and “reasonable” help for the industry from the Government. Referring to his ” anarchy” speech, Lord Stokes said he had since been criticized in some quarters for being so outspoken.
“Since then I feel that my words have been more than fully justified. Although industrial relations in our own corporation have improved we have not been without trouble ourselves but in particular we have been plagued with the effects of strikes by outside suppliers of components. It does not require much imagination to visualize the tremendous additional cost burden imposed, and the loss of profits…
“We have lost valuable home and export markets and this has opened the door to a flood of foreign imports. Profits therefore instead of rising have continued at an extremely low level which affects our ability to invest the money necessary to keep us competitive in a fast moving industry……
“To keep bur factories going, we have been building cars without tyres, without glass, without windscreen wipers, without starting motors – storing them as far as possible undercover, then fitting the missing components at a later date.”
However, he was not despondent: “provided we can get some sanity back into industrial relations in this country”, he told shareholders.
“I must emphasize again that every opportunity lost to us overseas due to difficulty at home is snapped up by a foreign competitor, and very often lost for ever. Other countries have industrial problems. Unfortunately, our inflation is not always accompanied by increased productivity and no company or country for that matter can survive indefinitely these perpetual wildcat strikes which are ruining our possibilities of becoming internationally competitive, and which, whilst giving unprecedented wage inflation, will inevitably, because of increases in cost, reduce our true standard of living “.
Lord Stokes’s remarks at a meeting of more than 100 share- holders come at a time when the group is still having to produce cars without tyres, windows, and electrical equipment. This has been caused respectively by the Dunlop, Pilkington, and Lucas strikes of the early summer.
THE GUARDIAN quotes Lord Stokes as also saying:
“The future prosperity of the company, lies in the dedicated work it can expect from a hundred or so people who have to provide the drive, imagination and fire which is going to allow us to combat some of the almost insurmountable problems which are facing us today, both at home and overseas…
“When we agreed the Leyland/BMC merger, I said that we had several difficult years ahead. This has proved even truer than I thought. In spite of this we have made very considerable progress in our rationalisation and integration and we shall be announcing further details in the next few weeks.”