It was always challenging working at ‘the Austin’, as many people still called it locally. It hadn’t built anything with an Austin badge for decades, but the epithet stuck – it was either that or ‘British Leyland’. Some folk never move on.
The Press, as usual, was always looking for the worst in what we did in the factory where Birmingham and Bromsgrove Council territories met, rarely the good that went on there. In the late 1970s, Honda, following its trawl around the world of motor manufacturers, had settled upon Longbridge as the seat of some of the greatest automotive thinking and innovation it had seen. Their observations, not mine. They chose to link with Longbridge.
The Mini for example, despite its many oddities of design and manufacture, became a firm favourite of rich and famous, as well as less well-heeled and ordinary, like my father. It has become a classic of its time, now milked for all its marque is worth by a brilliant German marketing machine. The factory’s cars, trucks and other products were exported the world over in the days when BOG standard meant ‘British or German’, implying an equivalence of technology or quality.
The media’s take on the end of Longbridge
Towards the end of the factory’s existence, such enormous progress was made in the realms of industrial relations that the prejudiced media would have had the greatest trouble in believing what they could have seen.
Most of it has gone on unreported as a result and this does not give credit to the thousands of ordinary working people toiling away there.
The evidence is all lost and gone under the new housing estate sprawled across what was once ‘the Aero Factory’, created with a higher roof at one side to accommodate the tailfins of aircraft assembled therein.
A take on Longbridge’s efficiencies
A short story, then to illustrate the point. As was and still is the drive for so-called efficiencies, the ever-present dead hand of the Accountants deemed that we needed to shed some labour down to a fictitious magic number, which, when reached, might just guarantee the future of the plant.
The chosen target of the bean-counters was the Logistics function. The aim was to reduce manpower at any cost. It was suggested that a contractor could come in and do the easy bit of merely moving parts from the stores to the line. They would also run the stores. After all, it’s only parts arriving and being put on shelves, isn’t it?
Bean-counters are great – they sit at desks, make up great ideas and then throw them over the fence to operational departments who have to face the consequences of whatever ridiculous concept has just been dropped on them, while the architects sit at their desks and know nothing of the pain or destruction they have just caused. Dolphins wouldn’t do that, which just goes to show how much smarter than humans they are.
A fine conclusion – but who reports it?
Anyway, the local Trade Union understood what the Company was trying to do and began to wonder if they might play a part, by being allowed to tender alongside the outside contractors for the work.
As Management, we saw no reason why not, as many of us knew what really went on day-to-day in the decks and stores of the plant and were well aware of the skills and knowledge of the current workforce and how they daily went beyond their contracted duties to see a good job done. What then transpired was an unofficial link between Union and Management, the former supplying the detail and the latter supplying the format and ‘wordsmithing’ to write up the proposal in the accepted manner.
The result was that we lost heads’, i.e., they were transferred to another function, and we met the required head-count figure, that factory continued in its own efficient way and the threat of green labour coming along messing up the smooth operation was avoided. Everybody happy. Targets met. Can’t see that being a subject for BBC Midlands Today – too much factual good news in the story.
There are many such stories from many of the thousands of people working at the plant, but who would want to listen now? If you have read this far, you obviously do… so thank you very much!
Dr. Ian S Pogson CEng FIET
- Opinion : Good news doesn’t travel fast in the British media - 25 November 2022
- I was there : Longbridge for the first time - 25 August 2022