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Union chief echoes Longbridge closure threat

27 December 1980

BL management and strikers far apart as Acas launches peace move
By Paul Routledge
Labour Editor

BL's huge strike-bound carmaking plant at Longbridge, Birmingham, could . be closed with tacit government approval, an engineering union leader said last night. Talks aimed at resolving the nine-day assembly workers' stoppage are to be held in London on Monday but the two sides are far apart.

Letters of dismissal have been sent to 1,500 men involved in the strike over the dismissal eight employees for their alleged part in a disturbance at the plant when partly assembled vehicles were damaged. They have been told that unless they report for work normally on January 5 they will be deemed to have dismissed themselves.

Since the Transport and General Workers' Union, the main union involved, made the strike official three days ago, the Advisory, Conciliation and .Arbitration Service (Acas) has tried to bring the two sides together. To that purpose, Austin Morris management and national officials of the TGWU and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers will first be interviewed separately.

BL insisted last night that the company would not agree to the transport workers' demand for an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the original dismissals, including those of some shop stewards, and there are signs of a division on policy between the unions. The AUEW, which claims a sizable minority of the strikers, is urging its members to work normally so that the dispute can be put through the final stage of the company's internal grievance procedure to some other form of mediation.

But the TGWU has hardened its position by making the stoppage official. Mr Kenneth Cure, Midlands executive councillor for the AUEW, said last night that he took seriously a threat by Mr Harold Musgrove, chairman-of Austin Morris, that the Longbridge strike could close the company's mass production factories within days at a cost of 50,000 Jobs.

"The new style of management in the past few months has yet to be proved to be making false threats", Mr Cure said. "A continuation of the present situation could close down the operation."

He had never doubted the company's financial position, nor the need to continue production of Minis and Metros because the cash flow demanded it. "My own view is that there are some people in the Government who will be quite prepared to see Longbridge go", he said.

The Government did not want a "liberal approach" to industrial relations at Longbridge. Austin Morris management, certainly, is not ready to offer such an approach. Rejecting once again the transport workers' proposal for an independent inquiry last night, a spokesman said: "Management will not hand over disciplinary running to a third party. It is a case of facts, not opinion."

At Monday's Acas talks, the company is expected to urge TGWU officials to accept that the dispute should be dealt with by the grievance procedure; the expanded plant conference, with an Acas observer present to see fair play.

"We welcome the initiative and hope that with some new faces round the table. some good can come of it", the spokesman added. Mr Grenville Hawley, national automotive- group secretary of the TGWU, said, however: "We want an independent inquiry, what it consists of is something that needs to be decided."

He deplored "threats" to wind up the Austin Morris division adding "I am surprised at them making threats like that when people are trying to resolve the difficulty ".

A compromise designed to get both sides off the hook may be proposed by the engineering workers. Mr Cure hinted that a high level internal inquiry involving unions and management into the disturbance and dismissals would be satisfactory to the AUEW, but inter-union mistrust in the wake of the Derek Robinson affair could block that approach.

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