Page 5, 23rd November 1962

23rd November 1962
Page 5
Page 5, 23rd November 1962 — NEXT MOVE AT FORD'S
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Organisations: Shop Stewards' Committee

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NEXT MOVE AT FORD'S

NOW that the subversive wave of unofficial strikes at Dagenham may well have had its day, there is no reason why, with good will on both sides, good should not come out of evil. But. false moves by the management at this stage could inflame nonCommunist militants instead. Morale in the shops is low.

It is easy to sympathise with the Ford management's exasperation and the decision to adopt a showdown policy, though their ineptitude in human relations must take its share of the blame for the troubles of the past. But it is a great pity that the get-tough line should bring about a deterioration in relations with official union leaders.

This has undoubtedly occurred. There are none of those off-therecord talks going on which, in the long run, get the best results. Negotiations over the 70 men who were not to be re-employed have already reduced the figure to 40 (1 prophesied 35 some weeks ago). but the company is not yet out of the wood.

Certainly. if these men are troublemakers, the only thing to do is to get rid of them once and for all. But are they all guilty? Moral certainty, in the absence of concrete proof, will not redeem the union leader's pledge to his members to resist victimisation,

The Names

The difficulties arc enhanced by the fact that the offences allegedly committed may have occurred a year ago or more. The unions will ask: Why were the offenders not sacked at the time? And the reply: Because you would have made it too difficult. Moreover, although they can be out-voted, there are Communists on the negotiating committee, and many will sympathise with their insistence on strict standards of proof.

The forthcoming enquiry into the residuary 40 cases, one by one on their merits, may prove to be a long drawn out affair. But this is not all. Both sides now face the need for a total overhaul of the negotiating machinery at Fords, and I have already urged that this could best be done by TUC 'intervention,

Communication

As Fords do not belong to the engineering employers' federation. they deal direct with the various unions representing their own employees. This is also true of Vauxhalls. But, whereas Vauxhalls recognise only five unions, among which the AEU and the Vehicle Builders predominate, Fords have to deal with 22 unions, among which no single union is strong enough to take the lead.

There is a situation here cornparable to the one at London Air

port. Though four of the unions account for 80 per cent of the workers at Fords, these four, in common with the other 18, have only one vote each on the joint negotiating committee at Dagenham.

Moreover, they only meet three times a year, and the top level union leaders involved simply lack the time to give Dagenham proper attention. Mr. Cecil Hallett, for instance, is also general-secretary of the AEU. Mr. Harry Matthews has 44 other industries to think about.

Nor has the joint committee any power over the affiliated unions. They can only refer a complaint against an individual to the union he happens to belong to, and this union has to deal with the matter at The ehceo nwdh oo rl et 1 yi rsdt e hma ndcu. t normal means of communication between unions and their members. Union leaders have no machinery for meeting their own men, and the result is that unions and negotiating committee tend to cancel each other out.

Stewards

One remembers the strike of 400 electricians last year, when most of them were unaware that their differential claim had not been shelved, but had merely been given a lower priority on the agenda than a claim for a basic minimum wage affecting the whole working strength of the company.

The latter was far more urgent at the time because of a trade recession. In other words, conflicting claims put up by various unions led to a situation in which a minority "went it alone" at the expense of all men in all plants.

Another matter demanding urgent attention is the election of the shop stewards. The method varies at present from one Ford plant to another. In one, it is done by secret ballot, in another by a show of hands. One steward is found to represent members of seven unions; another only the members of his own union. This results in several stewards operating in one section.

What is needed is a uniform method of selecting shop stewards, with their respective areas and responsibilities clearly defined, and with each steward representing all the members in his own section, irrespective of their unions.

There should also be weekly halfhour meetings, on an informal basis, between shop stewards and the superintendents of their departments, and, on plant level, between the management and the Convener and Chairman of the Shop Stewards' Committee. This would give an excellent opportunity, in a relaxed atmosphere, for current grievances to be raised and quickly dealt with, and for the workers to put up ideas for improving production.




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