Page 3, 23rd September 1966

23rd September 1966
Page 3
Page 3, 23rd September 1966 — CARS AND CONSCIENCE

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Locations: Birmingham, Oxford


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By Hugh Kay

IN terms of tidiness you can -see BMC's

point of view. Car sales in August were down by a quarter throughout the industry. Forecast for BMC itself : a 100,000 drop on the home market during the forthcoming year.

British buyers are squeezed and frozen. Boosting exports calls for months of planning. Overheads continue with less return for the same outlay. Something has to go. Machines can't be sacked. Men can. Hence short-time working and redundancy.

Employers make the right noises: consultations with the unions and a promise that after November • 4 the reduced work force will return to full-time working.

The Vehicle Builders' union says: "No strikes, chaps: let's concentrate on getting you sonic nice new jobs." As the reluctant vote at the TUC this month revealed, many trade unionists back the Carron line: a recognition of • the need for an element of economic discipline, of the urgency of redeploying labour.

Those who oppose this view can be made to look irresponsible. They arc the shop stewards' committees, hotbeds of left-wing militancy. Frank Cousins, say the pundits, is obsessed with his own ideas about utopian productivity without the cold logic of the brake at any stage.

Traditional Catholic social teaching? Well, that says you ought to have work sharing in a shorter week with no redundancies. But chubby Mr. Gunter, oozing common sense, says that it just won't work. It's too expensive. Everyone will suffer in the long run. And Mr. Wilson's labour "shake-out" is an absolute must if export industries starved of skilled men are to have their needs met.

In all this to-ing and fro-ing the personal, human problem of the men directly affected by the upheaval is all too easily forgottenby left-wing planner and right-wing monopolist alike.

Position in Scotland

TAKE SCOTLAND, for instance, where nearly a thousand men are due to be dropped at BMC, Bathgate, and 500 more at Rootes of Linwood. The men who are going to get hurt are the very men who can stand it least.

These are developing areas. Rootes and BMC moved in to stem the tide of catastrophic unemployment. Scottish workers moved into the surrounding districts with new hope. They started up new homes, undertook hire purchase commitments. Now, under the last in, first out rule, they will be the ones to go. There is no question of redeployment here. There is no alternative industry in the locality. Their short service entitles them to minimal redundancy benefits. I' or the displaced workers the only answer is exile. that is, exile from Scotland. it is tragedy for them, and for the whole of Scotland, which for years has shared the highest unemployment rates with Wales and Northern Ireland.

The story is different in the Midlands. Here. one firm after another has a stack of unfilled vacancies. They are crying out for machine tool setters, fitters; machine tool operators. 'the skilled men displaced from BMC ought to be snapped upin a matter of days.

Even here, however, it will not be so easy for the semi-skilled and the unskilled to find new work, and in the Oxford area work at car industry rates of pay is scarce. A four-day week in a car plant is often worth more than

a five-day week elsewhere. ,

But, by and large, it is Scotland that will feel the biggest crunch. In the Midlands, the blow falls marginally, with only a few days' Unemployment, at least for skilled men. In Scotland it falls at the centre, with the prospect for hundreds of many long weeks on the dole.

From the BMC standpoint, could not some of its work at Birmingham, say, be moved to the north? From the Whitehall end. could not the whole of Scotland. as a developing area, be entirely relieved of the Selective Employment Tax? For them the services sector could receive some of the men displaced from the motor car trade.

Human suffering

II A CHRISTIAN SOLUTION is looked for, the first thing surely to say is that, given the need for overall redeployment and the specific cut-back at BMC, the changes must be made with the minimum of suffering for the individual human person and family man.

The motor car industry has always been one of the most turbulent from the point of view of labour relations. True, there has been a history of subversion. There has also been a history of impersonal attitudes on the employers' side.

It is an industry so much at the mercy of the ups and downs of economic fortune, at home and abroad. that even the hest paid workers have rarely known for sure whether their jobs would last another week. A strike or breakdown in a component-making firm, and bang goes the assembly plant.

In such circumstances, coupled with the monotony of much of the work, frayed nerves and the tension which insecurity alone can yield have contrived to create a situation pregnant with unofficial militancy. Yet improvements were clearly on the way.

Now the chopper

THE TROUBLE-SHOOTING Scamp inquiries were beginning to get to the roots of the trouble. Lay-offs due to the rise and fall of the economic graph have been much reduced. The export boom is on. Last year BMC produced 800,000 cars, nearly hall of them for foreign customers.

Now comes the chopper. If, in the next few weeks, there is what might he termed an irresponsible militancy at work, the human reasons are there for all to sec.

Now there are two points to be made. 1 he first is that the current troubles at BMC are part and parcel of a growing uneasiness throughout the country's labour force that democracy itself is at stake.

One minister after another has made speeches recently to indicate that the 12 months standstill is not going to end restrictions on pay pacts. As the Observer showed last Sunday. there seems to be a move afoot to put an end to the concept of free collective bargaining.

Even those who accept the reasoning behind the government's prices and incomes policy shrink from the thought that State intervention in employer-worker relationships is here to stay as a permanent principle.

Some of the hottest critics on this score include the white collar workers. like Mr. Clive Jenkins' ASSET. and Mr. Frank Cousinsmen who are normally thought of as convinced believers in Socialist planning.

But their concept of Socialism is essentially a democratic one. They are certainly not antiplanning. Many of them will favour the nationalisation of steel and the docks. if the Wilson government gets round to it. Men as disparate as Mr. Mikardo and the moderate Johnny Boyd of the AEU have put up brilliant blueprints for workers' control in an industrial democracy in the context of nationalisation.

State planning

WIIKI MANY A SANE trade unionist fears is that State planning may prove to be. not Socialist and democratic, but simply technocratic. monolithic and totalitarian. Arc we to adopt, as a left-wing friend of mine once put it. the vertical union system we have condemned in other countries, with unions under State control? A delicate balance has to be struck between the growing tendency to centralisation for efficiency's sake in the age of experts and specialists. and the need for the average man to play his full part as a human person in the shaping of policies and practice.

The must natural place for a working man to make his contribution is in his own firm and his own trade union, Hence the importance of the growing stress on experiments in industrial democracy. It must be remembered. too. that in Britain the working man does not respond to what is

imposed on him from the top. You have to encourage a groundswell, a movement from grassroots level, like the recent productivity pacts in the oil refineries, the shipyards and British Oxygen. After all, it was the rogue elephant of the union movement, the Boilermakers, whose leader Danny MeGarvey conceived the plan to strike the words strike and demarcation out of the dictionary. The sad truth is that it is pacts of this kind which have been most sorely hit by the freeze.

Moving expenses

THE SECOND AND LAST point is that, if redeployment of labour is essential, then the man who is temporarily out of work will he doing a social service for his country and should be paid on that basis. We are now to have wage-related unemployment benefits. But they will not bridge the gap between jobs to any human degree. Sometime, somehow, they have got to be, not wage-related, but wage equivalent.

if men are to be pulled up by the roots, trained for new skills not once but several times as technological processes repeatedly change the face c.)1industry; if they are to have the expense of moving their homes; if they will have to face weeks of training in centres of accelerated formation, then provision must he made well in advance.

Government training centres, statutory redundancy payments, resettlement grants and the rest-all are available at present to a minor degree. But planning began too late and too haphazardly. Government, industry and unions will have to join forces in planning dispositions of the labour force a couple of years ahead, and in building up funds that will ease the transitional process for the worker as far as is humanly feasible.

There will be an acute problem of housing, and there is a case for urging Whitehall to increase the supply of mortgage funds to local authorities on condition that priority is given to workers moving into the area.

Planning is scientific, indeed. It is also about people!

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