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International Socialism, October 1977


Dave Lyddon

British Leyland:
The Shop Stewards and Participation


From International Socialism (1st series), No.102, October 1977, pp.20-26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


British Leyland has been in crisis since its formation. In the last two years, since the firm was taken over by the government under the Ryder report (1975), the threat of cutting off state funds has been used to bludgeon the workforce into submission. In their attempts to reorganise British Leyland, the Labour government and management have received the co-operation of a number of leading shop stewards, including members of the Communist Party, within the Ryder report’s scheme of ‘workers’ participation’. The result has been the opposition of senior stewards to the toolmakers’ strike earlier this year, and the fiascos of the April 20 strike against the Social Contract and the Longbridge strike vote in August 1977. In this article DAVE LYDDON analyses the forces at work in British Leyland

Seven years ago Tony Cliff wrote, ‘The aim of the employers’ strategy ... is to destroy workplace organisation.’ [1] That is still the strategy. But the tactics have altered somewhat. On their own, anti-union laws, incomes policies, unemployment and productivity deals have not succeeded in destroying shop floor organisation. It has been weakened but not critically.

In Leyland the change from piecework to measured day work [2] did weaken the role of the shop steward, as it was intended to do. But stewards found other issues – albeit defensive ones – to fight on; for example, manning levels, mobility of labour, lay-off pay.

To get MDW accepted in the first place, Leyland ‘had to agree to manning levels which were often excessive’ says the Ryder Report. [3] And the CPRS (Think-Tank) report on the British car industry complains about ‘overmanning’, ‘slow work pace’, and ‘failure of the workforce to accept established grievance procedures’.

For example, on mobility:

‘All British car plants have standard procedures for transferring men between jobs to overcome sickness or absenteeism, but in every British car plant we have visited there are continual disputes over transfers.’

The employers’ latest answer to the ‘problem’ is to battle for workers’ minds.

‘A senior shop steward remarked to us that what will decide the future of the car industry is attitudes not investment. The CPRS is convinced that this is right.’

The report goes on,

‘Productivity will not improve unless there is a willingness to accept new manning levels and work practices.’

‘Shop stewards must recognise that in the short run excess manning may preserve the jobs Of a few, but in the long run it threatens the jobs of everyone in the plant; and they must bring home to those they represent that disputes which stop the line for short periods are cumulatively just as serious as major disputes over wages.’ [4]

The ‘workers’ participation’ scheme introduced at Leyland is aimed at changing ‘attitudes’ by incorporating shop stewards into the management structure. It is possibly the most dangerous tactic in the employers’ strategy. So far its main effect has been at senior steward level. This article will look at the special position of senior stewards [5] and see how participation has helped create an ‘elite’ among the shop stewards in Leyland. The institution of shop stewards is profoundly democratic. They are the direct representatives of the workers. They are elected regularly. They can be removed by a vote of no confidence at any time. They are paid the same wage as those they represent. They have no special privileges.

One writer contrasts them with MPs.

‘The shop steward ... did not, once elected, pack his bags and move of to carry out his representational duties in an institution alien to the experiences of his constituents. Neither was his constituency so large that he could remain personally anonymous to the overwhelming majority of his electors ... The steward spent the bulk of his time at work alongside those who had elected him. He was highly visible, subject to the same experiences at work as his comrades.’ [6]

But this description cannot apply to that increasing number of stewards who spend their working week exclusively on union business. The existence of such full-time stewards was first noted during the first world war. [7] But it is essentially a phenomenon of the last 20 years.

In the larger factories there are probably now half a dozen senior stewards and convenors who don’t even have a nominal job but who are provided by management with an office and telephone and are paid to be full-time union representatives in the factory. (Below them, departmental senior stewards and chairmen of shop committees are often full-time stewards although they still have a nominal job and are not provided with office facilities.)

Those senior stewards and convenors based in an office cease to be the direct representatives of the workers on the spot. They have much more contact with plant management than with the rank and file they represent, and can become as remote as the full-time officials are.

Senior stewards don’t share the work experience of their members. They usually come to work in a collar and tie, if not a suit. They don’t get dirty and sweaty. They don’t boil in summer nor freeze in winter. Not for them the lurking danger of industrial injury. Nor the foreman pressuring them to work overtime, nor having to wait for a relief man before they can go to the toilet – all the thousand and one small indignities that make up factory life for most workers.

And they don’t suffer the carworkers’ constant insecurity of a fluctuating wage packet. Strikes and lay-offs very rarely affect them since most senior stewards stay in the plant while there are their union’s members to represent. Is it any wonder they get out of touch?

In the workplace many important matters are not the subject of formal written agreements. There is a whole range of informal agreements and management tolerance of ‘custom and practice’. For instance, job allocation and the distribution of overtime are strictly speaking ‘managerial’ prerogatives but are usually controlled by shop stewards. This sort of function brings order to a potentially chaotic situation and is therefore tolerated by management. Not surprisingly the Donovan report referred to shop stewards being seen and seeing themselves as ‘more of a lubricant than an irritant’. [8]


These aspects of a shop steward’s function are greatly magnified for senior stewards.

‘In a sense the leading stewards are performing a managerial function of grievance settlement, welfare arrangement and human adjustment’, wrote the authors of a study on the motor industry. ‘And the steward system’s acceptance by managements ... has developed partly because of the increasing effectiveness – and cetainly economy – with which this role if fulfilled’. [9]

Senior stewards also tend to balance sectional claims against the overall interests of their membership. In a car factory a stoppage by a handful of workers can often lead to thousands being laid off. The reaction of senior stewards to such minority groups will almost inevitably be to try to keep them at work, though they don’t always succeed.

And, of course, like full-time officials they tend to exaggerate the effect of their negotiating ability rather than the strength of their members when they get management to back down or compromise. And not a few senior stewards become local councillors or magistrates, and sit on various tribunals – spending time away from the plant and functioning in a milieu that upholds the capitalist status quo.

The above account should highlight some of the reasons why senior stewards get divorced from the life of the rank and file, and why therefore they are very open to the incorporating tendencies of workers’ participation.

‘If the participation of the workers in the management of production is to be lasting, stable, “normal”, it must rest upon class collaboration, and not upon class struggle.’ – Trotsky. [10]

The Ryder Report was quite emphatic –

‘The most crucial factor in improving industrial relations at BL and in creating the conditions in which productivity can be increased is that there should be some progress towards industrial democracy.’

But the industrial democracy it envisaged had nothing in common with workers’ control.

The report proposed

‘... a new structure of joint management/union councils, committees and conferences, in which BL’s shop stewards and particularly their senior shop stewards will have a major role ... Trade union members will have to recognise the new responsibilites which the shop stewards are exercising on their behalf and ensure that the right people are chosen to exercise these responsibilities.’ [11]

Before the Ryder team started its inquiry, Leyland managment had already put forward proposals for improving ‘consultation’ which bear a close resemblance to the subsequent Ryder proposals. Participation has only been granted because it is in management’s interest.

‘Participation must rest on class collaboration ... not upon class struggle’ – TROTSKY

The most important point about ‘worker participation’ is that it exists in name only. In practice it only involves the leading stewards in each plant. For the 99 per cent who don’t sit on the Joint Management Committees, there is no participation at all.

As the Leyland Cars booklet Employee Participation and You points out –

‘If you do not sit on a Joint Management Committee, your involvement in employee participation is to read the notes of meetings when they are published, to question the representative from your constituency about what is happening, and to make your opinions known to him.’

There are no facilities for report-back meetings to the constituencies, so there are no report-backs. Notes of meetings aren’t always put up on notice boards; and when they are, they don’t contain anything considered ‘confidential’. The lack of participation by the overwhelming majority is built into the whole set up. Even the discussions that led to the signing of the participation agreement completely denied the rank-and-file worker any say.

The union meetings that discussed and accepted the Ryder report consisted only of senior shop stewards and senior staff reps. Such a meeting set up ad hoc committees for Cars division and Truck & Bus to work out agreements on participation.

For the Cars division there was a 32-person committee led by Eddie McGarry, the senior T&GWU steward at Triumph in Coventry. After 8 days of negotiations with the company between 27 August and 28 October 1975 an agreement was signed by 31 of the 32 senior stewards on the committee. Before the signing, the document was presented to a meeting of all Leyland Cars senior stewards for their ratification. When this meeting overran its time and had to be reconvened a few days later, even this opportunity was not taken to involve the shop floor.


When a ballot of the shop floor at the Triumph Canley plant rejected the deal, a company spokesman commented –

‘There is no provision in the employee participation agreement for a ballot of this sort. We have a signed agreement on participation.’

The basic structure is three-tier with committees at plant, divisional and national level. Only senior stewards and senior staff reps sit on the top two tiers. At the plant level, senior stewards have automatic places and the other positions go to shop stewards and staff reps ‘elected in accordance with the Plant Trade Union Constitution.’ [12]

There are 31 Joint Management Committees (JMC’s) covering_either single plants or groups of plants. These JMCs select representatives on to 3 divisional JMCs – Body & Assembly, Power Train & Foundry, and Parts & Service. A total of 52 shop floor and 35 staff reps sit on these 3 committees.

The divisional JMCs in turn select 11 shop floor and 4 staff reps for the top body, the Cars Council. (One of the staff reps comes from the JMCs covering corporate staff.)

Departmental committees can also be formed inside each plant. And there are twice-yearly conferences for all members of the Cars Council, the divisional and plant JMCs.

The plant JMCs meet monthly; divisional JMCs quarterly; and the Cars Council ‘at least quarterly’ though its first 7 meetings took place within a 6-month period. Before each JMC meeting there is an ‘Agenda meeting’ for the employee reps to discuss among themselves the business coming up. Thus, divisional JMCs lasting one day are preceded by ‘agenda meetings’ also lasting one day.

No voting

The chairman of each JMC is the appropriate manager. The trade union side elect a senior representative and a joint secretary. There is no voting on the JMCs. Instead they try to reach agreement ‘while recognising that executive authority rests with management’. After all, they are Joint Management Committees. There are no minutes either, but

‘Notes will be taken and an agreed record of meetings prepared by the secretary and joint secretary. The content of this record shall be agreed by the chairman and senior representative’.

Not everything went smoothly for the management however. Only 26 fully-formed JMCs were originally set up. The shop floor did not get involved in the JMCs at Solihull, Canley, Bordesley Green, Cowley Service Division and Oxford Radiators. Many other plants would probably have stayed out if they had had a chance to vote on the issue.

The overall principle is that

‘... the main task of each body in each level of the Employee Participation System is to improve the performance of the activity within which the employees who are represented in the body are employed.’

Probably all those senior stewards sitting on the Cars Council and divsional JMCs are full-time stewards, and even at the plant level very few of the employee reps will spend much time actually on a job. Yet these people are sitting on committees which by their constitution exist to make workers do more work than they are currently doing. How can these so-called representatives represent both the interests of the company and of their members at the same time?

The JMCs do not formally get involved in matters which are already covered by collective bargaining arrangements. But, in practice, there is not such an easy demarcation of functions. For example, the Cars Council guidelines for productivity on the new Mini were put to a vote at Longbridge, even though this cut across normal bargaining arrangements over manning levels and could mean that the company insist on their manning figures being implemented if the new Mini is produced. When the Triumph Canley plant balloted on participation in November 1975 and voted against, it meant that senior T&GWU steward Eddie McGarry, the chairman of the ad hoc committee on participation, couldn’t take part. As one newspaper commented –

‘Mr McGarry’s elimination has plunged the programme into confusion since it was assumed he would play a leading role. There is no deputy chairman or any other obvious substitute.’ [13]

In the event Longbridge Works Convenor Derek Robinson, a Communist Party member, became the Cars Council senior representative. And Bill Roche right-wing senior T&GWU steward at Cowley Body Plant and a member of his union executive, became the joint secretary. These two are at the heart of the bureaucracy growing up around participation.

Two ‘bridging reps’ from the Body & Assembly JMC sit on the Power Train & Foundry JMC and vice versa. Robinson and Roche are among these 4. There has also grown up a half day report back meeting from Cars Council to the divisional JMCs. And there are tentative link ups between Cars Council and the Truck & Bus Council.

On Cars Council there is sub-committee mania. The first meeting set up 3 – on quality, productivity, and health & safety. Others were set up with proposed figures for the number of man-hours per car. The 22 November 1976 meeting set up 5 subcommittees, three of them ‘to operate within the broad objectives of the Ten Year Plan’ – ‘Product Planning’, ‘Volumes & Marketing’ and ‘Facilities & Manpower Implications’. These committees suck senior stewards into discussing management’s problems based on management’s figures, and must inevitably end up with them agreeing to management’s solutions.

Divisional JMCs also create subcommittees at the drop of a hat. The most significant one so far discussed whether the new Jaguar paint shop should be built at the Browns Lane factory in Coventry where the bodies are currently painted, trimmed and assembled, or at the Castle Bromwich plant where the bodies are built. This led to the withdrawal of the Jaguar representatives from participation last autumn.

Cars Council members get involved in a variety of activities. Robinson and Roche attended the presentation to the National Enterprise Board of the Ten Year Plan and the 1977 Business Plan. Their attendance at the NEB will obviously become a regular feature. The Cars Council productivity subcommittee was ‘directed to stand by for delegated work from the Motor Industry’s Tripartite Group’s investigation into productivity’. And there are also a few perks, for example –

‘Members of the Leyland Cars Council were invited to attend a dealer/distribution presentation of SDP(the new Rover 3500) and the TR7.’

Wined & dined

The Cars Council reps spend an increasing amount of time away from their workplaces. The senior rep and Joint secretary even have ‘access to office accommodation in Coventry’. Wined and dined by the company, their divorce from the shop floor becomes almost total.

Fundamental to the way participation schemes operate is that committee members have access to ‘confidential information’ which they weren’t allowed to divulge outside. It is not just our imagination that we don’t know what goes on at the JMCs. It is built into the whole system.

‘The stewards’ divorce from the shop floor becomes almost total’

At the first Cars Council,

‘The Chairman presented the plan for Leyland Cars prepared by the Ryder team. The plan contained confidential information.’

What confidential information? We don’t know. Nearly half of the Ryder Report was never published. Six of the 15 chapters were omitted ‘for reasons of commercial security’. Yet the senior stewards on Cars Council were given this information.

Some of it did leak out, however, concerning the probable closure of 4 small Rover plants in Birmingham. The Times reported –

‘The fact that confidential information is now being discussed openly be employees in the threatened factories has alarmed Mr Derek Whittaker ... It could lead to reluctance by Mr Whittaker and his executives to take shop stewards into their confidence on even marginally controversial issues ... This loss of confidence could mean the end of participation.’ [14]

But the senior stewards quickly toed the line. At the next Cars Council,

‘It was jointly accepted that if confidential information was disclosed prematurely it would eventually affect job security.’

This is a very strange logic! Surely, knowing about plant closures and not organising to fight them is a much greater threat to job security.

Again and again, confidentiality crops up at JMC meetings. Another example, from the Body and Assembly JMC:

‘Information that had been given on one of the new models within the 4-Year Plan presentation ... had found its way into an engineering magazine. This endorsed the need for complete security on information discussed.’

It is no different at Chrysler. Eddie McCluskey, a senior T&GWU steward and also a Communist Party member, says of the Chrysler scheme –

‘A lot of the information confidential but we have told them (the shop stewards – DL) what we could without divulging the actual details.’ [15]

There can be no accountability of participation reps if most of their discussions are secret. The senior stewards privy to such secret information can only talk about it among themselves and with management, but not the shop floor. Inevitably, in such a vacuum, management arguments must carry a lot of weight.

Before participation, management used to issue circulars complaining about strikes, low productivity, lack of cooperation and so on. What happens now is that the senior stewards on Cars Council add their signatures.

The very first Cars Council meeting issued a joint statement saying, among other things,

‘Productivity must go up. The forthcoming increases in production programmes should be achieved by as little recruitment as possible.’


‘Claims from sections or groups to improve their own position compared with that of other groups should, as a general rule, be discouraged.’

During the spring of 1976 there were several toolroom strikes for parity claims at Longbridge, SU Carburettors, Tractors & Transmissions, Triumph Canley and all the Rover plants. Rather than support them, the senior stewards on Cars Council ‘agreed it was necessary for the Managing Director to issue a letter to all employees outlining the position the company was in.’

This letter reads:

‘... the recent disputes have been disastrous ... Productivity is still far too low ... Lack of cooperation in making productivity improvements is till too common. This, as much as the tendency to indulge in strike action, has got to change.’

And this letter went out with senior steward approval!

Another example of such collaboration comes from the Body & Assembly JMC.

‘We must take considerably fewer hours to produce cars than we do at present ... The ADO88 (new Mini – DL) has an overall commitment for man hours per car which is really dictated by our competitors, but we cannot wait three years: improvements must be made now on all our current models ... Unofficial disputes must be avoided and the agreed procedure used on every occasion ... It must be the responsibility of this Joint Committee to ensure that our overall objectives are met because if we are not competitive we will go out of business’. ‘The situation was accepted by the employee reps.’

The ‘Quality 77’ campaign was launched by the Cars Council. The front page of a Leyland Cars Special Report on the campaign has a picture of’the two Dereks’ – car boss Derek Whittaker and communist Derek Robinson. On the back page there are pictures of the Quality sub-committee members and statements from them.

New attitudes

Peter Nicholas (Rover, Tyseley) –

‘Involvement by the trade unions in participation has brought new attitudes and responsibilities.’

Mick Richards (Jaguar) –

‘given the right spirit and endeavours I am convinced we can produce the right goods to see our competitors off.

And Derek Robinson –

‘If the will for quality is developed with us all, we can grab that vital bit extra of the world markets and give ourselves the reputation we undoubtedly deserve.’

With sentiments like this it was not surprising that the other Cars Council officer Bill Roche found himself in print in the Financial Times on – where else? – the Management Page! [16]

‘We can grab that vital extra bit of the world markets’ – Communist convenor DEREK ROBINSON

While the participation committees have not yet had much direct impact on shop floor organisation in Leyland, they have however set an atmosphere which was not there before. Tony Cliff argued about productivity deals that they ‘open the way for the acceptance of such changes, which, under normal circumstances, would not even be countenanced’. [17] It is the same with participation. The talks on the ‘reform’ of collective bargaining in Leyland Cars show this quite clearly and are worth looking at.

As The Times commented about participation –

‘The sad thing is, that excellent as they are, the new joint bodies are prohibited by their terms of reference from dealing with wages, working conditions and disputes. This was not how management would have like it ... This emasculation at birth is preventing the participation committees from taking part in the crucial talks on wage reforms.

‘But there is one spin-off which will directly influence the talks. In many cases the same shop stewards are involved in both sets of talks. Management hopes that by taking these shop stewards into their confidence and providing them with the fullest commercial information at participation meetings, they will prevent misunderstandings at the reforming talks.’ [18]

The Ryder Report, published in April 1975, reckoned that there were 246 separate bargaining units in the whole of British Leyland. For manual workers in the Cars division alone there are currently 58 bargaining units and 324 pay rates. [19] The company want this reduced down to one unit for Leyland Cars, and possibly eventually one unit for the whole of Leyland.

On 25 March 1976 personnel director Geoff Whalen presented a document to a meeting of all shop floor senior stewards. Its most important proposal is that

‘... some things – e.g. the total amount of money to be made available for wage increases in all plants; security of employment including lay-off pay and sick-pay; ways in which the differences in average pay levels between plants are to be reduced – can sensibly only be negotiated on a Group basis.’

Following this company initiative, a meeting of management, national union officials and senior stewards on 5 June 1976 agreed

‘... that a joint committee be set up to establish proposed machinery to pursue common operative dates of plant agreements and all claims related to fringe benefits.’

After years of defending plant autonomy in wage bargaining, the senior stewards suddenly agreed to have talks that could lead in only one direction – a greater centralisation with less control from below.

A committee of 27 manual union senior stewards was set up. Six of its members sat on the Cars Council. No less than 16 had sat on the participation ad hoc committee among them 4 of the 6 AUEW (Eng) members and 9 of the 11 T&GWU members. The committee first met on 5 August, and put its proposals to all senior stewards on 23 December. This meeting recommended their acceptance by a 3-1 majority.

Since the start of the Ryder inquiry two and a half years ago, meetings of senior stewards have acted as if they had some special authority over the rank and file. It was, after all, such a meeting that accepted participation. But, in this instance, as the proposals had to go back to the plants because of the changes in bargaining they merely recommended acceptance.

The proposals were thrown out overwhelmingly by plant after plant. The company had completely misread shop floor opinion, as had the senior stewards. The company policy of divorcing the senior stewards from the shop floor had worked too well!

At the heart of he ‘Fringe Benefit’ document was the proposal that, pay policy permitting, all plant wage agreements would start from November 1977. The Financial Times noted that such a move would ‘give an impetus towards company-wide negotiations’. [20]

But the main reason the document was thrown out is contained in the following clause –

‘No lay-off payments will be made for any quarter to any individual employee who, in the previous quarter, took part in unconstitutional industrial action, the duration of which was one half shift or an aggregate of 8 hours.’

‘Unconstitutional industrial action’ means any industrial action ‘which impedes normal working’ and occurs before procedure has been exhausted and 5 days notice given in writing. This proposal would penalise all but a handful of disputes. For example, in 1967 only 2 per cent of all disputes leading to stoppages in the whole of the motor industry went through all the stages of procedure. [21] That this situation has not changed significantly.


This penalty clause is reminiscent of the penal clauses Ford tried to introduce in 1969. But then the union side of the negotiating committee that recommended them was composed entirely of full-time officials who were clearly out of touch with the membership. Those proposals led to a strike, the complete restructuring of the National Joint Negotiating Committee, and the resignation from his job of a leading T&GWU offical. [22]

The Leyland proposals were recommended not by ‘out of touch’ full-time officials but by senior stewards! And though overall the penalty clauses were not nearly as bad as those Ford tried to introduce, yet in one respect they were worse. The Ford package introduced lay-off pay for the first time. In Leyland lay-off pay schemes operate already in every plant, and this document would have destroyed any benefits gained from the current agreements.

While they have been at participation meetings, senior stewards have continually agreed the need to reduce unconstitutional stoppages and use procedure. In this document they asked for the following clause to be inserted as ‘a gesture of good intent’ [23]

‘... all trade union members will cooperate in substantially reducing unauthorised absence and unconstitutional action.’

This position makes it difficult to resist company arguments that lay-off benefits can be improved if disputes are taken though procedure. It is logical for the senior stewards to agree to the introduction of penalty clauses to facilitate this. This position is reinforced by the fact that senior stewards themselves don’t take part in unconstitutional action so they won’t personally lose lay-off pay if they are laid off, which happens rarely.

The document also contains A Procedure for dealing with Manpower Surpluses, which accepts that there will be redundancies, and contains the staggering clause that – ’The Group will refuse redundancy payments in circumstances where an offer of suitable alternative work is refused, whether such work is at the same location or at another location’ even though the extra travelling can be up to ‘15 miles farther each way’.

And, finally, the section on sick pay entitled Control of Absence – Plant Committees finds another role for senior stewards.

‘The ideal committee is considered to be one made up of 6 permanent members – 3 senior shop stewards and 3 management members.

‘The committee would ... exist as a body with authority to uphold discipline within existing plant procedures, and ensure that the agreement was not being abused. This would be done by reviewing absence levels, individual records, and where necessary ensuring that suitable counselling took place.’


The defeat of the fringe benefits document was a serious setback in Leyland’s plans but they didn’t have to wait long before help was forthcoming from an unexpected source.

The toolmakers came on strike demanding separate national negotiating rights and parity for all toolmakers in Leyland Cars. As a result of this the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions executive met Leyland management during the strike and agreed to set up working groups on collective bargaining problems for manual and white collar workers, with particular reference to ‘agreeing arrangements for the early introduction of the reforms contained within the Ryder report’. [24]

‘Management seems to have geared itself for a major confrontation’

With the CSEU’s involvement, the union side this time included full-time officials as well as senior stewards. The toolmakers eventually accepted representation on the working group.

Certain conclusions were inevitable almost from the start. The senior stewards had already recommended a common date for wage agreements in the previous fringe benefits proposals. The toolmakers dispute had raised the issue of parity. It was therefore no surprise when the Cars Council declared at the beginning of May,

‘... full support must be given to the efforts of the two Working Groups recently set up to bring about a simpler and fairer way of determining wage and salary levels right across Leyland Cars. The present anomalies must be sorted out quickly.’ [25]

On 27 May 1977 a meeting of senior stewards gave their overwhelming support to certain recommendations from the union side of the working group. They recommended four key objectives to pursue – the introduction of a common starting date and a considerable reduction in the number of bargaining units; the principle of parity in all grades in Leyland Cars by November 1979; staff conditions, with the working group to resume discussions on fringe benefits; and an incentive scheme at plant level.

Despite widespread opposition at all levels of the workforce to any form of centralised bargaining, there is no logical way of having parity and common starting dates without it. The management have pointed this fact out. Having gone so far along this road, the senior stewards will be unable to avoid accepting the principle of centralised bargaining. And they will come under added pressure from national union officials, who, having been left out of participation and last year’s talks on wage reform, will be determined to secure a place for themselves and that must mean national bargaining in some form.

One of the worst features of the senior stewards’ thinking is that on incentives. Wages have fallen since measured day work was introduced, and incentives provide a way of increasing wages without the senior stewards having to lead the fight for realistic wage increases.


Secondly, in many factories, the work pace has also dropped since the days of piecework. An incentive tied to production would raise productivity. The Cars Council say:

‘Productivity must be improved now. Where people are not giving a reasonable level of performance they must do so.’ [26]

What the supporters of incentives like to forget is that, with a car market unlikely to expand much in the next few years, incentives can only lead to a loss of jobs in the industry.

The company introduced a new package of proposals. It contained a number of elements: a common starting date (November 1 1977) for all wage agreements and company-wide bargaining on pay and conditions; parity of earnings between different plants by November 1979; a new fringe benefits scheme; implementation of a self-financing incentive scheme by January 1978.

According to the Financial Times,

‘Over a two-year transition period the company is trying to impose a rational (sic) framework. The motive appears to be a belief that if the company is ever to match productivity levels of other volume car producers then it is better to tackle all the labour problems in one swoop. Management seems to have geared itself for a major confrontation rather than a series of guerilla skirmishes’ (September 23 1977).

In the event, the proposals were rejected by the Leyland senior stewards and by the T&GWU stewards, and only narrowly approved by the AUEW stewards. A split developed between the T&GWU and the AUEW, with the former opposed to parity for fear that it will widen differentials to the disadvantage of the production workers, whom it represents. Meanwhile, the toolmakers threatened another strike unless their demand for separate bargaining rights is met.

Despite the divisions on the union side, it is clear that management will try to force through the proposals, with the support of the Labour government. The National Enterprise Board repeated its threat to cut off further money unless ‘industrial relations improved’. The trade union officials have also given the proposals their broad support, through the CSEU executive. The attempts to ‘reform’ the wage system at Leyland is far from dead.

In March 1977, Leyland Cars senior stewards voted to continue participation for another twelve months – once again without consulting the shop floor. In fact most Leyland workers probably never even knew about the meeting.

‘There is an alternative ... independent shopfloor organisation’

We have argued in this article that participation at Leyland does not extend below the senior steward level. That does not mean, however, that we advocate more participation. On the contrary, we are totally opposed to the system of workers’ participation, however ‘democratic’ it may appear to be.

However the Communist Party have been among its most enthusiastic supporters. They talk about the need to extend it ‘so that trade unionists start to take decisions on the company’s future’. [27] But the only decisions taken are those that are in management’s interest. And participation has accelerated the development of class collaboration between senior stewards and management.

Derek Robinson and other senior stewards actually supported management’s threat to sack the tool-makers during their strike earlier this year, and they played a crucial role in defusing the rank-and-file rebellion against wage controls that erupted throughout Leyland in February 1977. [28]

And barely two weeks after the 20 April strike against wage restraint called by the Leyland combine committee, Robinson, Roche and the other senior stewards on the Cars Council declared:

‘We have to see ... that stoppages of work are virtually eliminated’. [29]

The birds came home to roost at the end of August 1977. The. shop stewards at Longbridge put to the membership a call for strike action in support of their 47 per cent wage claim. Derek Robinson went on TV to announce that the voting was going 50 to 1 in favour of striking – even though the night shift had not begun to vote!

The result was an anti-strike demonstration by several hundred workers. Robinson refused to give a positive lead to the two thirds of those voting who had supported strike action. Instead, the strike was called off.

Three workers at Longbridge explained why this disastrous episode had taken place:

‘There is one fundamental overwhelming reason: the collapse of the stewards’ organisation at Longbridge.

‘This is a direct result of measured day work and ‘participation’ with management.

‘Participation has meant that the top stewards, and the works committee, have been taken outside the shop floor.

‘They spend most of their time with management, not with us. Measured day work has cut out ail the little struggles from the shop floor.

‘Many stewards don’t even bother to go to joint meetings. Out of 700 stewards (there are 18,000 workers here), only about 70 (at the very most) regularly attend the monthly joint shop stewards meeting.

‘The best militants don’t want to be shop stewards any more, and often the worst people get the job just because they want it.

‘The workers and most shop stewards are kept in complete ignorance 90 per cent of the time ...

‘You can’t tell people year after year that management is good for them, and then suddenly flick your fingers and call a strike.’ [30]

Derek Robinson is a member of the Communist Party. The policies he has pursued with such disastrous results have the full approval of the CP leadership. A recent pamphlet by John Bloomfield, secretary of Birmingham City CP, makes this clear. Of the Ryder report he writes,

‘... in its essentials it laid the basis for rebuilding a British-owned motor vehicle industry. Two years later it still does’. [31]


‘... participation is a small step in showing the ability of the working class to become the ruling class, the leading political force in the country.’ [32]


In fact, participation has involved the top layer of shop stewards at Leyland in an active attempt to rationalise the company, in the process, putting thousands of workers’ jobs at risk and seriously weakening shopfloor organisation. It has made Leyland workers less of a political force, by preventing them from organising and fighting independently of management.

The logic of the Communist Party position is leading it to accept corporate bargaining. Bloomfield does not explicitly support centralised bargaining, but he does explain that ‘without pay restraint the ground would ... be cleared for considering the merits of a phased move towards bargaining on a company-wide basis’ [33] – exactly Leyland management’s objection to the 12-month rule and the 10 per cent pay limit!

There is an alternative to participation. And that is independent shop floor organisation. At Vauxhalls in Luton the company for years controlled the shop floor through a structure of Managment Advisory Committees, a form of participation. But the workers there built up a shop steward organisation which successfully challenged the dominance of these committees.

Similarly in Germany, where since the war management-dominated Works Councils have been the only representation the workers have had, shop steward organisation is beginning to develop. It is the only form of organisation that can properly represent workers in their dealings with management.

Events of the last few months, and particularly the strikes at Leyland and Heathrow, have shown the basic strengths of shop stewards’ organisation. Genuine rank-and-file movements have emerged and fought independently of the officials, and against their opposition.

Despite the corruption of many individual stewards, and the conservative and bureaucratic tendencies arising from the separation of many senior stewards from the shop floor, shop stewards still provide the most effective and democratic means of organising rank-and-file workers. One of our central tasks must be to defend and extend shop stewards’ organisation.

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1. Tony Cliff, The Employers’ Offensive, 1970, p.11.

2. See Dave Lyddon, Measured Day Work, Piecework and British Leyland, International Socialism 51, April-June 1972.

3. British Leyland: The Next Decade (Ryder Report), 1975, p.35.

4. Central Policy Review Staff, The Future of the British Car Industry, 1975 pp.82, 83, 119, 119-120, 131, 120, 131-132.

5. In this article the term ‘senior steward’ is used to mean the chief shop steward of each union in each plant, whether their union calls them senior steward or convenor.

6. Tony Lane, The Union Makes Us Strong, 1974, p.198

7. G.D.H. Cole, Workshop Organisation (1973 edition), p.45.

8. Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations (Donovan Report), 1968, p.29.

9. Turner, Clack & Roberts, Labour Relations in the Motor Industry, 1967, p.214.

10. Trotsky, Workers’ Control of Production, in The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, 1975, p.35.

11. Ryder Report, p.8.

12. Unless otherwise stated, all quotations in this section come from the agreement Employee Participation in Leyland Cars or from the records of JMC meetings.

13. Financial Times, 22 November 1975.

14. Times, 24 February 1976.

15. Quoted in Financial Times, 18 February 1977.

16. Financial Times, 17 December 1976.

17. Tony Cliff, op. cit., p.57.

18. Times, 2 April 1976.

19. Financial Times, 8 June 1977.

20. Financial Times, 17 January 1977.

21. Ministry of Labour, Motor Industry Joint Council, 1968, p.7.

22. For details of the 1969 Ford agreement, see Huw Benyon, Working for Ford, 1973, chapter 10.

23. Financial Times, 18 January 1977.

24. CSEU statement, 5 March 1977.

25. The Options for Leyland Cars, Cars Council publication, 6 May 1977.

26. ibid.

27. The Motor Industry, A Communist Party Broadsheet, July 1976.

28. See S. Jeffreys, S. McGregor and J. Rose, The Struggle against the Social Contract, International Socialism 98.

29. The Options for Leyland Cars, loc. cit.

30. Socialist Worker, September 3 1977

31. J. Bloomfield, British Leyland – Save It!, Birmingham 1977, p.6.

32. Ibid., p.8.

33. Ibid., p.9.

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