Production workers at Chrysler Ltd.'s Stoke engine plant at Coventry began strike action on 9th May. The strike continues and threatens employment at the Ryton and Linwood plants.
The dispute has arisen in the course of negotiations for a new annual wage settlement due for implementation from 1st July. A claim has been made for increases of £15 per week and a mass meeting of the employees concerned on 5th May voted to strike unless the company made a cash offer in response to their claim by 9th May. Subsequently the shop stewards sought an offer of £8 per week to provide a basis on which negotiations could continue and for a resumption of work.
On 8th May the company made proposals for employee participation in the management of the company, including representation on the board and for profit sharing. The company also disclosed plans for new products. At a meeting with the shop stewards and full-time officers of the unions principally concerned on 10th May, the company discussed these proposals further and urged that negotiations should begin immediately on them. If there were an immediate resumption of work and progress were made on plans for employee participation, the company undertook to make an offer in response to the wage claim on 23rd May.
The outcome of these discussions was reported by the full-time officers to a meeting of all the stewards yesterday. I understand that the officials concerned sought to persuade the stewards to accept the company's undertaking and call for a return to work. The stewards, however, decided that the strike should continue. A mass meeting of the workers at the plant has been arranged for Thursday.
As the new wage settlement is not due until 1st July and the company has undertaken to make an offer next week, I very much hope that there will be an early resumption of work to allow negotiations to continue on the company's proposals.
I am sure that the whole House is glad to see the Secretary of State for Employment back after his illness.
As this dispute is potentially the most damaging that Chrysler has ever suffered, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there have been informal consultations between the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the parties to the dispute? May we take it that, if necessary and if there should be difficulty after Thursday's meeting, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service will convene a very early meeting between all parties to try to bring about an early solution to this damaging dispute?
Both sides, the trade unions and the employers, know very well of the readiness of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to come in and assist, if it can, at any period either now or later. Efforts are being made to overcome the strike. I will not attempt to answer the hon. Gentleman's question directly, because the precise moment when the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service might best help is not known. But, as I said, other efforts are being made to end the strike. I agree that it is a most damaging strike. It injures those who are on strike and those who are not on strike, and puts in jeopardy the jobs of all of them. Therefore, I very much hope that there will be an early end to the strike.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, irrespective of the merits of the wage claim, a prolonged strike at the Chrysler works would be suicidal in view of the possibility that this company, under pressure, might even collapse? In those circumstances, will he follow the initiative taken by the Prime Minister and, as early as possible, call a tripartite meeting of representatives of the Government, the trade unions and the employers with a view to taking up the new initiative by the company within the general context of participation and simultaneous consideration of the legitimate wage claim by the workers?
The tripartite discussions, to which the Prime Minister referred in his statement on Sunday, are another matter and cover a much wider sphere altogether. But I assure my hon. Friend that efforts are being made—in particular, by the union leaders concerned—to assist in overcoming the strike. We wish to do everything possible to find a solution. I agree with everything my hon. Friend said about the potential damage that continuance of the strike could do.
It is clear that the message from both sides of this House to the mass meeting on Thursday is that the workers should return to work. That is the hope of the Opposition just as much as of hon. Members supporting the Government.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the participation proposals which have been made, albeit at a time very close to the dispute arising, nevertheless deserve most careful study? Again, the plea of the whole House is that this should be done and that this unnecessary, damaging and destructive strike should be brought to an end as soon as possible.
Certainly we want the company's proposals about participation discussed. Indeed, the workers at Chrysler have not said that they do not want to discuss these proposals. There should be no mistake about that. But it is necessary that the strike, which is already causing serious damage, should be brought to an end. That is what the union leaders and officials concerned have urged upon all the workers there. I am sure that it is right for this House to give its full backing to the plea that they have made in that respect.
Whilst I agree with the advice for a return to work at Chrysler, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend and the House are aware that skilled machinists at that factory draw less money now than the men who empty the dustbins?
Is the Secretary of State aware that some views have been expressed that if this strike ruins the company and it goes bust the Government will simply come in with another rescue operation? So far that has not been the case. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would help to resolve the strike if the Government made their position clear and the company clearly acquainted its employees with its serious financial state?
I will not answer the question in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has put it, because I do not think that would be advantageous. There is no doubt on either side of the House as to what we think about the strike. We certainly trust that that will be taken account of by the shop stewards and all concerned. We hope that they will take account of what is said in this House just as we would have preferred them to have taken account of what has already been said to them on the subject by union leaders and officials. There is not the slightest doubt about the dangers for the company as a whole, for the jobs of workers at Chrysler and, indeed, for the jobs of many other workers as well. We hope that all these facts will be taken into account by those who are at the moment on strike.