Leyland, We Find You Guilty (Women’s Voice 1978)

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In the case of Mrs. Beryl Finn against British Leyland UK Ltd this Industrial Tribunal has decided that: ‘We find the applicants complaint of victimisation completely unacceptable.’

Womens Voice investigated the case of the victimisation of Beryl Finn and finds the opposite; the management and the union, the GMWU guilty.

Beryl Finn, member of the GMWU, was finally sacked from British Leyand body plant at Castle Bromwich in August 1977. The excuse for her sacking was ‘disruption’.

The story started in 1976, the year of Equal Pay.  It was a bad year for the women in the Bitish Leyland press shop.  It was the year that British Leyland decided to make the women pay for their own Equal Pay.  They removed the labourers in the press shop.  This meant that the women suddenly had to do all the lifting and moving of the heavy metal components as well as work the presses.

All the women were exhausted with the extra strain.  There were complaints about the timing of the jobs.  Even worse, women suffered cracked ribs, damaged spines, bruised breasts and strains to groin and uterus.

After a few months the women had had enough.  They organised a petition to get the labourers back.  Everyone signed it except the two GMWU stewards and one AUEW steward.  Geeling they were getting nowhere they decided to take their case to the local press.  One dinner-time in April 1976 all the women walked out, streamed up to the main gate to meet the Birmingham Mail, and told their story.

The GMWU and AUEW officials reacted promptly.  They organised a joint meeting, where Mr Bull, the GMWU convenor, gave vent to his feelings: ‘I’m the union. You’ll do as you’re told’.  ‘We’re the union’ retaliated the women in the AUEW, and walked out, taking Beryl and her sister, both in the GMWU with them.

The AUEW members elected themselves  two stewards and prepared for a fight.

Beryl Finn and her sister Carol were left isolated in the GMWU.  They tried to transfer to the AUEW, but Mr Bull, refused to allow it.  From that point on Beryl Finn was systematically victimised and bullied by management and the GMWU shop stewards and convenor.  Neither she nor the women were getting anywhere in their fight over the labourers.  Finally the AUEW called a one-day strike, and on that day Beryl Finn was ill.  Management refused to accept her doctor’s certificate, and used the excuse to suspend her.  She carried on the fight, trying to persuade new women in the section not to accept the deteriorating and dangerous conditions.  In August the management sacked her for ‘disruption’.

50 of the 70 women were supporting the fight.  Many were afraid to speak up in meetings, especially after Mr Bull had punched one woman.  An AUEW woman steward said ‘Beryl Finn always got on with people.  I don’t think she’s disrupted anything.  I don’t think she caused bother.’

The Tribunal’s response was ‘In 1976 events occurred which brought about a drastic change for the worse (in the smooth running of the press shop).  This can be directly attributed to the implementation of the Equal Pay Act….This ultimately created a sharp division among the women leading to conflicts of a very unpleasant kind and involving considerable emotional upset.’

The Tribunal then came to its amazing conclusion: that Beryl Finn had no case.

The intention of the Equal Pay Act was to improve women’s wages, not worsen their working conditions.  The role of trade unions is to improve conditions, not collude with management to worsen them and jump on any trade union member who fights for her rights.

Sheila McGregor

Womens Voice March 78. Issue 15

(With thanks to Sarah Piggott for typing)

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