Mini workers threaten strike: who’s in the right?

Published: 20 April 2012

News of the threatened strike at the Mini plant in Oxford is frustrating and disappointing. The last thing anybody on either side wants is a dispute which will damage all parties, and which would mark a return to the bad old days of the last industrial action in 1984, when Rover was running the show. It’s especially tricky at a point where the UK’s motor industry is just about picking itself up after the economic crash. Who’s to blame here?

Is it the Unite union? Representing 2000 workers at the plant it claims 97% of them have rejected a 2.2% pay offer from BMW. It’s easy to blame this particular union, which has even more contempt for Cameron’s government than it might have had for Thatcher’s, perhaps on the basis that the Tories in 1984 at least had a ‘proper mandate’ to govern.

And history suggests that when the promised strike ballot is held, barely half of those 2000 will vote and, of those, only about half will vote to strike. Which would undermine the validity of any action. Even so, union leaders, whatever their politics, are not stupid. Despite what the Daily Mail would have us believe, Unite doesn’t actively seek conflict for conflict’s sake. And this strike would hurt.

So, is it BMW’s fault? The company claims that it has offered a deal worth up to 6% in extra incentive payments and bonuses, but seems reluctant to acknowledge that in reality this amounts to that basic rise of just 2.2%, plus other payments linked to changes in working conditions and length of breaks that could amount to an extra 30 hours work a year for each employee.

Also, BMW has had a record start to the year in sales terms, so can’t easily plead poverty, especially as its workers in Germany work shorter shifts and earn more than UK colleagues. On the other hand, any pay rise in the current economic climate could be viewed as almost as good as a bonus. How many of you out there have had an increase in the last couple of years?

Surely it’s time to dispense with politics, blame and point-scoring and for both sides to give a little. The UK car industry can’t afford to shoot itself in the foot. If this strike goes ahead management and workers will find they have something in common: the blame.


By Greg Fountain

CAR's former managing editor, editor, caption chiseller, noticer of ironies