For a brief period in the 1970s, Derek Robinson (who has died, aged 90) was widely regarded as the most powerful trade unionist in Britain.
The so-called “Red Robbo” wasn’t a full-time official. He was a shop steward (albeit a senior steward, allowed time off by management, to devote himself full-time, to union duties).
I'm guessing that this from Jim Denham "Edwardes must have realised that the majority of senior stewards in British Leyland were severely out of touch with their members. He dispensed with the soft-soap Ryder approach, drove a coach and horses through participation" is what the Economist obituary tells like this : "Mr Robinson’s forte was haranguing mass meetings on windswept playing fields, with strike votes taken instantly by an intimidating show of hands. But in 1979 British Leyland’s new boss, Michael Edwardes, balloted the workers directly (and secretly) on modernisation plans, gaining a seven-to-one majority for drastic job cuts in exchange for investment."
I'm also interested in this story for its similarities (though many differences) with the way Australian manufacturing unions promoted and enforced a national Prices and Incomes Accord, essentially out of fear of growing unemployment. Promises of investment, leading to jobs, weigh very persuasively to workers generally and union leaders in particular. There is nothing beneficial to employees in their employer going bust. It's not so hard to come up with general demands against unemployment - shorter hours, nationalisation, decent unemployment benefits - but in the maelstrom of uncertainty about being able to earn a living - there's a profusion of cases of unions submitting to capital. What efforts if any, were made through the 1970s, from an independent working class perspective, to anticipate and avert job losses from the coming demise of car manufacturing?