6 MARCH 1953, Page 3

Shop Stewards' Privilege ?

Last summer a number of Austin's employees at the Longbridge motor works were declared redundant and dis- missed, among them one Mr. John McHugh, a member of the National Union of Vehicle Builders and the senior shop steward. Later they were re-engaged, Mr. McHugh also. In September seven hundred odd were again declared, redundant, Mr. McHugh once more among them. There was an outcry and four hundred were reinstated—not, however, including Mr. McHugh. The company's view, it appeared, was that it was not concerned with Mr. McHugh as a. senior shop steward but simply as one employee among others for whom new work could not be found. But Mr. McHugh was a senior shop steward, and in the opinion of union officials on the spot the company's treatment of Mr. McHugh, unlike the identical treatment of other employees on whose behalf no such claims were made, amounted to wrongful dismissal and victimisation. The quarrel dragged on until February 17th, when the National Union of Vehicle Builders, called out its two thousand-members at Longbridge. The snowball, Mr. McHugh in the middle, was thus set rolling. Now there are about ten thousand workers, members of various unions, taking part in what must be one of the most unpopular strikes of recent years. A matter of principle seems to be involved according to the National Union of Vehicle Builders, and the United Society of Boilermakers, which gave moral support to the strikers " in their defence of a fundamental trade union principle." This principle appears to be that a shop steward is a privileged person entitled to pre- ferential treatment: if he is declared redundant, it is wrongful dismissal; if he is not reinstated, it is victimisation. This is a principle which employers are bound to resist resolutely. It cannot arouse enthusiasm among employees who are not shop stewards. The indications are that this strike will not last much longer.