Unions flex their muscles in pay disputes

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Leaders of Ford's 22,000 manual workers yesterday ordered a ballot on strikes in the new year amid signs of increasing industrial unrest elsewhere.

As Ford union leaders threatened action, tugboatmen at Liverpool docks staged an unlawful 24-hour stoppage in support of 320 dockers who have been locked out for refusing to cross picket lines.

At Vauxhall, representatives of 9,000 blue-collar workers warned that industrial action would be stepped up unless talks with management tomorrow produced an improved pay offer. The overtime ban and two-hour weekly stoppage at Vauxhall comes amid widespread disruption of postal services including a 24-hour strike over working hours which affected 21 centres in central London on Monday.

While the sporadic industrial action does not represent a widespread resurgence of militancy, it is nevertheless fresh evidence of discontent among workers in various industries.

Representatives of seven unions at Ford yesterday called for a vote on action, having rejected a two-year package which gives a 9.25 per cent pay increase, but which fails to offer a reduction in the working week.

Tony Woodley, chief negotiator for the Transport and General Workers' Union in the motor industry, said the ballot was the logical next step in the campaign to elicit a better offer.Workers wanted to share in the increasing profitability yielded by improvements in productivity, and they were furious over the "industrial apartheid" which meant they worked longer hours than colleagues in Europe.

He said unions were optimistic that a settlement could be reached without industrial action, but a spokesman for the company insisted that the present offer was "final".

A spokesman for Vauxhall said management were "hopeful" that they could bring an end to the dispute in negotiations tomorrow. The two-year offer gives a 3.5 per cent rise in the first year and a rise matching the inflation rate in the second.

The Liverpool tugboatmen were expected to return to work last night after their 24-hour stoppage. Further sympathy action will be considered in a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. The 320 port workers were dismissed after taking action to back 80 other dockers involved in a dispute with their stevedoring company.