The Rootes Group was a family-run English car manufacturer. At one time, they were one of the 'big six' car companies in the world. Yet within 20 years, industrial action
interference saw the Group bankrupt.
The Group was started by William and Reginald Rootes. Initially they simply acted as dealerships for various makes, but in 1925 they went into manufacturing by buying the Hillman
car companies in Ryton, Coventry
. Their initial vehicle, the Hillman Wizard
, had limited succes. But the Hillman Minx
, launched in 1932, was a huge success. The car became the company's main-stay, and the name appeared on cars right up to the early seventies. (Incidently the car was originally going to be called the 'Witch
By the end of the 40's, the Group had aquired Sunbeam (and Talbot) motors, as well as a number of supply companies such as British Light Steel Pressings.
During the war, the factories were used to build and repair aeroplanes.
After the war, the Rootes Group enthusiastically embraced the British Government's challenge of "Export or Die", setting up assembly factories all over the world, including Australia, India and even the Bahamas.
In 1959 William Rootes was created a Baron and became Lord Rootes of Ramsbury. However this year was also the first of many niggling strikes. The shop stewards at the Steel Pressings factory first striked when a couple of newly weds at the factory, who were night shift workers, asked to be transferred to day shift. This was done and 1,500 workers came out on strike! At a time when strikes were relatively rare, this one became known as the 'Honeymoon Strike'.
Strikes at the factory continued, and on 1st September 1961, 1,000 workers walked out again, bringing the total stoppages since 1st January 1961 to 82. These were crippling the Rootes Group and there was nothing they could do about it. The strikes, which were mainly unofficial and against union advice, had caused the loss of over 27,000 man hours at the steel factory, which in turn had caused the loss of 17,000 man hours at other factories. This latest strike was called because of 'fears of extensive short time working and large scale redundancy'. When management refused to hold talks with the men's leaders (not the unions), they walked out.
In September, the exasperated Lord Rootes stated "Return to work by Thursday 28th September or be sacked." The strikers ignored the threat, and on 28th September 1961, all 1000 workers were sacked. A recruitment drive was started to replace striking workers. The Rootes Group had complete backing from all their other employees, from the unions, and from the wives of the strikers (this was given a great deal of publicity). But the sacked strikers were determined to see it through. As the weeks rolled on, 8,000 workers from other factories were made redundant.
Rootes were now having financial problems, and it was in fact the beginning of the downfall of the Rootes empire.
By November, things were almost back to normal. However the strike, casued by 5 men (with suspected Communist ovetones) had done their damage.
The timing was also terrible. With an incentive from the Government, Rootes were planning to build their next car, the Hillman Imp, at Linwood, Scotland. The incentive was to employ the out-of-work shipbuilders in the area. This gamble was the biggest expansion innthe company's history, and they could not afford the losses. Therefore in 1964 three representatives of the Chrysler Corporation joined the board of Rootes Motors Ltd.
Unfortunately, with the existing debts, and rush-production of the imp (together with an inexperienced and underqualified local workforce), Chrysler took over completely in 1967.
Chrysler continued to build the Rootes vehicles (albeit with the addition of the 'puckered Arsehole' pentastar to the flank each each vehicle) until the late seventies, when the Commercial vehicle interests were sold to Renault, and the car factories sold to Peugeot - for 1 British Pound!