The Final Act: Cabin Crew vote to accept latest offer

The Unite website announced yesterday that cabin crew have voted 92% in favour of accepting a deal which will end this long running dispute.

Just under 1000 cabin crew were balloted with 7,088 taking part, making it a turn out of 72%.  6,509 voted in favour whilst 579 voted against.

Announcing the result Unite General Secretary Len McClsukey said: “I want to pay personal tribute to the cabin crew for the principled stand they took. In these difficult times it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and thousands of crew did so, at great personal expense and emotional cost.”

Air Strike will publish further articles analysing the dispute in the near future.

Build the fight back against cuts: Come to the NSSN conference

The mighty TUC demonstration on March 26th showed once and for all that workers in Britain are prepared to fight when well over 500,000 demonstrated in London. The National Shop Stewards Network is holding its 5th annual conference 19 days before 800,000 workers could take strike action on June 30th against the ConDem coalition’s attacks on public sector pensions. This year our conference will be discussing the practical steps that union reps and activists can take to make sure that on the strike day every city in Britain is filled with marching workers – sending a warning to the ConDems that the next step should be a one day general strike to stop them trying to make us pay for the bankers’ crisis.

The NSSN was initiated by the RMT in 2006 to try and build a real rank and file organisation in the trade unions. It has already shown its potential as an organiser of solidarity in early 2009 in the private sector disputes in Lindsey Oil Refinery, the Visteon occupation, Linamar and Vestas. This year, alongside our work in the anti-cuts movement, we have supported the 400 locked-out workers at BP Saltend in Hull, the blacklisted workers at the Olympic site, the victimised RMT tube workers and many other disputes.

Come to the NSSN conference and link up with hundreds of other workers facing the same issues in the workplace – in the private and public sector. We will be running sessions on the three big issues facing workers at the moment – Fighting to defend public sector pensions, saving the NHS and fighting for the very right to strike and organise, including ending the blacklist and victimisation.

To register in advance for the conference online, go here. Alternatively, email or phone 07816 134 690. Tickets cost £5.

United Left criticizes SWP reaction to cabin crew deal

The following statement was issued by the Chair and Secretary of United Left. United Left is the Broad Left (an alliance of different left-wing activists from various political parties and none within the union). Len McCluskey, the current General Secretary of Unite was the United Left candidate in the recent General Secretary election. On the National Executive Committee of Unite United Left is the largest organised group. The statement was first circulated on the United Left email list and has now been posted on United Left’s website 

SWP and the BA Dispute – A Step too Far

Most UNITED LEFT Executive members were shocked and angry last week at an article entitled “BA workers should reject this shoddy deal” which appeared in the “Socialist Worker” 21 May edition and which was being sold by three UNITED LEFT Executive Council members who are members of SWP outside Congress House whilst the UNITE Executive was in session.  The paper first appeared on Wednesday the day after we had debated the conclusion to our long running UNITE British Airways Cabin Crew dispute. The article caused offence by implicitly criticising  our left General Secretary Len McCluskey and our UNITE BASSA reps for recommending this “terrible deal”.

No-one was more upset by this than our two UNITED LEFT Executive Council members from BASSA who have lived and breathed this dispute for the past two years, and whom the rest of us had congratulated only the day before for a remarkably good settlement after one of the most bitter and ruthless disputes in recent times. The other members of our UNITED LEFT executive group were also incensed by the article, which was seen as a public act of treachery by the Socialist Workers Party whose members participate in UNITED LEFT and sit on the Executive. At the very least it must be seen as a supreme act of disloyalty towards our left-run Union including our BASSA reps and our left General Secretary.

The article was a typical piece of ultra-leftism which seeks to turn members against their own union, twisting and stretching facts about the negotiated deal to paint the blackest picture possible. We all know that the BA settlement was not an outright victory and that labour cost savings were always going to part of any final settlement. However the recovery of staff travel concessions, a solution to deal with the disciplines and dismissals of both members and reps, and the recovery of trade union recognition and representation rights represented a major climbdown by the Company. For this group of workers to stand up against the bullying and anti-union tactics of this powerful multinational (which had the full backing of the establishment and we understand a £2 billion warchest to “smash BASSA”) had always been the most impressive aspect to this dispute and to conclude it with such credit was widely welcomed at the Executive Council.

What many UNITED LEFT colleagues are now asking is how can we sit alongside SWP members whose party newspaper attacks the union in this way? Who are they to interfere in the details of a collective bargaining agreement which was endorsed not only by the BASSA reps but widely applauded at a special meeting attended by 2000 members? Is the SWP capable of understanding the realities of the industrial relations situation facing these members, or what the collective aspirations are of the majority? Finally why would the SWP want to attack UNITED LEFT BASSA reps – and our left General Secretary –  and try to undermine this latest deal as it goes to the membership for a ballot vote?

The answer to the first question is that our BASSA reps are saying they do not now wish to attend UNITED LEFT meetings if SWP members are present. That view is being shared by an increasing number of UNITED LEFT supporters. Is this now a “step too far?”

The UNITED LEFT National Co-ordinating Committee is meeting on Saturday 11 June prior to the Rules Conference to take a view on the amendments. We therefore invite comments and views especially from UNITED LEFT Regions for our consideration at that meeting on what UNITED LEFT should do with regards to acceptance of SWP members within our organisation.

Martin Mayer                                                               Paul Birkett

Chair                                                                           Secretary

UNITED LEFT                                                            UNITED LEFT

In response to this letter circulated on the United Left email list, Kevin Parslow, convener of the Socialist Party’s Unite caucus issued the following reply putting forward the Socialist Party’s view.

I’d like to begin by congratulating all the members of the union in BASSA who fought magnificently over the 20 months of the dispute. They have shown what the basics of trade unionism are all about and will come out of this dispute battle-hardened and hopefully more resolute in their determination to defend trade unionism in BA.
That spirit and determination should be utilised by assisting the transformation of Unite into a fighting union at all levels and I’d also like to welcome the Executive Council statement on the cuts as being a real step forward.
On the statement by Martin and Paul, it is clear that there is anger at the Socialist Worker article, which from what has been reported, boiled over at the Executive Council meeting. The Socialist Party feels that this article was too one-sided and didn’t draw a true balance sheet of the dispute, which we tried to do in our article. Geoff Collier posted a link to our article earlier but I’ll add it here again: The SWP’s unbalanced approach follows on from their role in the ‘Right to Work’ adventurist invasion of the BA talks last year.
To have won the dispute would have taken determination from all sections of the union and particularly those at BA but it would also have meant taking on the anti-trade union laws regarding secondary action. It is a debate we have had many times in the UL and the union but this is a concrete example of the need to confront them when it is vital to our members’ interests.
However, the Socialist Party recognised that the dispute had reached an impasse and that defeating the changes to rosters was now unlikely, given that management had taken huge measures to crush the union. The emphasis was therefore on recovering some of the ground lost during the dispute. On talking to one BASSA rep, it seems that staff believes that this is a victory in the sense that the attacks on the union during the dispute are or will be largely redressed by this agreement. That they end this dispute together is to be welcomed. Nevertheless it will take constant vigilance and determination to ensure that management do not renege or come back for more at a future date.
The anger at the Socialist Worker article has led to calls for the expulsion of the SWP members from UL. While it was correct to give them a final warning for breaking discipline over the GS election, despite our criticisms of their article, I don’t agree with expelling the SWP from UL. It would set a dangerous precedent that could be used against others who make criticisms of the leadership of the union, even when made in a constructive fashion. I can understand how BASSA members would be loathe to work alongside SWP members but would it not be best for the SWP to hear their criticisms from the inside rather than from outside the ranks?
Kevin Parslow

Peace in our time? The agreement between cabin crew and management.

Copy write: Paul Mattsson/The Socialist

On 12 May at a mass members’ meeting, Unite British Airways cabin crew voted to put the latest agreement between the union and management to a ballot of the membership. This appears to be the final chapter in one of the longest running disputes in Britain for a generation.

Since a mass meeting in October 2009 voted overwhelmingly to ballot for strike action there have been a number of twists and turns in this epic battle.

The original dispute was sparked off by management’s plans to alter the terms and conditions of cabin crew. Chief among these changes was a reduction of in-flight staffing numbers and the introduction of new cabin crew on much worse pay and conditions. To give just one example new crew are now given less than a day’s rest between long haul flights to Las Vegas. The turnover rate among new crew, who have been operating at the company since 2009 is reported to be high as many burn out from physical exhaustion.  Given the amount of time and money that goes into training cabin crew this high turn over rate simply underlines the self-defeating nature of eroding terms and conditions in pursuit of a short-term boost to profits and of course, executive bonuses.

These changes were imposed on cabin crew without the agreement of the union. In these circumstances cabin crew had no option but to fight in order to maintain the credibility of their union as a force that could effectively defend their interests.

But the cabin crew were unable to win a quick early victory. Among the reasons for this were the anti-trade union laws, the long delays in action and the failure to broaden the dispute across the entire workforce.

While the cabin crew and their elected reps showed tremendous determination, serious question marks must hang over the conduct of the national union leadership during the course of this dispute. It is clear that management was able to impose change on cabin crew because they were isolated from other sections of the workforce at the company. This allowed management more time to organise to counter the dispute. Special mention must go to the leadership of the pilots union BALPA who played an absolutely baleful role in this dispute. Despite the fact that a significant number of pilots acted as “volunteer” cabin crew during days of strike action, BALPA refused to issue a public statement advising members not to engage in scab behaviour. In a statement issued in January 2010 BALPA General Secretary Jim McAuslan said

“We understand a number of pilots have responded to BA’s call for volunteers to keep the airline operating through any strike and from their postings it is clear that this is out of concern for their own futures and that of other employees.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Balpa’s position on this is neutral and we will not dictate to our members.”

This is in contrast to the GMB who correctly advised their members it was not in their interests to undermine a dispute of their fellow BA workers.

From the resulting stalemate management went on the offensive, refusing to substantially negotiate and embarking on a vindictive witch-hunt against union members.

Staff travel concessions were withdrawn from those who had taken lawful strike action while leading Unite stewards were disciplined and even sacked. Trade union facility time agreements were effectively torn up.

Documents leaked to the Guardian reported on management plans to sideline the main cabin crew Unite branch BASA (British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association). The dispute had morphed into a battle to maintain the continued existence of  the union among crew.

The union failed to reverse the imposed changes and since December the focus of industrial action has centred on pushing back management’s witch-hunt against staff and limiting the worst effects of the impositions. This included the reduction in pay resulting from more lucrative longer haul routes being assigned to newer crew on inferior pay.

The key demands in the final ballot for strike action were the following:

The immediate restoration of staff travel concessions, in full, to the crew from whom they were taken by BA. Binding arbitration, through ACAS, of all cabin crew disciplinary cases related to the original dispute.

The restoration of all earnings docked from crew who were off sick during strike dates.

Full and proper discussion of the trade union facilities agreement at the company with the immediate removal of all threats and sanctions made by BA in relation to this.

Reading through the terms of the new agreement it appears these demands have been partially accepted by the company. Staff travel will be restored once the agreement is implemented. On the issue of victimisations management has agreed to binding arbitration at ACAS.

Socialists are clear that ACAS is no friend of the trade union movement, nevertheless putting the final decision regarding disciplinaries in their hands is an improvement on the situation where the decision rested with management and was being used as a method to witch-hunt trade unionists. However it is unclear at the present time whether this covers sacked activists such as Duncan Holley, BASSA branch secretary, who took his case to an employment tribunal and lost.

The agreement also pledges to honour existing trade union facility time, a big concession from management who had previously been attempting to disrupt the operation of the union among cabin crew by often refusing to grant reps time off to carry out union duties.

This is entirely due to the resilience of cabin crew under the most unbelievable bullying and harassment by an entirely vindictive management, not to mention constant vilification in the media.

However readers of the Air Strike should be clear that as far as the original industrial dispute is concerned, cabin crew were unable to reverse the attacks. There now exists a significant cohort of new starters among cabin crew with much worse terms and conditions. They will exist as a separate bargaining unit to ‘older’ cabin crew on better terms and conditions whose numbers over time will diminish due to natural wastage.

It cannot be ruled out that management will return at a future date looking for yet more concessions from cabin crew and will hope to play off different sections of cabin crew against each other. There are fears among reps in other sections of the BA workforce that the contract of new cabin crew may be applied to the rest of the company.

As the largest union in BA Unite was in a unique position to bring about a more united approach. It would be naïve to believe this could be easily done or that there were not pre-existing divisions amongst the workforce that management could exploit. Nevertheless there were a number of steps Unite could have taken in order to overcome this.

For example, once it became clear BA management were intent on union-busting, Unite could have called a meeting of all senior trade unions reps at the company to put the case for cabin crew to the wider workforce. During the course of this two-year dispute, other sections of Unite at BA were also in dispute with management. At the very least the union could have explored ways to coordinate action between the different sections. It would appear there was no attempt to do so and the opportunity of bringing the maximum pressure to bear on management was lost.

Although the joint agreement is littered with ringing phrases committing the company and Unite to a new era of amity and cooperation, this will prove to be short-lived as the global economy stagnates and oil prices continue to rise remorselessly. In order to maintain profit levels management will return at some point in the not too distant future demanding further concessions in pay, terms and conditions from staff. Thanks to the steadfastness of cabin crew, workers at BA will have the benefit of strong union representation to defend against further attacks but the main lesson to be drawn from this dispute in the future is that isolation of sections strengthens the hand of management.

The Final Furlong? Cabin Crew agree to ballot latest offer from BA

A mass meeting today of Unite cabin crew at BA members agreed to ballot the wider membership in regard to the companies latest offer to settle the long running dispute. According to an official statement from Unite, the union will be recommending acceptance of the offer, which includes the restoration of staff travel.

Further analysis of the deal will follow once it becomes available.

Unite announces new cabin crew ballot for strike action


For immediate release, Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Unite gives notice to BA of a new ballot of cabin crew members

A new ballot of cabin crew at British Airways will shortly get underway, the crew’s union Unite has today (Tuesday) informed the airline.  This will be the fourth ballot of the same workforce at the airline in a two year period.

The new ballot follows moves last month by the airline to derail the vote conducted in December 2010 by the Electoral Reform Services, which saw 78 percent of Unite’s crew members vote in favour of strike action by three to one.

Unite claims that systemic anti-union activity, the undermining of negotiated agreements and the vindictive removal of staff travel concessions by the company, is preventing headway in negotiations.  Since 2010, 18 members of Unite have been sacked and another 70 suspended, including a third of the local union leadership, as the airline targets trade union members.

In a letter sent to all the union’s members at BA, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey writes: “If BA’s management believes that it can secure industrial harmony by these methods it is living in a fools’ paradise.

Only negotiation, not litigation or intimidation, can start to heal the wounds caused by this dispute.

“However, given the on-going failure of British Airways management to take its employment relations seriously and start negotiating, we have today given the company formal notice of this fresh ballot.

“We have made every effort in prolonged negotiations to resolve this dispute. Throughout we have been guided by our representatives. If we could achieve a settlement then peace would at long last be at hand.

“BA management needs to understand that it will never break the spirit of cabin crew, and that customer uncertainty and confusion will continue until it starts listening to its staff.”

The ballot will open on Tuesday, March 1st and close on Monday, March 28th, 2011.



We post below a press release from the National Shop Stewards Network on the latest attempt by the employer to block BA Cabin Crew from taking lawful industrial action. See for more information.


Trade Unionists across the country will be shocked that, yet again, bosses at BA have forced UNITE Cabin Crew to re-ballot through a combination of intimidation and a ‘legal blitz’.

Rob Williams, National Shop Stewards Network vice-chair and convenor of its anti-cuts committee said:

Yet again today, the BA cabin crew are on the receiving end of blatantly biased legislation preventing them taking action after jumping through legal hoops to comply with anti-trade union laws that are already the most undemocratic in Western Europe. We offer them and their union Unite our full support as with the RMT who have also been affected over the last few weeks.

This is clearly an attempt to prevent working-people legitimately using their hard won democratic rights to defend their jobs, terms & conditions and pensions.

Workers will be well aware of the hypocrisy of the government when they talk about democracy abroad at the same time that they are enabling a bosses’ dictatorship at home. However, we in the NSSN have every confidence that British workers will prove just as able as their counterparts in the Middle East at fighting oppression.

Supporters of the NSSN stand fully behind UNITE Cabin Crew in their dispute and pledge to assist them in any way possible.