BA Management Attacks Free Speach

According to the BBC 15 members of cabin crew have been suspended by BA management for allegedly making ‘inappropriate’ comments about the company on social networking sites. BA is claiming the comments were made on a UNITE forum while UNITE themselves say the comments were made on a Facebook site not connected with the union.

This cyber witch hunt is clearly part of a wider campaign to intimidate cabin crew in the run up to the second ballot for industrial action this month. However management is also using this opportunity to clamp down even further on the workforce. Staff at BA already have their right to free speech severely curtailed. Written into every BA worker’s contract is a pledge not to bring the company into disrepute in the press. Since management decides what constitutes disrepute what this in effect means is that every member of staff must sign up to a gagging order. For this reason members of BA staff who wish to discuss their industrial dispute with the media must do so anonymously or risk disciplinary procedures. Not content with this draconian internal regime management are now looking to extend this into the domain of social networking sites like Facebook, staff forums etc. There has been a long running battle on the BA Employment Policy Committee (the EPC is a joint management and union body where disciplinary procedures and general employment policy are discussed) between unions and management over whether comments on social networking sites can be made a formal breach of contract. Union reps have resisted management’s attempt to place further gagging orders on staff. True to form, BA management have decided to dispense with negotiations and simply imposed changes unilaterally.

This attack on the elementary right to free speech reveals a lot about the functioning of democracy in a capitalist society. Those of us living in Britain enjoy certain democratic rights that have been fought for and won over a number of years. However when those rights conflict with the money making process they can quickly come under attack from the bosses and their political shadows in the state. We have seen two blatant examples of this in the British Airways cabin crew dispute. Firstly, when the overwhelming democratic decision of over 11,000 cabin crew to strike was over-ridden by a single judge acting on a spurious technicality. Now we see 15 workers being hounded by management simply for speaking their minds.

This is not to say democratic rights are an illusion but it does mean that they are not a given. They must be fought for and defended. A UNITE spokesperson has said they will ‘vigorously defend’ their members.

A forceful collective response from all union members at British Airways is the best way to beat off this attack from a bullying management.

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