With friends like these… New Labour puts the boot into cabin crew

New Labour revealed its true colours over the weekend. Senior figures queued up to take the side of British Airways management as cabin crew prepare for strike action on 20th March.

 During the course of the dispute New Labour has maintained a deafening silence as cabin crew came under intense attack from management and later sections of the media. Ironically this was spun by the right wing media to mean that the government was too cosy with the unions!

 However, New Labour finally broke cover over the weekend with Transport Secretary Lord Adonis stating that the strike was “totally unjustified”. Clearly Adonis does not see the irony of an unelected minister condemning a democratically decided decision of cabin crew to withdraw their labour. If a strike is “unjustified” after management rejects extensive cost cutting concessions from the union then Lord Adonis’s idea of a “justified” strike does not bear thinking about. Perhaps the simple truth is sitting in the House of Lords means Lord Adonis is so out of touch he thinks no effective strike action is justified?

However this was not enough for the Tories. Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles wrote to Gordon Brown on Sunday night calling on him to condemn the strike saying “In the face of reckless [strike] action, you are giving the impression of siding with the union”

Stung by this accusation Gordon Brown scrambled to re-affirm his pro-management credentials on Monday. Calling the strike “unjustified and deplorable” (do Walsh, Adonis and Brown all have the same speech writer?) Brown was unequivocal in his condemnation. He went on to say “We should not have a strike, it’s not in the company’s interest, it’s not in the workers’ interest and it’s certainly not in the national interest. We have got to find a way in which the two sides can get together.” As Brown is perfectly well aware, the two sides have been talking since November. Management has already imposed the changes on cabin crew so they will be perfectly happy to sit and talk for years.

It is quite clear who Gordon Brown and New Labour truly represents when we consider that there was not a word of condemnation of management when they unilaterally tore up the contracts of cabin crew contracts. When UNITE finally decided to call an end to talks that were going nowhere all of a sudden New Labour politicians leap into action on the side of management.

What this whole sorry incident underlines is that despite all the millions that the unions have given the Labour Party down through the years, despite all the wining and dining of trade union leaders by Gordon Brown and co., when the going gets tough union members can expect no support from the Labour Party.

Compare this to the support Labour’s big business donors have got. The anti-trade union laws are still on the statute book, the finance industry left to run amok for years until they crashed the economy, local services privatized, lucrative contracts to run the NHS sold off to their friends in PFI companies – the list goes on.

This is not an isolated incident. Members of the PCS and UNISON will readily testify to the years of attacks they have had to endure on their jobs and terms and conditions courtesy of New Labour. When unions take legitimate strike action to defend their members they are met with the same vilification that is now falling on cabin crew. During the recent two day strikes by civil servants Cabinet Office Minister Tessa Jowell took a leaf out of the Willie Walsh school of industrial relations and condemned the PCS for refusing to allow their members pay and conditions to be driven down to the lowest level of the private sector.

The deplorable conduct of the government raises the question; what is the purpose of the millions donated by the unions to New Labour? UNITE alone donates £1 million pounds a year of their members’ money so that Labour Party leaders can turn round and attack those same members as soon as they challenge the diktats of Labour’s big business friends. Similar thoughts seem to be occupying the minds of UNITE Cabin Crew as well. According to the Guardian sources in UNITE have revealed a number of BASSA members have withdrawn from the Labour-affiliated fund.

This demonstrates that a questioning of the Labour Party’s role has begun in the largest private sector branch in the trade union movement. This questioning process is bound to accelerate if New Labour continues to attack cabin crew as the struggle becomes more intense.

While cabin crew is vilified in the media the employers have not just one party supporting them but three! This is a reflection of the position of workers more generally in Britain where they have no mass party that is prepared to stand up, assist them against the attacks of the bosses and use its influence to mobilize broader support in society.

It is the position of the Socialist Party that the most important task for the labour movement in this dispute is to mobilize support to assist cabin crew to resist the bully boy tactics of Willie Walsh and co.

The conduct of Gordon Brown shows there needs to be, at the minimum, an open public debate within UNITE over continuing to fund the Labour Party. It is quite simply not acceptable that millions of pounds of member’s money should be gifted to Labour on the feeble grounds that the Tories would be worse. No one is under any illusions what a Tory government would be like. But in the face of vicious employers prepared to use the most brutal methods to destroy union organisation (as BA management clearly are) then workers need a party that will be resolute in their defence. Labour no longer performs that role. It is high time the unions ended the link with Labour and devoted the energy and resources of the membership into building a new party of working people that will fight shoulder to shoulder in the coming battles with the employers.

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