The strikers in their own words

Reporters from Airstrike spoke to a number of strikers on the picket lines today. Unfortunately due to the level of intimidation at BA at the moment we are unable to give you the names of people we have interviewed. It is an indictment of the regime at BA at the moment that the simple democratic freedom to speak ones mind about ones own workplace without fear of reprisal has been denied.

This first interview was given by a lively female striker. Armed with a large Unite flag our conversation was frequently interrupted as she turned to wave her flag at cars honking their horns in support. When we spoke her voice had the steely determination of someone undiminished by months of battles with management.

Airstrike (A): Ok you’ve been on the pickets for 2 hours, what’s the mood like?

Female Picketer (FP): Fantastic, absolutely brilliant. Loads of empty crew busses. There’s another crew bus going past! Empty crew busses. *cars honk horns, pickets cheer*

A: You seem to be getting a lot of support from passing motorists. Do you think this is an answer to the media who’ve been saying you have no support?

FP: It absolutely is! You can’t legislate for what a right wing media will report. So the Daily Mail version of events I’m sure will be very different.

The media I think has turned round… because it is very clear what this dispute is about and Walsh has exposed himself. You know in one of his fits of pique he even couldn’t contain saying that is was about smashing the union. He actually said it himself, which is what we’ve always known and any working person in this country must know that if British Airways can get away with imposing; not negotiating, not achieving anything by collective bargaining but imposing something on a group of workers then any employer will get away with imposing anything on their employees and that’s why this is such an important dispute.

A: Well I know for example Unite have put out a call for the trade union movement to mobilise behind it. It does seem to be a bit of a new era we’re in.

FP: It’s massive because we’ve now got support from the Teamsters in America, ground colleagues in Australia, France, Italy, American Airlines pilots have come out in favour of us, Delta, across the world. So even if he managed to get a couple of planes away no jetties will come to those planes, no planes will be unloaded and I think we are working on the idea that what goes up must come down but what goes down does not necessarily have to come back up again. So the solidarity is fantastic.

A: One of the striking thing about this dispute is that the union has done a fantastic job organising solidarity in Sydney, right across the world but because of the anti trade union laws it’s quite difficult to organise it here.

FP: It’s here that is the most difficult place to organise any sort of solidarity, even where the pickets can be. Our own company has called on our own employees, our own ground staff to cross picket lines to break this strike. We’ve got pilots training to be cabin crew when the pilots themselves not a year ago were appealing for our support when they felt their jobs were threatened by open skies. So very, very short memories here.

A: Do you think it’s a comment on New Labour that they haven’t changed the anti-trade union laws?

FP: They haven’t changed any of the Thatcherite laws! Absolutely! Its unbelievable how difficult it has been to organise anything, how the legal system has worked against us in this dispute but we are still here because eventually justice will win out.

A: It’s probably a moot question but are you confident you’re going to win?

FP: Oh I am confident! I am absolutely confident and delighted because as I said right will win out in this dispute. He (Walsh) has tried everything he can to stop this strike.

This is a very significant point; you’re not talking about dockers here, you’re not talking about miners, this is middle England cabin crew. They are mums, they are Daily Mail readers, most of them, When they have a turn out of 80% and 92% vote to strike and then after an injunction and then after two months of concerted bullying and harassment, and I mean unbelievable bullying and harassment, still 80% turn out and 81%, middle England, of them vote for strike you have got to realise some thing is wrong at BA and that management can do what they like, to bully, to injunct, to harass, to threaten to take away travel privileges, to threaten to sack people but eventually here we are.

A: Well that seems to be the key thing lying behind destroying the union, its about the race to the bottom, its about shredding middle class living standards and driving it down to the level…

FMP: Yes, it’s the race to the bottom. I make no apology for the fact that we are better paid than Ryanair and Easyjet. That’s because we have a strong unionised workforce and yes, we have for many years been able to win decent terms and conditions for our workers and I make no apology for that.

But saying all that this has never been about pay, even though we have taken a pay cut it. But it is about a race to the bottom.

Whereas interestingly Walsh doesn’t say ’Well who is the lowest paid Chief Executive? I think my wages should be equal to that!’

I said to the Telegraph the other day, presumably he (the journalist) works for the Telegraph for a reason? Presumably its about pay, conditions and status and everything else. He hasn’t chosen to accept the same wages as a journalist as someone working at the Barnet Express.

A: Walsh is clearly out to destroy BASSA. BA can exist with BASSA, can the company exist with Willie Walsh?

FP: The company cannot exist (with Walsh), nothing is clearer. He has presided over £800 million of fines, he’s presided over the disastrous debacle of the opening of T5 now he is presiding over this strike. Can it survive Willie Walsh…?

A: Time will tell.

FP: Yeah, time will tell.

Our second interview was given by an experienced member of cabin crew. His tone is measured and he weighs his words carefully.

Airstrike: How do you think the pickets have gone so far?

Male Picketer 1 (MP1): It’s warming up. We’re all smiling but it’s a bit hit and miss with people going past. I still think a lot of the public aren’t really aware of what the issues really are but we are getting a lot more positive responses as people are going by.

A: What do you think are the key issues in this strike?

MP1: They key issue is the fact that we have long established methods of managing change in the company and those methods have been thrown into the dust bin. Mr. Walsh has come in with a slash and burn policy and he’s determined to break the union. But ultimately what is behind all of this is that he wants rid of us and he wants to hire a very low paid workforce who will be around for 2 or 3 years and then move on. All his costs will be reduced.

A: I believe there are over 30 reps who are on suspension or up for gross misconduct. Is that now an issue for the strike as well?

MP1: Absolutely. He’s making it an issue. He has said to Unite officials that he wants a complete change of leadership at the top of BASSA. A healthy company accepts all opinions from all quarters. If you’re run by a bunch of people who just say yes there’s no constructive criticism and we don’t learn from our mistakes and we can’t change for the better.

A: There’s been a big response from the transport unions. Has that lifted the mood?

MP1: Very much so. It came at the right time because we were all feeling quite downhearted. The union breaking tactics have been quite aggressive and people have felt very dispirited and that was a huge lift.

A: Are you confident you can win?

MP2: If we stick together. We either win or we wave goodbye to our jobs.

Our final interviewer is from one of the many Continental BA employees. He explains some of the strains that comes with the job.

A: You’ve just arrived on the picket line. What do you feel the mood is?

Male Picketer 2 (MP2): Well the mood is quite nice actually. Lots of people have turned up at Bedfont (Strike HQ) and we are all quite united. Enough is enough. We’ve had quite a lot of proposals on the table, we’ve tried to negotiate as hard as we could and nothing has come of it so the last resort is to come out on strike. Obviously it’s very bad for our customers, we do care about our customers and one of the reasons we have been on strike is to protect the service.

A: There have been threats to withdraw the travel privileges of staff that go on strike but that hasn’t stopped you from going strike (the interviewee lives outside Britain)

MP2: Not at all because the livelihood, future earnings and terms and conditions of cabin crew are at stake so staff travel means not a lot to me to be honest, compared to the next 10-20 years of cabin crew.

A: What do you feel are the issues in this strike. What effects you the most in this dispute?

MP2: The way we have been treated, the way we have been lied to. The bullying, harassment at the workplace. Turning up for work and not feeling comfortable, feeling stressed. Being divided among the crew community. Being divided with our flight crew. It’s getting harder to turn up for work these days.

A: You’ve been getting an excellent reaction from passing motorists. Are you surprised given the media storm?

MP2: Well I think things are turning. I think we are getting more attention and support from the media and hopefully from the general public who will understand why we are going on strike. At the end of the day we do work hard. My last trip was a back to back. You can cross the Atlantic 4 times in 5 days. So you go through sleepless nights, jet lag obviously and there is a price to pay for that. We deserve a good salary and that’s got to be paid for.

A: That’s one of the points that is being put out, that you are over paid, that you are privileged. Would you like to respond to that to put the record straight?

MP2: I don’t think we are overpaid. When you think of it you spend half of your life abroad. So basically you are not with your wife, family, children, close ones. Your working at Christmas, your working at New Year. I haven’t had a Christmas off in four years. My family lives abroad it would be nice to spend Christmas with my family but I haven‘t had a chance.

A: It’s been a good turn out on the pickets. Are you confident you can win this?

MP2: I firmly believe that we will try our hardest to win this. It’s not about winning, its abut gaining the respect of our CEO and that’s not what we are getting at the moment and getting respect from the public and putting BA back to where it was before “The worlds favourite airline” a brand you can trust, and for me to be proud to work for BA which I’m not at the moment.

A: One more question. It’s quite clear Walsh is out to destroy the union. Do you think its possible for the staff to have any kind of working relationship with Walsh at all after this?

MP2: Personally, I really doubt it.






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