Day 3. Report from the picket line.

The son of one of the pickets shows support for his mum. He's also a champion chanter!

The first round of strike action by British Airways cabin crew came to an end today. Many pickets pointed out that this was the most important of the three days of strike action. Whereas the previous two days action over the weekend had mostly affected leisure travellers, Monday’s strike would hit business travellers, one of BA’s most lucrative markets. Not to mention the knock on effects to the national and indeed international economy as one of the world’s largest airlines was largely put out of action at the beginning of a working week.

It may seem like a cliché to state that the mood is still solid to those unfamiliar with the situation. Nevertheless it is remarkable to those of us who have been visiting picket lines since Saturday to see the crowds outside strike HQ growing as are the numbers cueing up to go on picket duties despite the early morning cold weather. Endless streams of vehicles passing pickets honk their horns in support, their driver’s wave, give the thumbs up or sometimes shake their fists in the air. There are the occasional rude gestures from one or two surly motorists but by and large the pickets simply smile and wave with the indifference of people who have come through far worse abuse to reach this point.

Cabin crew have every right to feel confident. The rows of idle planes on the tarmac keep getting longer. Crew busses supposedly ferrying 50% of cabin crew to work have largely been empty. When the occasional BA bus carrying scabs does pass by pickets break out into song, chanting ‘I’d rather be a picket than a scab’. BA bus drivers are directly employed by BA and are also members of Unite. They are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of the pickets. One driver carrying a handful of scabs beeped her horn with gusto while passing a picket on a round about near the fire station. By a stroke of luck the traffic lights turned red so the bus was idle close to the pickets for several moments. The driver considerately opened her window and gestured for the pickets to sing louder so her passengers inside would get the full benefit of cabin crew on song!

On a more serious note Unite have released a strike update showing the action is definitely biting BA. There is a feeling that after months of relentless attacks by management cabin crew have finally started to shift the pressure on to management and Willie Walsh. The man himself seems to have disappeared with no actual sightings of him around Waterside (management HQ) in days apart from the occasional video broadcasted on YouTube where Walsh assures everyone that all is well and everything is going exactly according to plan. This has led the strikers to dub him ‘Comical Ali’ after Saddam Hussein’s eternally optimistic in the face of reality former propaganda minister!

When 11AM came round cabin crew assembled for a rally with joint General Secretary Tony Woodley speaking. He stated that capitulation was not on the menu. He promised that if there was to be change then Unite would fight to ensure existing terms and conditions were protected. Just as it seemed the rally was winding up stewards announced there was to be an impromptu march. Buses arrived to collect cabin crew from Bedfont football ground and ferried them up the busy roads to Unite’s Heathrow office just off the Bath Road. Around 500 cabin crew and supporters then held a short but lively march down the Bath Road, once again receiving enthusiastic encouragement from passing motorists.

Thoughts of the strikers are now turning to tomorrow when those rostered on return to work. BA will certainly not return to normal by the time the second round of strikes take place. From discussions on the picket lines and statements from Unite it appears there has been no contact from management about restarting negotiations. The general consensus was that further strike action is inevitable. Cabin crew will be starting those days of action in a much stronger position. Three important facts that were unclear before the strike days began have now been made clear. Number one, the level of support from the public is much greater than media reports had suggested. Number two cabin crew have the backing of the British and indeed the international trade union movement. Number 3 industrial action has hit the company hard.

AirSTRIKE will carry a longer piece tomorrow analysing the dispute so far and the direction it may take. In the meantime we would encourage readers to send messages of support and congratulation to BASSA at office@bassa.co.uk and Amicus Cabin Crew at cc89@mac.com.

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3 Comments

  1. seems strange to me that a workforce complaining about management bullying would revel so much in the opportunity to harass a bus load of workers who have chosen to break through the picket line

    • Well yes that WOULD be strange, if that was actually what happened.

      Lets do a little thought experiment shall we?

      Imagine for a second an airline, lets call it Airways of Britain, where employees are not allowed to speak to the media for fear of suspension. Where the company sets up a shadowy department call ‘Asset Protection’ to monitor the forums and facebook profiles of it’s employees, where staff are routinely pulled into offices by management and berated about their ‘attitude’ to the company as a result of private conversations outside of worktime, where the company sets up secure hotlines in the countries where it operates in order for staff to inform on their colleagues to management, where management rings up staff at home for a ‘friendly chat’ about how they are intending to vote in a strike ballot. All the time it is the management who have the say on who gets suspended or not, who gets rostered on etc.

      Now imagine those workers go on strike. The management, after months of bleeting about the supposed financial crisis the company is in employs scabs, some of whom are on over £160 an hour (pilots) to break the strike. Staff on strike are forbidden to use words like ‘crossing the picket line’ or even discussing with these people during work or face being put on suspension. When these scabs go to work they are bused from the car park to work. They do not encounter picket lines as such as the actual enterance to their workplace is on private property belonging to the airport. Naturally the boses in the airport are only to happy to oblige the boses at AB and ban the workers from their own work place. The scabs do occasionally have to pass by groups of workers, never numbering more than 14 because the company rings the cops every 5 minutes to enforce the undemocratic anti trade union laws that limits picket numbers, when they are on the bus. Then for the 30 seconds or so these scabs have to listen to cabin crew sing, ‘I’d rather be a picket than a scab’.

      So tell me “dale” in this little thought experiment who are the people who are REALLY getting harrassed?

      • You work in the absolute most competitive industry in the country, and you have the complete freedom to leave your position if you choose. But you won’t, because you’re the kind of person who fantasises about evil corporate ‘machines’ and ‘shady’ spies keeping tabs on you. You probably think I’m from of them. These fantasies fire you up and you stoke others to believe this machine is a dark force working against them, refusing to accept that these others may not share your view.

        There was a time when BA needed a Union – this was when it flew effectively as a department of the government, a state-run airline sending crews overseas back and forth from a monopolised airspace. Lack of competition meant that workforces needed to be protected, but the world has since changed and you haven’t.

        Whether you are able to take the blinkers off and admit it, I don’t know. But you are wrong about this strike and the wider general public are against you. You could accept that and move on with the world, or you can stay in your bubble and reminisce about the way things once were. Choose the latter, and you’ll get left behind.


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