Strike day 4. Report from the picket lines

Pippa supports her mum on the picket lines

On day four of the Cabin Crew strike, BA workers decisively answered Willie Walsh’s declaration of war on terms, conditions and trade union rights with another solid showing on the picket lines. Walsh’s removal of travel discounts for strikers – not a perk, but a vital contractual right for many BA staff – has not cowed strikers. Neither has his refusal to roster a layer of crew over the last few days who took strike action; in effect, a lock-out of these workers as Walsh attempts to bully and intimidate in the face of much more solid action than he expected. But cabin crew refuse to take this lying down and again the planes have been piling up on the tarmac, serving as a stark visual counter to managements lies about the impact of the strike.

 The picket lines are, if anything, louder and even more confident than last weekend as cabin crew dig their heels in. Support from the public as well as workers with BA and other carriers have continued to buoy strikers. Cars loudly honking, thumbs up and raised fists, as well as the occasional donut drop, show the support that exists, which may need to be mobilised more practically over the next few weeks.

In an example of the determination of strikers to stand united one picketer we spoke to had left Liverpool at 2:00 AM and driven down to London to be on picket duty at 7:00 AM. He made light of his late night trek, explaining that when the union is in a battle it’s up to every member to do their bit. His plan was to stay the night in London and return to the pickets tomorrow. He predicted the strike would long and drawn out and was already making plans to travel to Manchester and Glasgow to support pickets there. Waving a Unite flag, this life long Everton supporter said it was the only time he’d be seen in public waving a red flag!

On a more serious note another picketer revealed he had remortgaged his house. He also believes the dispute will be protracted and needs the extra money to cover the loss of income he will suffer during the strike. It is this kind of dedication and sacrifice that is an answer to management propaganda that cabin crew are greedy and strike happy.

 Walsh’s Plans to Behead Union Leadership

 A document leaked from BA today, carried in the Guardian, confirmed what cabin crew have been explaining all along – this dispute was provoked by Willie Walsh and is fundamentally about breaking BASSA in preparation for an attack on trade union rights across the company. The document, entitled “A review of where BA are in the relationship with BASSA” was commissioned three years ago, at a time when BA were boasting of record profits. Just as the Tories did with the Ridley Plan in the late 70s when they drew up plans to smash the NUM, the miners union, BA management have had a plan to take on the union for years now and the economic crisis has been used as a convenient cover to roll these plans out!

 This document will make for blood-boiling reading to all cabin crew – it states “The management team should agree and express a determination to force the issue with BASSA. Some consideration should be given to hitting the leadership of BASSA where it hurts. Ground rules for paid time off for trade union duties is an area which needs to be very closely examined”.   

 What more proof is needed? Like other strongly unionised sections of workers before them, the employer wants to viciously take on BASSA in an attempt to break them before rolling out similar attacks to BA workers organised in other unions.

 Walsh doesn’t care about the long-term future of the company; he’s been brought in as a hatchet man and will be off in June to wield the axe somewhere else. But BA’s workforce is dedicated and hard-working, many with 25 years experience or more. We can’t let those hard-won terms and conditions be lost at the hands of an anti-union Neanderthal like Walsh.

 Given the seriousness of the attacks on the very principle of union organisation at the company, workers across Heathrow and beyond understand that what’s happening to cabin crew will affect them in the medium and long-term and therefore will be discussing how they can assist them.

 Now that management is clearly on a union busting drive all workers at BA no matter what their pay scale have a common interest in ensuring cabin crew are not defeated, otherwise no union contract at the company will be safe. Willie Walsh has declared total war on cabin crew, now is the time for trade unionists at BA to answer him in kind.

 The strike leadership could begin this by organising a meeting of reps from all unions across BA to discuss how best to defend trade union rights from the onslaught of management. A clear statement from such a meeting calling for the company to cease its drive to break the union and get back to the negotiating table or face a 24 hour warning strike would send a powerful message to BA management. The last thing Willie Walsh wants to see is this dispute spreading to other parts of the company.

 The prospect of a full-blown industrial dispute would mean political and business pressure would be brought to bear on BA management to end the dispute quickly. It is coordinated industrial action that will have the most powerful effect on BA management rather than appeals to “reasonable” members of the board or the investment community.

 Action so far has shown cabin crews determination to continue the struggle for as long as it takes. Over the coming week, the challenge for BASSA and Amicus cabin crew could be to use this determination as a lever to other workers at BA – if this is achieved, even a short, sharp round of strike action involving wider layers of the BA workforce could lead to a famous victory and the successful defence of trade union-negotiated terms and conditions.

  • Mobilise all BA workers to defend trade union rights
  • For a mass meeting of all BA trade union reps to discuss extending the action
  • Unite to step up media campaign in support of strike
  • For a 24 hour warning strike across the company against union busting
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6 Comments

  1. I think this strike is wrong. I am against unions completely as they invariably support the worst workers in a business. I believe that unions are an economic cancer. These people are in danger of biting off the hand that feeds them. If BA suffers financially and ends up failing these people will have only themselves to blame. They aren’t underpaid, the company they work for is not cutting jobs like many others. They should count themselves lucky.

    • Well Martin if you think unions support the worst workers in business then I doubt you support any strike at all!

      I think your making a sweeping generalisation based on no solid evidence what so ever. In the specific case of cabin crew at BA I think they directly contradict your point. One of the hall marks of the BA brand is the high quality of service on offer from cabin crew. Now the vast majority of crew voted for and have now gone out on strike. Sohow could BA have got a reputation for excellent cabin crew service is the overwhelming majority of the cabin crew, who are in the union, were the worst workers? It just doesn’t make sense.

      In fact the cabin crew are striking to defend the service on offer. Take for example this business of withdrawing the staff discount. This was brought in to increase the number of languages spoken by cabin crew so as toprovide a service in the language of BA’s cosmopolitan customers. Many of them live out side the UK because with the shortage of multi lingual skills in the UK labour market there is very little chance of recruiting significant numbers of new starters with language skills for the wages that are paid to new starters at BA. So now that it is known BA are prepared to withdraw the discount on a whim people with language skills will be less likely to want to work for BA. This will mean less crew on board speaking multiple languages and so a reduced service. BA will then lose out to competitors like Emirates who will still provide such a service.

      I also think you don’t really know what this dispute is about. It’s not about money. Cabin crew offered a pay cut. This dispute is about smashing the union. Read the report in the Guardian (the link is in the post above) if you don’t want to take my word for it.

  2. I think your Guardian link’s broken – have they removed the story?

  3. #2. Yes I can’t find it on the Guardian website either. The Guardian article has been reposted on News Bag http://www.newsbag.org?p=68761

  4. “I am against unions completely as they invariably support the worst workers in a business.”

    Just say I am a fascist. It saves time.

    Not having unions would inevtitably lead to a reduction in workers living standards and pay and conditions. We see how underhand bosses are when we have unions, imagine how they would be without them!
    People like Mark Barnes take for granted the contribution the unions have made to the wellbeing of workers everywhere.

    • Lets keep things civil people. As much as I personally disagree with Mike Barnes implying he holds views akin to fascism is going too far.

      Vigerous debate is welcome here, I think you make some good points in the rest of your post but throwing around terms like fascism on blogs will only lead to the debate descending into personal abuse.


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