Confidence grows among the strikers: Report from the picket lines

'Willie Walsh is pants!' is no longer simply a metaphor.

(Interviews with the pickets will follow later)

As the second round of strikes by cabin crew come to a conclusion no one within a 10 mile radius of Heathrow could be possibly be unaware of what is happening.

The number of pickets lines, has increased. Boisterous picket lines are now unavoidable for motorists approaching Heathrow in any direction. In fact on an average journey into Heathrow a motorist is likely to pass at least two pickets. Not that the vast majority of drivers mind with most of them only too happy to show their support by honking their horns. Unite have also acquired a mobile picket line in the form of an open-topped route master bus. Hoards of cabin crew can be seen on the top deck with red and white Unite flags. The bus circles Heathrow airport like a brightly coloured galleon while cabin crew chant slogans when ever it stops at a traffic light. The bus can be heard long before it appears thanks to the ceaseless car horns from supportive motorists. A Marine Corps style jeep also appears from time to time, festooned with Unite flags. In short the cabin crew strike totally dominates the mini city that is Heathrow.     

 No doubt the main purpose of this display is to keep the morale of strikers high while also acting as a visible symbol of the poor industrial relations under the Walsh regime. But it is also having an electrifying effect on other workers in the area. Local ambulance drivers and fire crews are frequent visitors to the pickets. Workers from other air lines, particularly Virgin Airline, wave and give the thumbs up from their company buses. One Socialist Party member returning from visiting pickets on a bus going down the Bath Road overheard two bin workers praising the strikes and saying their union should follow the example of cabin crew. As cabin crew strikers have often remarked in relation to BA management, ‘the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them’. It is cabin crew’s decision to stand up for themselves that is at the root of the tremendous public support they have received on the pickets. Millions of workers up and down the country experience bullying management and attacks on their pay and conditions every day. They understand that cabin crew’s fight is their fight. It is the employer’s fear of the “bad example” being set by BA cabin crew spreading to other workers that lies behind the hysterical attacks by establishment politicians and the right-wing media on the strikers.

 As BA management continued to dig its heels in talk on the pickets inevitably turned to what would happen next once the four days of strike action was completed. Although some picketers expressed the hope that the BA board would intervene to end the strike many picketers were of the opinion that more action would have to be called. There were many discussions on how the union could force BA management to the table. Over the four days of the dispute the Socialist Party, through its regular strike bulletin and in discussions with striking workers have put forward the idea of cabin crew unions calling a meeting of all the union reps in BA to discuss ways to widen the dispute. In discussions many strikers expressed support for this idea as a way of increasing the impact of the action. Other strikers felt that was premature and were in favour of taking stock after the seven days of action before deciding what to do next.

 What ever the outcome of these discussions the Socialist Party will continue to offer its support and solidarity to cabin crew in their battle with BA management.


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