Interviews on the picket line

Interview on picket line 29th March 2010

The following is an interview taken with two friendly female pickets on Monday 29th March. Both of them have over 20 years experience with the company. Although they have different perspectives on the dispute they were both as one in their determination to stand up to BA management.

Air Strike (AS): Round two of the battle between cabin crew and BA. How do you feel its going so far?

Female Picket 1 (FP1): Excellent, lots of support from the guys out on the pickets line and loads of support from the guys out there (points to passing cars).

Female Picket 2 (FP2): I think the tide is starting to turn. People are starting to realise what this is all about and as I’ve said before the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. I’m amazed at the support.

AS: It’s becoming increasingly clear this dispute is not about money, it’s about smashing the union. Can you give your thoughts on that?

FP1: I agree. I think its absolutely the case. I don’t think it was ever about saving money because there was money on the table, he (Willie Walsh) could have taken it, he didn’t want it and that should speak volumes.

FP2: Five years ago we knew the writing was on the wall when Willie Walsh took over as our CEO. Two years ago when a document was leaked called ‘Operation Columbus’ (see end note 1) and now this is happening. If this was really about a fight for survival then he would have accepted all the help that was on offer from his employees and all the money that he could have saved. Hopefully now people have realised that this is about breaking the union.

AS: It seems quite clear that breaking the union is so they can increase profitability, increase the bonus’s for him (Walsh), how does that make you feel considering the media have tried to portray you as greedy?

FP1: How does it make me feel? Well pretty angry! It’s not the case, we’re working class people. We do a good job on the aircraft and off the aircraft as well. We work very hard, we give our heart and souls. We are the ones at the coal face, at the front of the airline. These people are disgusting because they are hiding in their offices, the managers, Willie Walsh and all his entourage they’re hiding in their offices, they’re not facing the passengers day-to-day like us so yeah I’m angry because I think it’s a load of old rubbish.

FP2: I feel in a way quite differently. I think there’s nothing wrong with aspiring to work for the best company in the world. I think in every industry there will be employees who want to get more than another because their pay and conditions are better. I’ve been with the company 25 years and all the way through we were told that we were the best of the best. We are professionals and we are passionate about the job that we do. I am now a Cabin Service Director (CSD) I went for the job five times and worked very hard to get the role that I have. I’m an onboard manager and I make no apologies for what I earn. I spend a lot of time dealing with customer issues that I don’t get paid for, I do it at home as a lot of managers do but I am very, very passionate about the job I do and it’s absolutely disgusts me what he is trying to do to his front based customer staff. We are part of the product of the company. We are the fifth P (see end note 2) in the marketing mix. Every other airline utilises that. You look at Singapore Airlines where the Singapore girl is the fifth P. Even Virgin do it, they capitalise on their staff. I think it is a big mistake to demoralise the most precious asset you have in a business and I think he is wrong.

AS: You’re a CSD, BA management have tried to portray the CSD’s as the root of the problem. Can you explain the role of a CSD ad the impact the changes to the role of the CSD will have on the service?

FP2:Well as a CSD before (the changes) you weren’t involved in giving out meals. The implication (by management) is that you weren’t doing any work. Well that’s completely wrong. My job is as the on board customer service manager, the on board performance manager. What other job do you have 15 minutes to create a team with 15 people that you have never met before in your life? You’re going to be going away with them for up to 9 days at a time and you have to nurture them through that and support them, live with them, motivate them and deal with any issues you have during that period. It’s a very responsible job, during that time your liaising with ground staff, with flight crew with customers and at the moment as a CSD your getting it in the neck from everybody. Your not only being bullied from the management but I’m getting it in the neck from the ground staff, from flight crew, from the passengers and even from some of the crew and I’ve never felt more stressed about anything in my life. It pains me to be standing here today but I also passionately believe that what we are doing is right. BA should protect what it is. We are a premium airline not a low cost carrier.

AS: The second round of strikes are coming to an end. What do you think is going to happen next? What do you think is needed to bring management to the table?

FP1: Difficult to say really. I think the strike will go on. I see the fight still very much there.

FP2: It worries me what’s going to happen next. As I’ve said the union is only as strong as it’s members. If it has been well supported and the company has suffered then it becomes a political issue as well. The general election is coming up so there is pressure on the government to get involved in this. So I think that will have an influence on what will happen next. It worries me that he (Walsh) won’t give anything at all. Hopefully there has been enough damage that he (Walsh) will realise that we are not going to back down, that we are strong about this and we will carry on.

AS: The RMT are going out on strike next week, gas workers are going out on strike. Are you encouraged to see other workers taking action, that it’s not just you fighting on your own?

FP1: Well it shows me that there is a style of management going round that is detrimental to the workforce, it’s not just in our company it seems to be in other companies as well. If they do go out on strike, well it just shows that we are at the forefront of this and hopefully it will encourage other people to stand up and fight for their rights because that’s what it is all about.

FP2: I personally think it weakens our case. I think there is a danger a perception will develop that unions have too much power. So it worries me that everyone is going on strike at the moment. I’d rather things were staggered just a little as I think it weakens us.

End note 1: ‘Operation Colombus’ was a secret document drawn up by Hewitt Associates, an American outsourcing and corporate restructuring specialist at the behest of BA management over two years ago. Among other things it proposed changes to cabin crew work practices similar to what BA has now imposed. 

End note 2: In traditional marketing orthodoxy selling an item is summarised as the “four P’s”; Product, Place, Promotion, Price. Recently a “fifth P” has been added, People. The idea being that the people involved in producing and delivering the product i.e. the workers, are intrinsic to the health of a business.

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