The Final Act: Cabin Crew vote to accept latest offer

The Unite website announced yesterday that cabin crew have voted 92% in favour of accepting a deal which will end this long running dispute.

Just under 1000 cabin crew were balloted with 7,088 taking part, making it a turn out of 72%.  6,509 voted in favour whilst 579 voted against.

Announcing the result Unite General Secretary Len McClsukey said: “I want to pay personal tribute to the cabin crew for the principled stand they took. In these difficult times it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and thousands of crew did so, at great personal expense and emotional cost.”

Air Strike will publish further articles analysing the dispute in the near future.

Peace in our time? The agreement between cabin crew and management.

Copy write: Paul Mattsson/The Socialist

On 12 May at a mass members’ meeting, Unite British Airways cabin crew voted to put the latest agreement between the union and management to a ballot of the membership. This appears to be the final chapter in one of the longest running disputes in Britain for a generation.

Since a mass meeting in October 2009 voted overwhelmingly to ballot for strike action there have been a number of twists and turns in this epic battle.

The original dispute was sparked off by management’s plans to alter the terms and conditions of cabin crew. Chief among these changes was a reduction of in-flight staffing numbers and the introduction of new cabin crew on much worse pay and conditions. To give just one example new crew are now given less than a day’s rest between long haul flights to Las Vegas. The turnover rate among new crew, who have been operating at the company since 2009 is reported to be high as many burn out from physical exhaustion.  Given the amount of time and money that goes into training cabin crew this high turn over rate simply underlines the self-defeating nature of eroding terms and conditions in pursuit of a short-term boost to profits and of course, executive bonuses.

These changes were imposed on cabin crew without the agreement of the union. In these circumstances cabin crew had no option but to fight in order to maintain the credibility of their union as a force that could effectively defend their interests.

But the cabin crew were unable to win a quick early victory. Among the reasons for this were the anti-trade union laws, the long delays in action and the failure to broaden the dispute across the entire workforce.

While the cabin crew and their elected reps showed tremendous determination, serious question marks must hang over the conduct of the national union leadership during the course of this dispute. It is clear that management was able to impose change on cabin crew because they were isolated from other sections of the workforce at the company. This allowed management more time to organise to counter the dispute. Special mention must go to the leadership of the pilots union BALPA who played an absolutely baleful role in this dispute. Despite the fact that a significant number of pilots acted as “volunteer” cabin crew during days of strike action, BALPA refused to issue a public statement advising members not to engage in scab behaviour. In a statement issued in January 2010 BALPA General Secretary Jim McAuslan said

“We understand a number of pilots have responded to BA’s call for volunteers to keep the airline operating through any strike and from their postings it is clear that this is out of concern for their own futures and that of other employees.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Balpa’s position on this is neutral and we will not dictate to our members.”

This is in contrast to the GMB who correctly advised their members it was not in their interests to undermine a dispute of their fellow BA workers.

From the resulting stalemate management went on the offensive, refusing to substantially negotiate and embarking on a vindictive witch-hunt against union members.

Staff travel concessions were withdrawn from those who had taken lawful strike action while leading Unite stewards were disciplined and even sacked. Trade union facility time agreements were effectively torn up.

Documents leaked to the Guardian reported on management plans to sideline the main cabin crew Unite branch BASA (British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association). The dispute had morphed into a battle to maintain the continued existence of  the union among crew.

The union failed to reverse the imposed changes and since December the focus of industrial action has centred on pushing back management’s witch-hunt against staff and limiting the worst effects of the impositions. This included the reduction in pay resulting from more lucrative longer haul routes being assigned to newer crew on inferior pay.

The key demands in the final ballot for strike action were the following:

The immediate restoration of staff travel concessions, in full, to the crew from whom they were taken by BA. Binding arbitration, through ACAS, of all cabin crew disciplinary cases related to the original dispute.

The restoration of all earnings docked from crew who were off sick during strike dates.

Full and proper discussion of the trade union facilities agreement at the company with the immediate removal of all threats and sanctions made by BA in relation to this.

Reading through the terms of the new agreement it appears these demands have been partially accepted by the company. Staff travel will be restored once the agreement is implemented. On the issue of victimisations management has agreed to binding arbitration at ACAS.

Socialists are clear that ACAS is no friend of the trade union movement, nevertheless putting the final decision regarding disciplinaries in their hands is an improvement on the situation where the decision rested with management and was being used as a method to witch-hunt trade unionists. However it is unclear at the present time whether this covers sacked activists such as Duncan Holley, BASSA branch secretary, who took his case to an employment tribunal and lost.

The agreement also pledges to honour existing trade union facility time, a big concession from management who had previously been attempting to disrupt the operation of the union among cabin crew by often refusing to grant reps time off to carry out union duties.

This is entirely due to the resilience of cabin crew under the most unbelievable bullying and harassment by an entirely vindictive management, not to mention constant vilification in the media.

However readers of the Air Strike should be clear that as far as the original industrial dispute is concerned, cabin crew were unable to reverse the attacks. There now exists a significant cohort of new starters among cabin crew with much worse terms and conditions. They will exist as a separate bargaining unit to ‘older’ cabin crew on better terms and conditions whose numbers over time will diminish due to natural wastage.

It cannot be ruled out that management will return at a future date looking for yet more concessions from cabin crew and will hope to play off different sections of cabin crew against each other. There are fears among reps in other sections of the BA workforce that the contract of new cabin crew may be applied to the rest of the company.

As the largest union in BA Unite was in a unique position to bring about a more united approach. It would be naïve to believe this could be easily done or that there were not pre-existing divisions amongst the workforce that management could exploit. Nevertheless there were a number of steps Unite could have taken in order to overcome this.

For example, once it became clear BA management were intent on union-busting, Unite could have called a meeting of all senior trade unions reps at the company to put the case for cabin crew to the wider workforce. During the course of this two-year dispute, other sections of Unite at BA were also in dispute with management. At the very least the union could have explored ways to coordinate action between the different sections. It would appear there was no attempt to do so and the opportunity of bringing the maximum pressure to bear on management was lost.

Although the joint agreement is littered with ringing phrases committing the company and Unite to a new era of amity and cooperation, this will prove to be short-lived as the global economy stagnates and oil prices continue to rise remorselessly. In order to maintain profit levels management will return at some point in the not too distant future demanding further concessions in pay, terms and conditions from staff. Thanks to the steadfastness of cabin crew, workers at BA will have the benefit of strong union representation to defend against further attacks but the main lesson to be drawn from this dispute in the future is that isolation of sections strengthens the hand of management.

The Final Furlong? Cabin Crew agree to ballot latest offer from BA

A mass meeting today of Unite cabin crew at BA members agreed to ballot the wider membership in regard to the companies latest offer to settle the long running dispute. According to an official statement from Unite, the union will be recommending acceptance of the offer, which includes the restoration of staff travel.

Further analysis of the deal will follow once it becomes available.

Unite announces new cabin crew ballot for strike action


UNITE NEWS RELEASE

For immediate release, Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Unite gives notice to BA of a new ballot of cabin crew members

A new ballot of cabin crew at British Airways will shortly get underway, the crew’s union Unite has today (Tuesday) informed the airline.  This will be the fourth ballot of the same workforce at the airline in a two year period.

The new ballot follows moves last month by the airline to derail the vote conducted in December 2010 by the Electoral Reform Services, which saw 78 percent of Unite’s crew members vote in favour of strike action by three to one.

Unite claims that systemic anti-union activity, the undermining of negotiated agreements and the vindictive removal of staff travel concessions by the company, is preventing headway in negotiations.  Since 2010, 18 members of Unite have been sacked and another 70 suspended, including a third of the local union leadership, as the airline targets trade union members.

In a letter sent to all the union’s members at BA, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey writes: “If BA’s management believes that it can secure industrial harmony by these methods it is living in a fools’ paradise.

Only negotiation, not litigation or intimidation, can start to heal the wounds caused by this dispute.

“However, given the on-going failure of British Airways management to take its employment relations seriously and start negotiating, we have today given the company formal notice of this fresh ballot.

“We have made every effort in prolonged negotiations to resolve this dispute. Throughout we have been guided by our representatives. If we could achieve a settlement then peace would at long last be at hand.

“BA management needs to understand that it will never break the spirit of cabin crew, and that customer uncertainty and confusion will continue until it starts listening to its staff.”

The ballot will open on Tuesday, March 1st and close on Monday, March 28th, 2011.

 

BA DISPUTE: SUPPORT THE RIGHT TO STRIKE

We post below a press release from the National Shop Stewards Network on the latest attempt by the employer to block BA Cabin Crew from taking lawful industrial action. See www.shopstewards.net for more information.

BA DISPUTE: SUPPORT THE RIGHT TO STRIKE

Trade Unionists across the country will be shocked that, yet again, bosses at BA have forced UNITE Cabin Crew to re-ballot through a combination of intimidation and a ‘legal blitz’.

Rob Williams, National Shop Stewards Network vice-chair and convenor of its anti-cuts committee said:

Yet again today, the BA cabin crew are on the receiving end of blatantly biased legislation preventing them taking action after jumping through legal hoops to comply with anti-trade union laws that are already the most undemocratic in Western Europe. We offer them and their union Unite our full support as with the RMT who have also been affected over the last few weeks.

This is clearly an attempt to prevent working-people legitimately using their hard won democratic rights to defend their jobs, terms & conditions and pensions.

Workers will be well aware of the hypocrisy of the government when they talk about democracy abroad at the same time that they are enabling a bosses’ dictatorship at home. However, we in the NSSN have every confidence that British workers will prove just as able as their counterparts in the Middle East at fighting oppression.

Supporters of the NSSN stand fully behind UNITE Cabin Crew in their dispute and pledge to assist them in any way possible.

Cabin Crew Fight Enters A Critical Stage

On January 21st Unite cabin crew once again showed their resilience by voting overwhelmingly for strike action.


It is worth reminding readers that this particular battle began with a ballot for strike action in late October 2009. Since that time there have been four strike ballots, two injunctions by the courts to prevent strike action, a barrage of hostile media coverage, constant harassment of union activists by management, up to and including dismissal and most importantly over 30 days of strike action. In these circumstances it is nothing short of remarkable that a solid core of cabin crew are still prepared to vote for strike action after 15 months of the most intense pressure and struggle.

Starting out as a battle over impositions to members contracts, cabin crew were faced with no option but to take the road of industrial action in the face of an employer who was not willing to negotiate. In the course of this dispute the battle has now morphed into a fight to maintain union organisation among cabin crew. This dispute will also be a crucial test for the new Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. Many of those who campaigned and voted for McCluskey will be keenly watching this face off with BA management to see if he can deliver on his campaign promises to build a more effective, fighting union.

The issues in this ballot are straightforward. Cabin crew are calling for the removal of sanctions taken against their members as a result of taking part in lawful strike action and for the right of the union to organise itself amongst the workforce. A pre-ballot letter from Unite national officers to BA management in November last year put forward the demands in this dispute:

1.    The immediate restoration of staff travel concessions, in full, to the crew from whom they were taken by BA.
2.    Binding arbitration, through ACAS, of all cabin crew disciplinary cases related to the original dispute.
3.    The restoration of all earnings docked from crew who were genuinely off sick during strike dates.
4.    Full and proper discussion of the trade union facilities agreement at the company with the immediate removal of all threats and sanctions made by BA in relation to this.

The first and second demands are crucial. If they were to be won in the face of  management’s refusal to negotiate and a vindictive campaign to punish cabin crew for taking part in lawful strike action then this would be a victory for the union. A slight health warning should be attached to the idea that ACAS is a neutral body however. ACAS is just as much part of the state machine as the courts that have continually prevented cabin crew from taking reasonable strike action to defend their terms and conditions. It is no friend of the trade union movement. Nevertheless with management insisting that disciplinary matters will remain “an internal matter for the company” (i.e. a witch hunt against union activists) then binding arbitration by ACAS will be an improvement on the current situation.

For those who have been involved in or following this dispute the question will inevitably arise as to why there has not been a ballot on the issue of imposed changes to cabin crews contracts? The leadership of Amicus Cabin Crew (the smaller of the two Unite cabin crew branches) have been particularly vocal on this question.

It was entirely correct for both cabin crew branches to go for strike action when it became clear that management were not prepared to enter into meaningful negotiations. To have meekly accepted imposition of new terms would not have halted management attacks on cabin crews terms and conditions. On the contrary it would simply have whetted managements appetite to go after even more concessions. Capitulation would also have destroyed the credibility of the union as a fighting force that could resist management diktats which would in turn have further emboldened Walsh & co’s bullying tactics. Although the union has not yet won a victory this has not been due to a lack of willingness on the part of cabin crew to take action as the numerous industrial ballots and days of strike action have demonstrated.

It is the isolation of cabin crew while they have faced the full fury of management that has brought them to the point where they are now fighting to maintain the existence of the union as a body that can effectively represent cabin crews interests. This does not mean that the battle to preserve cabin crew’s working conditions has been lost forever. In the struggle between workers and bosses there are no final victories or defeats so long as the workers can maintain their union intact. The forerunners of the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT), the NUR  found themselves in a similar position to cabin crew when British Rail was privatised. The various franchise operators used the fragmentation of the workforce to ram through drastic changes to the terms and conditions of NUR members. Despite these severe setbacks union organisation was maintained and over the years the NUR and later the RMT were able to win back much of what was lost.

In order to reach this point it is vital for cabin crew to bring a halt to managements union busting and win this dispute. The lessons of the dispute so far are clear. Delays in taking action and isolation of cabin crew only serve to strengthen management. Since the result of the ballot was announced Unite have yet to name a date for strike action. Unite may well have done this in the belief that this will aid negotiations. However the record of BA management shows that prevarication simply allows them more time to prepare for the inevitable industrial action that results from management intransigence. The deadline for Unite to announce strike dates is February 18th. It would be better for Unite to name the dates for strike action as soon as possible. It can then use the time to call mass meetings to build the momentum towards strike action. It should also invite workers from other sections of BA. This can be a step towards ending the isolation of cabin crew by putting their case directly to the workforce and suggesting practical steps that can be taken to assist them.

The fate of cabin crew will have a direct effect on other sections of BA’s workforce. With the new “mixed fleet” new entrants to cabin crew have gone from having the best conditions in the industry to some of the worst in one fell swoop. There is no question that profit hungry management and shareholders will be looking to extend these new contracts throughout the company. Already there are unconfirmed reports that BA plans to set up a call centre in Newcastle where workers will be employed on the same poverty contracts as new cabin crew.

The consequences flowing from this dispute could not be starker. Defeat for cabin crew will be the green light for management to start imposing changes to other sections of the workforce. Union power at the company would suffer a severe blow. On the other hand victory for cabin crew would draw a line on managements continual offensive against union organisation at the company. It is vital therefore that Unite takes a leaf out of managements book and mobilises every means at it’s disposal in order to protect the interests of its members.

The Struggle Continues: Cabin Crew Vote ‘Yes’ To Strike Action.

For the fourth time in 13 months British Airways cabin crew have voted over whelming to take strike action. The ballot released on Friday returned a 78.5% vote in favour of strike action in a turnout of 7,335 members.

Readers of Air Strike will recall the original dispute with British Airways was over the issue of imposition of changes to cabin crew’s employment contract. This strike ballot is largely around issues that have arisen out of the original industrial action taken by cabin crew last year. According to a pre ballot letter sent by Unite national officers to BA management in November this industrial ballot will demand the following terms from management.

  • An immediate restoration of staff travel concessions, in full, to the crew from whom they were taken by BA
  • Binding arbitration, through ACAS, of all cabin crew disciplinary cases related to the dispute
  • Restoration of the wages docked from crew who were genuinely off sick during strike dates
  • Full and proper discussion of the trade union facilities agreement at the company with the immediate removal of all threats and sanctions made by BA in relation to this.

At the time of writing Unite has not announced dates for strike action. Commenting on the ballot result Unite General Secretary elect called for BA management to come to the negotiating table; “Surely BA management must now wake up and listen to the voice of their skilled and dedicated employees. This dispute will be resolved by negotiation, not litigation or confrontation, and it is to negotiation that BA management should now apply itself.  We are ready.” This call was echoed by BASSA branch secretary Duncan Holley.

Banking on management opening negotiations in the face of an overwhelming ballot may explain the delay in calling strike action. Given the past behaviour of BA management failure to enter into serious negotiations this is may well prove to be a vain hope.

Much of management propaganda in the course of the dispute has centred on the supposed financial difficulties of the company. BA has now returned to profitability and yet it continues to obstruct a resolution of this dispute and persecute trade union activists. It is a transparent case of union busting on the part of BA management. Should BA cabin crew decide to take strike action they will have the support of the labour movement behind them once again to defeat this intransigent management vendetta against trade unionism.