A strike by up to 11,000 British Airways (BA) cabin crew was called off at the last minute this week after the T&G union reached an agreement with BA bosses.
The deal includes some important gains for workers. There are improvements on pay and on the implementation of the sickness regulations.
This is a serious climbdown by Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA, who joined the company in 2005 with a reputation for being tough on the unions.
None of the improvements would have been won without the massive 96 percent vote for strike action by the cabin crew. It was this overwhelming support for action – which threatened to cost the company millions – that forced concessions from BA.
The threat of strikes can shift even the big airlines. And the concessions to the cabin crew show that a workforce employed in small groups, scattered in different parts of the world, can still be very powerful.
Not all of the details of the deal had been released as Socialist Worker went to press, But there are some obvious problems with it.
The agreement includes a two-year pay deal of 4.6 percent this year and whatever the Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation rate is next year. This sounds like a good pay deal except that it will run from 1 February this year with no backdating to the end of the last pay agreement in October 2006.
One of the main union demands was for an end to the two-tier workforce which means that cabin crew who joined the company after 1997 are on lower pay scales than pre-1997 crew.
The new deal will raise the basic pay ceiling for post-1997 entrants from £15,748 a year to £18,600. This is a significant improvement, but still leaves the pay ceiling £8,000 behind pre-1997 crew.
The deal also includes agreement to replace a purser on each Boeing 747-400 with lower paid crew.
But most worryingly, the deal appears to mean that the T&G will back BA's pension plan. This will force employees to work several more years to get their pension, or pay hugely increased contributions.
Two other unions representing BA workers have already accepted the deal. These are the pilots' union Balpa, and Amicus – the union with which the T&G is planning to merge to form a new union.
The GMB, which represents 4,500 workers at BA, is recommending rejection of the deal and is currently balloting its members over industrial action.
While BA was forced to make concessions, many cabin crew will rightly feel that more could have been won if the strikes had gone ahead.