Hundreds of British Airways workers lobbied parliament last week demanding government action over the jobs crisis hitting the airline. The lobby was organised by the TGWU union. It was addressed by the union's leader Bill Morris and a string of Labour MPs. BA is cutting the equivalent of 7,000 jobs, and has held back a promised Christmas bonus of a week's pay for its 36,000 workers.
The TGWU, along with some other unions, has accepted the deferral of the bonus. One of the other main unions at the company, the GMB, is refusing to accept the cut. The official demands of last week's lobby were limited-asking the government to help BA, in the way Bill Morris claimed that George Bush has helped US airlines in the wake of 11 September.
The TGWU is asking the government to compensate BA for lost flights to the US, and to underwrite the cost of extra security and insurance. One danger is that this can dovetail with the company plan to drive competitors out of business, leading to thousands more redundancies. Managers have taken the union leaders' weakness as a signal to push wider attacks.
'Local BA management at Gatwick have withdrawn staff canteen passes and threatened staff car parking entitlements. Many catering workers have also been laid off,' one Gatwick worker told Socialist Worker.
Bill Morris also used his speech to argue for support for Bush and Blair's war on Afghanistan. Few there wanted to challenge his argument openly, as the focus was on asking for government help to save jobs, though it was clear that many were uneasy with his pro-war stance.
Everyone at the lobby understood that the job cuts were not simply down to the impact of 11 September. 'These events are being used as a window of opportunity by employers,' argued Bill Morris. Workers agreed. 'It's an excuse,' said Richard, who works at Heathrow. 'The company was in trouble anyway.'
Most of the workers at the lobby came from the areas around London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports, and were fearful for the future. 'Everybody is worried at what's going to happen. Nobody is talking about anything else except jobs. These cuts will hit whole areas where communities depend on the airports,'said Liam.
'It's not just BA but all the suppliers, from caterers to cleaners, who will suffer and cut jobs as well as a result.' Most workers at the lobby were reluctant to openly criticise union leaders. But some workers were unhappy at the union agreeing to defer the Christmas bonus. 'Some managers got their bonuses before 11 September. Will they be paying that back now?' asked Raj.
BA used to be nationalised. Instead of simply agreeing to hand cash to the BA bosses, the government should take the company back into public ownership, and guarantee jobs and workers' conditions.