The battle at British Airways (BA) matters for everyone.
Cabin crew were this week preparing for strikes against job cuts, attacks on pay and conditions – and to defend their Unite union.
Workers are set to strike for three days from Saturday 20 March and for four days from Saturday 27 March.
The media, bosses, the Tories – and the Labour government – are attacking them.
They say strikes will destroy BA. Disgracefully, Gordon Brown lined up with bullying bosses and called the strike “unjustified and deplorable”.
He should be attacking BA chief executive Willie Walsh. “Walsh was brought in to smash Unite at BA, one of the strongest unions in the country,” a BA cabin crew member told Socialist Worker.
“There won’t be a compromise in this dispute. It will finish with either the end of Willie Walsh or the end of Bassa, Unite’s cabin crew section.”
The bosses are salivating at the thought that Walsh will win. BA’s share price soared last Friday, despite the announcement of strikes at the company.
BA’s big shareholders are asset management and pension fund companies in the City. They hope Walsh’s assault will pave the way for more cuts at BA and other firms.
“This has nothing to do with saving money,” the BA worker continued. “That was made clear when Bassa put forward plans to save over £60 million and Willie Walsh just threw them out.
“Unite could have added another £20 million savings and it wouldn’t have made a difference.”
Cabin crew showed their feelings when they voted by 80 percent for strikes on an 80 percent turnout. But Unite’s national leaders have not matched their determination.
They spent weeks putting alternative “cost-cutting” plans that involved job losses, cuts and pay freezes.
They even agreed to accept a new fleet of workers on lower pay and worse conditions.
But every time the union offers sacrifices, the bosses demand more.
Even after naming strike dates, the union was still begging BA to put its latest “offer” back on the table.
Unite should not be asking for the right to accept a bosses’ deal. Unite’s assistant general secretary Len McCluskey says BA’s real agenda is to “destroy trade unionism”.
That’s right, and the union has to respond accordingly. But so far Willie Walsh is fighting a class war. Unite is not.
Unite is Britain’s biggest union with almost two million members. A levy of £1 per member would raise nearly £2 million – not a bad starting point for a strike fund.
Cabin crew can win – but they must keep up the pressure on the top of the union. They can’t allow their union leadership to throw away their conditions in the name of “compromise”.
Workers should demand that Unite and the union movement throw their resources behind them. Unite should try to co-ordinate action with other groups of workers fighting attacks.
No striker should have to worry about losing money when their union has found £11 million for Labour over the last three years.
And what has Unite got for its money? Anti-union laws that Walsh has used against the union and attacks from Gordon Brown. Unite should also be encouraging other BA workers to take solidarity action to halt Walsh’s scabbing operation.
As one cabin crew worker put it, “If Bassa doesn’t win, it wouldn’t just be bad news for us. It would mean other BA workers would come under attack.
“And it would set a precedent for other companies.”