Striking cabin crew at British Airways (BA) won tremendous support from fellow BA workers, other airport workers, trade unionists and climate campaigners on their picket lines today.
Cabin crew have faced an onslaught from the media, the Labour government, the Tories and the bosses. They remain determined to fight.
“I’m striking for the future of my job,” said Martin, who has worked at BA for 20 years. “It’s funny because I’m not really a radical person. But it seems that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing.
“Willie Walsh earns more than the US president. Why do they need so much money? Bosses are using the downturn in the economy to take a whip to workers.
“Their agenda is not about saving money. It’s about breaking the union.”
Time and time again, strikers told of how furious they were with the Labour Party and Gordon Brown’s description of their action as “deplorable”. One worker said that over 3,000 cabin crew had opted out of paying into the political fund for their Unite union over the past few days.
Many felt that Unite should stop funding Labour altogether.
The right wing media have repeated lies about cabin crew wages. They claim BA cabin crew earn £29,000 a year. In fact that’s a minority—more than three quarters earn less than £20,000 a year.
The starting wage is around £11,000.
“We feel that Willie Walsh is ruining the airline,” Janine, who has worked at BA for 16 years, told Socialist Worker. “There are less crew members because of him. He has outsourced things like cleaning and it means there’s a worse service.
“All I seem to do when I’m on board is say sorry to passengers. It’s got to the point where we have to stand up.”
Many workers emphasised that they were not “militant”, as the press has portrayed them to be. “I’m just an ordinary worker,” said Janine. “But if it carries on like this there won’t be any unions left.”
The vicious propaganda against cabin crew isn’t washing with many ordinary people, who turned out to support the strikers. They recognise that, if cabin crew lose, it will make it easier for bosses to spread the assault.
A coachload of workers from the Honda car plant in Swindon came to support the strikers, as did workers from the GMB, RMT, NUT, UCU and CWU unions.
“We’ve had lots of messages of support from other unions,” said Linda, one of the strikers. “The solidarity, especially internationally, has encouraged me.”
Sarah is a check-in worker at BA and a GMB union member. “If Walsh gets away with his attacks it will be us next,” she said. “He wants a cheap workforce that he can hire and fire when he pleases.
“Walsh is attacking some of the lowest paid workers. But he still has his Lexus and his driver and his salary.”
Steve Hart, a regional official for the Unite union, told Socialist Worker, “There has been fantastic solidarity for the strike. It seems very solid. Cabin crew are coming off planes when they finish their shift and coming straight to the picket lines.
“We’ve had a good response from our colleagues abroad, too. We need to continue to show we’re solid and force Willie Walsh to give way.”
Rumours spread through the picket lines that the few planes that scabs were operating did not have the scabs’ baggage on them.
BA cabin crew are leading the charge against bullying, cost-cutting, union-busting bosses. Every trade unionist in Britain should be giving real solidarity to help them win.
All names have been changed to protect cabin crew.
- Visit BA picket lines tomorrow (Sunday) and Monday, at Heathrow and Gatwick
- Invite a BA worker to speak at your union meeting
- Take a collection in your workplace for the strike fund
- Send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org