The strike at British Airways is having a big political impact.
More than 3,000 BA cabin crew stopped paying into the Unite union’s political fund last week, after Gordon Brown called the strike “deplorable”. The money goes to the Labour Party.
Despite this, the workers’ Unite union confirmed it was donating
£4 million to Labour’s election campaign.
“My dad was a Liverpool docker,” said striker Phil. “My granddad was a union leader – he’ll be turning in his grave because Labour has turned its back on us. I won’t be voting for Brown.”
“Labour and the Tories are using our dispute for their own ends – workers have been forgotten,” said Claire. “Brown shouldn’t take our money if he won’t back us.”
Many workers visited the pickets to show support – from the RMT, CWU, GMB, UCU and NUT unions and a coachload of workers from the Honda plant in Swindon among others.
Other BA workers back the cabin crew and strikers said that the few scab planes that did leave with crew onboard didn’t have their baggage on them.
Sarah, a check-in worker and GMB union member, said, “If Walsh wins it will be us next. He wants a cheap workforce that he can hire and fire.”
BA bosses are pumping out lies about the strike, claiming it has had little impact. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
On Monday, the third day of the strike, BA claimed that 98 percent of workers at Gatwick showed up for work, and half at Heathrow.
This doesn’t tally with reports from picket lines or the official number of flight cancellations. BA admitted that, by 5pm on Monday, 201 out of 443 flights were cancelled at Heathrow and 19 out of 95 cancelled at Gatwick.
On Saturday, the first day of strike, one third of flights at Gatwick were cancelled. Even those that did take off didn’t necessarily have scabs or passengers on them.
The Unite union obtained lists showing flight numbers of empty planes flown to give the impression that the strike wasn’t successful.
By midday Sunday, 49 flights out of Heathrow were empty – costing the company millions of pounds.
BA has been forced to rely on planes and crew leased from other airlines. Unite reported that on Saturday between 12.20pm and 2.30pm, ten flights left Heathrow.
Normally there would be 50. And of the ten that took off, eight were chartered and only two were BA flights.
BA’s efforts to put a positive spin on the strike reached ludicrous levels when managers walked around staff car parks dressed as scab cabin crew.
Bosses even included crew flying back to Britain in their figures, despite the fact that most were flying home to join the picket lines.
According to Unite, only 300 of the 2,200 cabin crew scheduled to work over the weekend showed up.
By 3.30pm on Sunday only nine out of 1,100 crew had reported for work at Heathrow.
BA cabin crew are leading the charge against bullying, cost-cutting, union-busting bosses.
Unite must continue and escalate the action – and every trade unionist in Britain should be giving cabin crew real solidarity to help them win.
The reality of life for cabin crew
The right wing media likes to claim that cabin crew are overpaid and underworked. But most earn less than £20,000 a year.
“The starting salary for post-1997 crew is around £11,000 a year,” says Ken, who worked for BA for 37 years and now works for Bassa, the cabin crew section of the Unite union.
“Cabin crew are trained medics and firefighters – there’s more to the job than serving tea and coffee.
“Willie Walsh’s salary has increased by almost £300,000 in four years. Bosses are squeezing workers but still making loads of money themselves.”
Janine has worked for BA for 16 years. “The job isn’t like the media protrays it,” she said. “I’m away most Christmases and New Years.
“I was with crew in Australia when someone got news of a death in the family. It’s awful trying to get back home when something like that happens. People don’t realise what it’s like.”
Names have been changed to protect cabin crew.