Socialist Worker

Union can beat BA—if it shuts down Heathrow

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2196

BA workers rally outside the TUC in central London on Tuesday of last week  (Pic:  Socialist Worker)

BA workers rally outside the TUC in central London on Tuesday of last week (Pic: Socialist Worker)

British Airways (BA) cabin crew are at a critical point in their battle against union-busting, pay cuts and redundancies.

They have held two series of successful strikes—but their Unite union had not named any further strike dates at the start of this week.

Cabin crew need to be sending out delegations to collect money, win solidarity and to take their message into the wider union movement.

But the most urgent task is to strike again for an extended period, and to make a major push to hit BA by closing Heathrow airport.

This means other workers striking alongside them—unofficially if necessary.

BA boss Willie Walsh has repeatedly shown his determination to break the cabin crew. He bragged in an interview, “I sleep soundly and arrive at work as motivated as ever.

“We wrote in January to every single cabin crew member. It was not a threat—a threat is something you don’t follow through on.”

Walsh doesn’t want to negotiate. The only way to make a breakthrough in the dispute is to strike hard.

The earlier strikes caused huge disruption and cost BA millions.

It had to compensate customers, and hire other airlines and scab crew. It even flew empty planes around the world.

But Walsh has not been beaten yet—and the clock is ticking.


Twelve weeks after the start of the strikes, Walsh can legally sack strikers. A quarter of that time has gone already.

He must be stopped. That means that cabin crew must demand more strikes and make an appeal, through official channels and the rank and file, to other groups at the airport to come out in their support.

When check-in workers walked out unofficially in 2003 they won.

When BA workers walked out in support of Gate Gourmet in 2005 they brought the dispute to the verge of victory.

Bassa union members, the cabin crew section of Unite, are demanding that the union sets more dates for longer strikes.

“We need to announce dates NOW!! 14th April is too late,” reads one post on a Bassa union forum.

Another worker writes, “Unite should announce strike dates as soon as possible and for as long as possible—for at least ten days so EVERYONE gets involved.”

Others go further: “Please Unite give seven days notice from tomorrow of indefinite walk out. “INDEFINITE STRIKE NOW”.

The union leadership is feeling the pressure.

Unite’s Tony Woodley spoke to workers at a mass gathering of workers outside the TUC to mark the end of their strike on Tuesday of last week.

He said that “nobody wants to strike” and that “nobody wants to cost the company money unnecessarily”.

The workers interrupted him with chants of, “Willie, Willie, Willie – Out, Out, Out!”

Woodley’s tone changed. He said, “The company has to understand we will not kow-tow and we won’t capitulate.”

Union officials handed placards to workers reading, “It’s good to talk”.

It’s clear that this doesn’t capture the defiant mood among workers.

The cabin crew can win—but it will take determination from the unions greater than Walsh’s determination to defeat them.

The BA strike affects the whole union movement. Every worker must try to spread solidarity and support BA workers:

Do a collection—download a petition and collection sheet from »

Organise support meetings and invite a BA strikers

Get your union branch, region and national executive to a pass a motion of support and encourage them to collect money and visit the picket lines

Send messages of support to [email protected]

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