Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of the Unite union, was briefing union reps at British Airways (BA) as Socialist Worker went to press.
Cabin crew have taken seven days of strike action against plans to slash jobs, attack pay and conditions, and undermine their union.
Woodley has been in talks with BA boss Willie Walsh since Easter – over two weeks ago. Unite has failed to call further strikes during that time.
This has given Walsh free rein to continue his assault on workers.
Some workers now say they can’t afford to get to work, because Walsh removed their staff travel discount. Others say that money has been wrongly deducted from their pay.
Cabin crew worker Tommy Finnegan told Socialist Worker, “BA has continued to suspend people while the talks have been going on.
“And Walsh is still training ‘volunteers’ – crew know this because they’re working alongside them.
“For a long time there was a communications blackout from the union.”
If Unite names further strike dates that will be a big step forward. It can give workers momentum again.
Unfortunately, so far, the national union leaders have let workers down.
Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, has gone so far as to attack Bassa union reps as “clowns” for calling 12 days of strikes at Christmas.
At a Unite4Labour meeting in London last week he claimed that some BA workers were “outraged” by some of the things members of the Bassa committee have said.
And Woodley says that it would be wrong to name strike dates while talks continue.
But Walsh hasn’t stopped fighting for his side, so why should Unite?
“Why doesn’t the union ask BA to stop training replacement cabin crew during these ‘vital talks’, to show they are committed to finding a solution?” one worker rightly asked on a web forum about the dispute.
Unite officials have thrown their energy into phoning their members to argue they should vote Labour – despite Gordon Brown referring to the BA strikes as “deplorable”.
But the officials have not shown the same determination to win at BA.
Cabin crew need to organise independently of their union leaders. At the moment, the only way that crew can vent their frustration is on web forums.
But if they organised a meeting for workers to come together and discuss the dispute, they could collectively exert much more pressure on the union.
They could formulate demands and decide on a course of action to win them.
It’s possible that a deal may be on the table at BA.
But workers should not settle for a shoddy compromise that allows Walsh to continue to undermine them in the future.
“At the top of any proposal must be that BA reinstates all crew who have been suspended and reinstates our staff travel discount,” said Tommy.
Workers struck to defend their jobs, pay and conditions – and they should not accept any offer that undermines them.
“We’ve seen the writing on the wall and we know what Walsh wants to do in the future,” said Tommy.
“People are thinking, ‘we’ve got nothing to lose’.
“I don’t think workers will accept any deal that sells us short.”
For Derek Simpson’s full views on the BA dispute go to » Derek Simpson responds to Socialist Worker
Watch this site for further updates