Socialist Worker

British Airways: throw out the deal and get the strikes back on

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2199

Bassa, the cabin crew section of the Unite union, is set to run an online ballot on a fresh document from British Airways (BA).

One Bassa union rep has described the latest attempt to end the dispute as “the most insulting document I have ever seen”.

Reports emerged that the Unite union was strongly recommending that cabin crew at British Airways reject the new offer as Socialist Worker went to press.

But many workers are wondering why their union is balloting them on an offer that is so completely inadequate and doesn’t address their key concerns. Many are angry that Unite has failed to name new strike dates.

“We don’t want a vote. Please let’s just announce dates!” reads one post on the Bassa union forum.

Another worker points out that cabin crew have voted twice for strike action in separate ballots and demands that, as talks have failed to resolve outstanding issues, Unite calls further strikes.

The latest document is the result of weeks of talks between Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley and BA. It fails to resolve the key issues at the heart of the dispute and workers should throw it out.

Staff travel and the growing number of disciplinaries have become major sticking points, but the latest document does not resolve either.

Walsh wants to victimise workers who went on strike by removing the accrued seniority in staff travel discounts – where workers receive more discounts the longer they have worked for BA.

And in any case, the return of any staff travel discount is dependent upon “good behaviour”.

BA is refusing to back down over the disciplining of around 50 cabin crew. It claims that its punishments are fair and proportionate.


Cabin crew have struck for seven days against BA boss Willie Walsh’s plans to introduce a “new fleet” of cabin crew on lower pay and worse conditions.

Over time, this new fleet would take on flights from other fleets and grow to encompass all BA cabin crew.

It is a mechanism for undermining the pay and conditions of all workers.

Throughout the dispute, BA has continued to suspend and discipline workers for trivial “offences”. It has removed crews’ staff travel discount – making it impossible for many to get to work.

BA remains determined to impose a new fleet. One Bassa rep says it also wants to restructure Bassa so that the bosses have influence over how the union is run.

BA is refusing to withdraw the attacks it has already imposed, including cutting cabin crew numbers.

The desire of Unite’s leadership to clamp down on struggle in the run-up to the general election could hardly be more transparent.

They have refused to call further action because of their ties to the Labour Party and their lack of confidence in workers to fight. This left Walsh free to continue his offensive against crew and continue building up his strike-breaking operation.

BA workers showed their strength during their strike action – yet union officials risked throwing away the momentum built through the strikes in an effort to help Labour in the election.

Workers must organise to win the biggest no vote in the ballot. But they should also pile the pressure on the leadership of Unite to call fresh strike dates as soon as possible.

Cabin crew need to get back on the offensive. They should demand a mass meeting and from that press for sustained strikes and a determined push to shut down Heathrow – officially or unofficially.

If Unite threw its whole weight behind this dispute, it can be the first victory of the post-election era. If union leaders continue to waver, delay and retreat then it’s Walsh who will feel stronger – and attack other groups of workers.

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Article information

Tue 27 Apr 2010, 17:22 BST
Issue No. 2199
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