British Airways’ court victory against cabin crew beggars belief. It comes in the same week as another legal ruling stopped a strike by journalists at Johnston Press.
A tweet that the Unite union sent out to cabin crew on the Twitter social networking site became a key part of the “evidence” for BA.
The company said that this message did not include a full breakdown of the results. It also said that posting the results on the Unite website and on noticeboards in airports was not enough because workers may not have seen them.
BA claims that Unite did not inform members of the number of spoiled ballot papers – there were 11 out of 11,691 papers issued.
John Hendy QC, in court on behalf of the union, pointed out that BA could not find one worker who did not know the result of the ballot.
Joint general secretaries of Unite, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, said, “This judgement is an absolute disgrace and will rank alongside the Taff Vale judgement [of 1901] as a landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action.”
Over 80 percent of cabin crew who voted backed strikes on a turnout of just under 80 percent. That’s far more support than any MP got on 6 May.
The vote reflects the scale of the assault that boss Willie Walsh is waging on BA workers.
Walsh has already slashed jobs. He wants to bring in a new fleet of workers on lower pay and worse conditions. He wants to impose pay freezes and cuts, and challenge workers’ existing agreements.
Following seven days of strikes in March, Walsh removed crew’s staff travel discounts. More than 50 workers and reps are facing disciplinary action or have been suspended or sacked on trumped up charges relating to the dispute.
BA has put aside millions to build up a strike-breaking operation to try and smash workers into submission.
The idea that the firm has to make cuts because it has no money is a joke. Some crew are angry with the union for failing to hold a “watertight” ballot that could stand up in court.
But if BA hadn’t chosen this aspect of the anti-union laws to stop the strikes it would have found something else.
We should be turning our guns on the laws, the bosses and the government, not the union.
An important fact lies behind the ruling – cracks are emerging in BA’s strategy.
For all his bluster, Walsh knew the strike would be effective and would cost BA millions – and that he was losing support among his rich friends.
One report in the Financial Times newspaper last week said, “In the City of London, where Walsh has enjoyed broad support during the dispute, the prospect of a third period of walkouts within two months has led to signs of disquiet.”
Workers had Walsh on the back foot. To keep him there Unite must reballot cabin crew immediately.
It should call a mass meeting to involve as many workers as possible in fighting Walsh’s cuts. And it must join with other unions in challenging the unjust laws.
The way to defend workers’ rights is to defy the law and strike unofficially. Workers took “illegal” action at Lindsey Oil Refinery and Shell and won. The law has to be made unworkable.