Cabin crew at British Airways began a five-day strike today against bullying boss Willie Walsh.
It is their first strike since March after over a month of talks between Walsh and their Unite union failed to meet workers’ key concerns. Two more five-day strikes are set to begin on Sunday 20 March and Saturday 5 June.
Strikers are determined to keep fighting because they say that, if they don’t, BA won’t be a place worth working in.
“I’m absolutely disgusted with the management,” said Paul, who had returned from a long-haul flight on Monday morning and come straight to the picket line.
“The atmosphere is horrible. They intimidate us all the time, but if we say anything we’re suspended.”
More than 50 workers, including leading union reps, are suspended. Workers say they fear talking to colleagues or passengers about the dispute for fear of retribution.
Walsh has cut cabin crew numbers without negotiation with the union. He wants to attack workers’ pay and conditions and bring in a new fleet of workers on lower pay and with fewer rights.
Life is already hard for BA cabin crew.
“I used to love working here,” said Claire. “But the other day I was sat waiting for take-off and I thought, ‘what am I doing here?’ I’ve never felt like this before.
“Some people think we go to lovely places and we have a great job. But when you’ve been there 50 times already and it’s your mother’s birthday or a family reunion, you don’t particularly want to go there again!
“When we touch down we’re knackered and we have to sleep. People sometimes work 17 or 18 hour shifts. It’s not a holiday.”
The starting pay for BA cabin crew is just £11,000 and two thirds earn less than £20,000. “I’ve read all sorts in the press about what I earn,” said Paul. “I wish I earned that much!”
The right wing media and the Tory government blame cabin crew for this dispute. In reality Walsh has pursued it because he wants to smash the workers.
“Walsh could easily end this dispute if he wanted to,” said Dennis. “The reason he won’t is because he wants to make a point – to discredit the union and get rid of people on the old contracts so he can bring in a new fleet.
“I’ve done 26 years at BA. Walsh says he’ll give back our staff travel but without the seniority – which means that the longest-serving workers get priority on seats.
“It’s like a punishment for going on strike.
“Ideally Walsh wants a de-unionised workforce. I’m a very moderate person. But the thing that turned it for me was seeing crew being intimidated. It made me more determined to fight.”
Everyone is watching the battle at BA. If workers win, against one of the most vicious, bullying bosses in Britain, it will show workers everywhere that they can fight back.
A victory could turn the tide against the bosses and the Tories’ offensive. Trade unionists must waste no time in rushing support and solidarity to the strikers.
All names have been changed to protect cabin crew.
For more on the BA dispute and full reports of the strike see this week's Socialist Worker.
- Visit picket lines at Heathrow from 8am every day this week and the strike centre at Bedfont Football ground. Bring banners and delegations.
- Collect for the strike fund.
- Send messages of support to firstname.lastname@example.org