Workers at British Airways (BA) were coming to the end of their latest round of strikes as Socialist Worker went to press.
They have reached a critical stage in their dispute.
The leaders of their Unite union have promised that there will be no strikes during the World Cup—due to end on 11 July.
This is a mistake. Delaying action will give BA boss Willie Walsh breathing space to ratchet up his attacks on cabin crew.
Unite says it will begin a fresh ballot on strike action. But it is not clear what the ballot will be over—and it could dilute the demands of the dispute.
The union’s leadership is out of touch with strikers who are determined to fight until they win guarantees on jobs, their staff travel discounts and justice for their suspended and sacked colleagues.
Wednesday of this week was the 22nd day of strike action in this dispute. The resolve of cabin crew is even more admirable given the intimidation they face.
So far the company has fired three workers for commenting about the strike on Facebook.
Another four have been disciplined or sacked for sending text messages about the strike.
BA has even taken action against others for things they said in private conversations.
One cabin crew worker, “D”, has been with BA for 24 years.
He accidentally sent a text message about the strike to a BA pilot. A few days later he got a call from the police, saying they had been asked to investigate him for harassment, and he was then sacked by BA.
BA is victimising senior trade unionists, including the branch secretary of Bassa, the cabin crew section of Unite.
“The use of disciplinary action on such a scale by management on the basis of reported comments or overheard private conversations is unprecedented,” says an independent report by industrial relations academic Martin Upchurch.
Striker Anna told Socialist Worker, “I’ve no doubt that there will be a lot more suspensions. If it’s a boss or a scab’s word against ours, who are they going to believe?”
Samantha, another worker, said, “We’re not joking when we say that Walsh is a dictator. He’s basically banned us from speaking publicly about the strike.
“But we are fighting back.”
Despite BA’s propaganda, the strikes have piled the pressure on Walsh.
He claims the action is costing the airline £7 million a day.
Yet one study by Manchester university estimates the strike may cost BA up to £1.4 billion in lost forward bookings as passengers steer clear of the company.
BA has been forced to defer some payments on Boeing 787 jets and put off orders for the Airbus A380 as it throws cash at trying to break the strike.
And The Tribune—a daily newspaper in the Bahamas—last week reported that BA has been repeatedly flying empty planes to the resort.
BA workers report that many planes have been arriving at Heathrow with no passengers.
Meanwhile Unite has raised union members’ strike pay by 50 percent, from £30 to £45 a day, and is set to offer interest-free loans to those facing any financial hardship as a result of the strike.
Solidarity is coming in from across the trade union movement.
Workers should start organising now for a huge yes vote in the new ballot.
But they also need to make sure that their union leaders don’t settle for a shoddy deal with Walsh in the meantime.
Cabin crew should demand mass meetings so that all workers can have a say in the direction of the dispute.
If workers shut down Heathrow, officially or unofficially, they would force Walsh to back off. Strikers should urgently make links with other BA workers to argue to make such united action a reality.