A coachload of British Airways cabin crew lobbied parliament today as part of their ongoing dispute with bully boss Willie Walsh.
The lobby marked their 22nd day of strike action.
The workers chanted, “The crew united will never be defeated” and taunted Walsh by chanting, “Are you making any money Mr Walsh?”
“Willie Walsh has made this into an ego thing,” said Michael, a striking worker. “He is trying to bully us. But we will continue until he comes to his senses.”
Workers are fighting BA bosses’ plans to cut jobs, cut pay, rip up their terms and conditions and undermine the power of their Unite union and its cabin crew section, Bassa.
“The dispute isn’t going well for Willie Walsh,” said Caroline. “You’ll see that in six months—when it will be obvious that all the forward bookings are down. Walsh will fall on his sword.”
Cabin crew are fighting one of the most ruthless bosses in Britain. This morning Walsh appeared on the front page of the Financial Times newspaper bragging, “We’re going to hold out for as long as it takes”.
He refused to rule out sacking workers and pledged to continue building up his strikebreaking operation.
For all his tough talk, workers know that their action has hit BA hard. “You can’t believe a word Walsh says,” said Alan. “Every day he’s been saying they are flying more planes—but every day there have been less.
“And lots of them have been empty. It uses hundreds and hundreds and tonnes of fuel to fly a jumbo jet across the Atlantic. But that’s what BA has been doing.”
The stakes are extremely high. Crew know that if Walsh wins, it will embolden other bosses to attack workers.
“This is about a reduction in crew, less money and ultimately the ‘new fleet’ of workers—which will have no union rights and where Walsh can do what he wants,” said Maria.
“He wants a completely flexible workforce. But if you’re a mother or father you can’t just be sent off around the world for days with no notice.
“Walsh wants to pay such a low salary that you can’t survive, especially in the south of England. He just wants to get kids in who can live with their parents and just want to work as a cabin crew for a year. All the loyal and experienced staff will be forced out.
“We need a new CEO.”
The Unite leadership has ruled out strikes during the World Cup—a mistake that hands the initiative back to Walsh and risks dissolving the momentum of the dispute.
Crew are hoping that Unite will begin a fresh ballot for action to allow them to continue to fight. Unite has not yet announced any details of the ballot. And there is a danger that a new ballot will focus purely on issues such as the removal of workers’ staff travel discounts.
This is an important issue that must be resolved before the union ends the dispute. But it should not lose sight of the bigger assault on jobs and conditions that Walsh is pushing.
And given Walsh’s hardline stance, the union should be stepping up the action, not scaling it back, to force him to back down.
“We’re up against a brick wall,” said Gina. “Walsh isn’t interested in a settlement or negotiation. The amount of money BA has thrown at this dispute shows it isn’t about saving money. It’s about breaking the union.”
Despite BA’s attempts to intimidate and demoralise cabin crew, they remain defiant. They are resisting the propaganda that they have no support—because they have first hand experience of solidarity from other workers.
“Morale is still very high,” said Paul. “We’ve had loads of support from other workers coming to the picket lines.
“There’s support for us within the company among other BA workers—but they are scared to speak out.”
Sofie added that workers are prepared for a long fight against Walsh. “We have to reballot,” she said. “The strikes have been far stronger than we expected. I think Walsh only thought we had two or three days’ fight in us. We’ve shocked him.”
All names have been changed to protect cabin crew