British Airways is recruiting a new workforce so it can get rid of existing cabin crew.
The move makes crystal clear what the ongoing dispute at BA is about—smashing unionised cabin crew as a prelude to driving down all BA workers’ conditions.
It comes as a shocking account of life inside BA appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, pointing to the union-busting at the heart of the dispute.
An anonymous BA manager wrote: “We all keep our counsel, choosing to voice our concerns to only our much trusted colleagues, believing that this dispute is not just about cost savings but rather the destruction of Bassa and its mother union, Unite.”
This is a challenge to the whole trade union movement. Yet the response of the workers’ Unite union is astounding.
It has stuck with its promise to call no strikes during the World Cup—giving bullying BA boss Willie Walsh more time to build up his offensive.
It has dithered for weeks over calling another ballot—and is now delaying again to ballot workers on a derisory offer from BA.
The “offer” tries to bribe workers with a one-off payment and guarantees on pay for two years.
Unite shouldn’t waste time balloting crew on this offer. It doesn’t mention the removal of staff travel discounts or the tens of workers who have been sacked or suspended during the dispute. There can be no end to the dispute if these issues are not resolved.
The new “mixed fleet” will be employed on less pay and worse conditions. All new workers will be employed in this fleet, so over time it will grow to encompass all BA cabin crew. And it isn’t clear whether the new workers will have union rights.
In a slap in the face for cabin crew, BA took out a full-page advert for the new jobs in the anti-union Daily Mail newspaper—free on BA flights.
Workers have taken 22 days of strike action so far and are determined to keep fighting. Many crew want to strike now. But Unite’s new ballot is not over the mixed fleet. It focuses on staff travel discounts, the use of other BA workers to act as cabin crew on reduced terms and disciplinaries.
Unite should escalate the action—co-ordinated action across all groups of BA workers can win. If BA workers shut Heathrow, they could force Walsh to back down within days.
Cabin crew are set to attend a mass union meeting on Monday 5 July. They must grab this opportunity to demand that their union leaders step up the fight with whatever action is necessary—official or unofficial. The latest offer should be chucked out and the strikes reinstated.
Solidarity within the firm
Some union leaders argue that it’s impossible to get solidarity from other BA workers. But staff at BA have joined solidarity protests and visited cabin crew picket lines.
In March GMB union reps from Heathrow and Gatwick held a national meeting. Stewards from the Terminals and Ground services, Operations and Engineering and Head Office services were there and unanimously passed the following resolution:
“That the GMB BA stewards wish to show our support, and express our total solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Unite cabin crew community, in their struggle to retain decent employment, including terms and conditions for their members. We call on GMB members to observe the usual trade union movement protocols by not volunteering to cover a striking BA work colleague job.”
This needs to be built on by rank and file appeals for support.