Socialist Worker

British Airways: A ballot… but not yet

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2218

British Airways (BA) cabin crew will vote in a fresh ballot for industrial action—but as yet there is no timetable for the ballot.

The announcement came as more than 800 workers from the Bassa section of the Unite union met at Kempton Park racecourse on Monday.

They were defiant and determined—and supported continuing the dispute.

But there is a danger that, instead of going for hard-hitting action that can win quickly, the union leadership will allow the dispute to drag on and risk demoralising workers.

They missed the chance for a united strike with BAA workers and BA ground staff.

Cabin crew have been in dispute with BA for ten months. Boss Willie Walsh imposed job cuts on cabin crew last November and has rammed through a raft of attacks since.

One union rep at the meeting said that Walsh had created a culture of fear at BA and had “made every cabin crew member look over their shoulder”.

Crew have taken 22 days of strike action. But the last round of strikes ended in June—and their union leadership has failed to drive the action forward.

Monday’s meeting reflected frustration at the lack of action. Several workers challenged the union reps and were frequently told to “calm down guys”.

One of those at the meeting told Socialist Worker, “The anger is still there. Reps saying be patient didn’t go down very well.”

Careful

Workers cheered when crew or reps made speeches calling for more strikes. But they also backed reps when they talked of the need to be “careful”.

Some think that the threat of action is enough because it will hit BA’s passenger numbers. Others think that a PR campaign and consumer boycott of BA is the way forward.

Ken Ablard from Bassa told Socialist Worker, “What’s happening at BA is disgusting—people are being sacked left, right and centre. But passengers are leaving BA, especially corporate ones.

“We will have a new ballot. But this is a long war.”

Neither joint general secretary of Unite, Tony Woodley or Derek Simpson, came to the meeting, despite the fact that they have been at the heart of talks with Walsh.

There is some tension between Bassa and the Unite leadership. As Duncan Holley, a sacked Bassa rep, put it, “Unite works in ways we don’t understand.” He ended the meeting by declaring, “We will never give up, as people all over the country are looking to us. We will begin a ballot as soon as possible.”

The fact that crew remain determined to fight, despite disgraceful intimidation, is inspirational.

The union leadership should begin an immediate ballot for strikes and plan a powerful programme of action that can smash Walsh.


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Tue 7 Sep 2010, 17:52 BST
Issue No. 2218
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