Socialist Worker

Crew can win at British Airways

by Judith Orr
Issue No. 2253

Thousands of British Airways (BA) workers are in the process of balloting over a new deal in their two-year dispute.

The now ex-BA chief, Willie Walsh, had a mission—he wanted to break the union and bring in new low paid crew under worse working conditions.

Walsh with all his bullying and use of the anti-trade union laws did not crush the union.

But the verdict of the bosses’ paper, the Financial Times, about the new deal is revealing: “British Airways has achieved a victory, albeit, at a considerable cost…” This should be a warning to all BA workers.

The deal on the table should be rejected. It agrees to many of the changes and attacks on workers’ conditions that started the strike in the first place.

It accepts the creation of a “mixed fleet”—employing workers on lower pay and worse conditions.

It also allows BA to set up a permanent facility to organise scabs between different sections of the BA workforce. This has implications for all BA workers and must be resisted.

However there is massive pressure on Unite members to vote yes in the ballot.

After a two-year battle many activists believe this is the best that can be won. Sadly, the union is arguing for acceptance of the deal despite the fact that it closely resembles one the union refused to recommend last October.


But BA is vulnerable. It lost £150 million last year because of the dispute and the bosses are worried about the prospect of more strikes in the peak summer season.

Despite all the attacks cabin crew have held their union organisation together and have remained united.

During the dispute there have been five ballots. Time after time BA workers have rejected management’s offers.

But right from the start the union leadership, around the former joint general secretary, Derek Simpson, failed them. Simpson once denounced the strikers as “delusional” for believing the strike could be spread.

The latest ballot result delivered a massive 83 percent majority for strikes on a 72 percent turn out. Yet no strikes were called and now Len McCluskey, the new leader of Unite, is urging acceptance of the deal.

The mood to fight is being squandered. But there is an alternative. This dispute can still be won.

BA workers have shown they have immense power. Strikes over 22 days saw mass picket lines and fleets of aircraft parked all over the world. This is what the bosses are scared of. And airline companies fear Heathrow grinding to a halt.

Unite should be prepared to call out all airport workers. This would need a serious campaign.

Also if the BA cabin crew were to strike on 30 June, they would not be alone, they would join 800,000 other workers fighting to defend their pensions and jobs. Now is not the time to give up the fight.

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Tue 24 May 2011, 17:59 BST
Issue No. 2253
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