Socialist Worker

'We made the bosses listen to us'

by Judy Cox
Issue No. 1863

'WE STOPPED the BA juggernaut in its tracks.' That's how a Heathrow worker described the end of the dispute that erupted with spectacularly effective walkouts on 17 and 18 July. British Airways check-in workers are delighted that just a few hundred of them forced the bosses of a huge multinational to back down.

Their stand brought a smile to the faces of millions of other workers who know all too well what it's like to be bullied and pushed around by arrogant bosses. And it is encouraging other airport workers to raise their own demands. There is every sign that the engineers, baggage handlers, cabin crew and staff working for other airlines are beginning to assert their interests against their bosses. BA bosses were also in talks with the TGWU representatives of 4,000 engineers over the same issues that prompted the check-in staff walkout. The check-in staff are mainly women and at the heart of the dispute is their right to have some control over shift patterns.

They walked out over fears BA would introduce a monitoring system to bring in drastic changes-making already complicated childcare arrangements impossible. They were also furious managers thought they could impose any deal they fancied. Workers forced BA to back off from imposing the swipe cards until 17 September, pending further negotiations.

And they have a written guarantee which states, 'Operation of the system will not affect employees' earnings or the way pay is calculated. The company has guaranteed that the new system will not be used to introduce split shifts or annualise hours for staff who do not wish to be employed on that basis.'

A Heathrow striker told Socialist Worker, 'The check-in staff stood up and made BA listen. People seem really happy with the deal. The unions have organised meetings to report back. People are saying there are new faces at the meetings, new union members and new ways of doing things. BA thought this group of workers would be a pushover. But they weren't. They acted together and stayed together. They refused to be intimidated by the press attention or talk of a crisis for the company. This was a rank and file rebellion and the rank and file union members constantly let their union leaders know what they felt. This was key to winning a good deal. Now all the feelings of sticking together and sticking up for themselves have coalesced into a deal people feel proud of.'

Workers need to develop the rank and file organisation that was so effective during this dispute. This is to make sure BA doesn't back out of the agreement and to stop them imposing new work practices on other sections. BA was terrified workers would strike over August bank holiday weekend.

BA could have been forced to abandon the monitoring system altogether. Instead, bosses are still planning to introduce their integrated Resource Airport Management package, which involves clamping down on workers' conditions. This may provoke more resistance.

TGWU members working for Swissport at Heathrow are balloting for industrial action over their pay claim. These workers provide services for 40 airlines, including Aer Lingus and Air India. New groups of BA workers are considering resistance

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Sat 9 Aug 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1863
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