Socialist Worker

Heathrow workers had to walk out

Issue No. 1862

THE BRITISH Airways (BA) workers at Heathrow were right to walk off their jobs two weekends ago. This small group of low paid, mainly women workers defied the rich suits that run a huge multinational company.

When the check-in staff refused to be beaten down by bullying BA management, they made a stand for every worker being pushed around by a powerful company. Their action shows what the official strike figures don't - that there is a mood of bitterness amongst workers in Britain. Whatever happens with the dispute, the workers have made BA bosses think twice about trampling on their workforce.

The workers have shown they are a force to be reckoned with. The bosses of British Airways say their staff indulge in 'Spanish practices'. In fact, check-in staff work shifts of up to 16 hours on poverty pay without a break under constant supervision. BA admits that not one single check-in worker has been disciplined in recent years for bunking off or skiving.

The BA workers, like millions of others across Britain, are struggling to survive and balance work and childcare on a pittance. And they are doing it despite the bosses who want to claw back every shred of dignity and control from them. How dare these men claim they are being held to ransom by the poorly paid check-in staff?

BA bosses provoked the walkout by trying to enforce new clocking on and off procedures. The staff are convinced they will be used to turn their lives upside down and force them to work longer or go home at the behest of management. They are right not to trust the BA management. Socialist Worker exposes the real bullies at Heathrow.

Rod Eddington, BA chief executive
Salary: £500,000, plus perks and pension. His bonus can be up to £250,000 a year. Australian Eddington likes to pose as one of the lads, saying, 'I am just a boy from the bush, really.' But most 'boys from the bush' aren't educated at Oxford or given the nickname 'God' at school.

He is best mates with Rupert Murdoch. Eddington has been described as one of Murdoch's 'top lieutenants'. In return, Murdoch calls Eddington 'the world's best airline executive'.

Before taking over at BA, Eddington ran Ansett Airline, Australia's second biggest airline, which was half-owned by Murdoch. They both got out just months before the airline collapsed. Weeks after he left Ansett, Eddington was dodging flak over safety failures that may have happened while he was in charge and triggered the collapse. Eddington has kept his seat on the board of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which paid him £42,000 last year.

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, BA chairman
Marshall has been widely criticised for clinging on to his post as he approaches 70. British Airways cabin staff protested at a recent meeting because they are dumped on the scrap heap when they are 55. Bosses don't think that the mainly women workers are attractive enough to work when they reach that age.

Marshall was dubbed 'Lord Maxwell' by shareholders over his plans to merge two BA pension schemes, enabling BA to continue its 40-year pensions holiday. Marshall's salary from BA is £250,000. He manages to combine his duties at BA with being chair of Invensys plc and a non-executive director of HSBC Holdings. As deputy chairman of British Telecom, Marshall was one of three leading executives blamed for the company's decline from Britain's most profitable company to an economic basket case.

Marshall was head of the bosses' CBI organisation between 1996 and 1998, when it opposed the minimum wage.

John Rishton, BA chief financial officer
He wants to see more BA workers sacked. He says that 'there is far too much capacity' in the airline, despite the loss of 10,000 jobs at BA in the last two years. Cuts in staff mean long queues for customers, so if any staff do walk out the impact is magnified.

Rishton wasn't satisfied with the plan to make 13,000 BA workers redundant by May 2004. He brought the deadline forward to this September. Rishton also defends the closure of the final salary pension scheme for new workers as a 'measured and necessary response to the competitive environment in which BA operates'.


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News
Sat 26 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1862
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