Almost 3,000 workers kept in poverty by millionaire bosses kicked back at one of Britain’s biggest firms on Tuesday and Wednesday. British Airways’ (BA) “Mixed Fleet” cabin crew walked out after they were offered a raise of just 6p an hour.
Pickets waved red Unite union flags and homemade placards at sites around airports across Britain. They chanted, “Low pay no way” and called for the firm’s top bosses to be slung out.
One picket held up the results of surveys revealing that 84 percent of cabin crew had suffered ill health due to financial pressure and half had worked second jobs. Another simply challenged boss of BA’s parent firm IAG, Willie Walsh, to “Show me the fucking money”.
One picket at Hatton Cross in London Heathrow airport told Socialist Worker, “BA made £2.3 billion last year. Willie Walsh alone took home £8 million.
“And they’re paying us £12,000 to do a job they advertise at £21,000. When you add the tiredness, the time you have to go without eating on flights, it’s just not acceptable.”
“I’m one of many crew who have come down on their day off,” added Hannah. “People feel so strongly because our pay is so disgusting.”
Shane said, “By half way through the month people are left with just £100 left to live on.”
Grinding poverty leads to a high staff turnover. “It’s upsetting,” said Sam. “You work with someone and they’re brilliant, and then they go because the company has designed it that way.
“Whenever people are joining the union there’s people leaving too.”
Charlie added, “They tell themselves that people who’ll leave soon won’t resist.
“But when they stopped the union going to the entrance courses for new workers it showed what they really think—they’re afraid of us.”
Over 800 workers have joined Unite since it announced that it would organise industrial action.
Bosses told workers they could only receive the pay rise if they declared they were not a union member, then removed strikers’ travel discount.
Bosses had to cancel dozens of flights.
Others flew without food service due to low staffing, or were expensively chartered from other airlines. Unite cancelled a planned strike over Christmas to ballot workers on a tweaked offer. They rejected it by 70 percent.
When union officials sought to defer action, bosses forced their hands by refusing to grant Unite an extension on its ballot before the legal 28-day deadline.
Sam said, “The choice was either take action now or forget it.”
After Unite blinked first in a bitter dispute in 2010, BA expanded its “mixed fleet” of workers on lower pay.
Sam was optimistic. “They can’t afford to go on chartering planes like this, but we can take more strike days,” he said. “More people will join us.”
If these determined workers can humble the giant BA, it will boost resistance to low pay across the private sector.
Every trade unionist must get behind them.