BA cabin crew struck for three days last week against low pay. In addition to our report on the strike, below are some voices from the picket line at Heathrow airport.
‘They don’t care if I can’t pay the bills’
I was off when the last strike started, so I only struck for one day.
But because I didn’t fly out that day on a four day trip, I lost four days pay—even though I said I was willing to work.
That’s about £200 gone. They don’t care if I can’t pay the bills. They treat us like we’re nothing.
In this job unless your partner or parents support you, you go hungry.
I’ve flown with people who’ve had nothing to eat until they get on the flight.
‘At times I’ve had to work three jobs’
I’ve worked at BA for five years, I’m a senior member of crew, and I have to work a second job giving out leaflets to make ends meet.
I had to leave my home and move to a shared house because I couldn’t pay the rent, and at times I’ve had to work three jobs.
I can be flying for three days then straight off to another job on my day off. It’s worse for colleagues who get bar jobs, working late Friday then flying out Saturday morning.
‘We’re angry because we’ve been lied to’
I’m a first time picket and I was very nervous—I barely got two hours sleep last night. But I feel better now we’ve all stood here together.
I voted to strike and it was a hard decision, but there’s so much anger because we just feel we’ve been lied to.
I applied for a job advertised at £21,000 a year and three years later I’m nowhere near that.
Aviation bosses' war on decent jobs
Unite and other unions have supported the expansion of Heathrow as a way of protecting jobs. But BA’s attacks on pay have demolished sustainable jobs.
Low pay means most workers last between one and two years before dropping out.
Kelly said, “It’s sad. People want to make a career of this but they can’t afford it.”
Zuleika added, “I love the job but they just push you and push you and push you until you leave—they want that high turnover.”
Picking between jobs and the environment is always a false choice.
Shadow Chancellor and local MP John McDonnell told Socialist Worker, “A lot of these workers are my constituents. As well as better pay they need a roof over their heads and a future for the planet—expansion threatens both.”
By calling for expansion unions are lining up with the bosses, when only confronting them can safeguard livelihoods.
Learning the lessons of the past
Mixed fleet was created after a bitter dispute in 2010 as a way of hiring new staff on worse pay and conditions than “legacy” crew.
Nicky Marcus, then a Unite rep, was victimised and fired.
Now she’s back as a Unite organiser.
Nicky told Socialist Worker, “I’m invigorated to stand with young workers, many taking their first ever political action.
“But I’m horrified the ‘world’s favourite airline’ pays wages workers can’t afford to live on.
“It’s not like BA is struggling—oil prices are down and profits are up.”
She urged supporters to write to BA and its new partner Marks and Spencer.
Nicky said, “The first strike wasn’t entirely successful.
“But it was hugely successful in defending the conditions of existing crew.
“If we hadn’t fought, 8,000 other workers would be on mixed fleet rates.
“But what we wanted to do was to stop this happening at all—and that’s very difficult.”
Workers’ determination never fell short, but Unite’s leadership let it dissipate. Mixed fleet crew will have to organise to stop that happening again.