Socialist Worker

British Airway strikers defy management with mass pickets at airports

by Dave Sewell and Tony Harper
Issue No. 2545

BA workers on strike in Manchester

BA workers travelled to Manchester airport for a mass picket (Pic: Tony Harper)


A coachload of striking British Airways (BA) cabin crew travelled from London Heathrow to Manchester Airport on Wednesday, for a mass picket and mass meeting. Others went to Glasgow Airport.

It was the sixth day of the latest strike, ending Thursday, of up to 3,000 Unite union members in BA’s “mixed fleet”.

They are paid just £12,192 a year plus a £3 an hour flying allowance.

But the mood in Manchester was buoyant.

Referring to a boss hated for the emails she sends to workers from the company, they chanted “mixed fleet are on fire—Karen Slinger’s terrified”.

Workers defied the limit of 20 pickets imposed by airport management. And they discussed ways to take the dispute forward in spite of harsh anti-union laws, tightened again just this week.

Unite gave BA seven day’s notice for a reballot that could kick in just as their current mandate runs out.

Unite rep Gareth Theobald told Socialist Worker, “Our legal mandate runs out on 3 April. BA seems to think that means we’ll be going away, but we’re not.”

Another rep explained, “The new ballot will also mean we can strike over the bonuses and staff travel perks that have been taken off us since the dispute began.

“We’re currently seeking talks. But there’s nothing to stop us calling new strike dates while the ballot is underway—we can do both things at once.”

BA workers in Glasgow

BA workers in Glasgow (Pic: Dave Sherry)


Walkouts

The dispute has seen 26 strike days since January, with walkouts that have gotten successively longer. The longer it goes on the greater the impact of understaffing on BA.

The busy Easter holidays period isn’t far away. Already BA keeps having to draft in more rival firms to cover flights—and planes from its other fleets.

Planes are being crewed at the legal minimum level, with one report of a pilot having to join a pre-flight safety demonstration because there weren’t enough crew.

And while BA’s bank balance and reputation takes a hammering, solidarity from the wider movement helps the crew keep going.

“We’ve had a lot of messages of solidarity, I’ve another bag full of donations to count right now,” said the rep. “Everyone seems to be behind us.”

One striker spoke at the Socialist Workers Party rally in central London to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and raised a bag load of donations.

This kind of support must continue.

Pressure

But what could really pile the pressure on BA is spreading the dispute. Mixed Fleet workers’ weak spot is that they operate only a minority of BA’s planes.

Crew from its other fleets have sent strong messages that they support them. Yet BA relies on them to mitigate the effect of the strike.

Turning that support into action is possible despite the laws banning “secondary action”.

The rep explained, “Worldwide Fleet are having to cover a lot of our routes, more and more as the dispute goes on. They’re not happy about doing this.

“It also means their rosters are being changed all the time. There’s talk of going to the union and saying they’re not happy about that either, and that could lead to industrial action.

“There are similar complaints in cargo and among the baggage handlers, they are not happy and that could lead to strikes. Of course you have to be careful to call it in a way that doesn’t get classed as secondary action—but that’s what the union has a legal team for.”

As the mixed fleet crew’s inspiring action goes on, so does its importance for the whole workers’ movement—to challenge a low pay economy and a Tory lockdown on industrial action.

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