British Airways (BA) cabin crew were set to start a 14-day strike on Wednesday of this week. It follows a 16-day strike that ended last Sunday. Striking cabin crew took their fight against poverty pay to parliament last Wednesday.
Up to 100 Unite union members from British Airways (BA)’s “mixed fleet” rallied with supporters including MPs – mainly from the Labour left.
They chanted, “Mixed fleet united will never be defeated” and, “6p won’t get me far—I’m not working for Qatar”.
This refers to BA’s miserly offer to workers of a 6p an hour pay rise, and its deal with Qatar Airways to undermine their strike.
Workers also sang, “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”.
They were there to get support in parliament on two issues, striker Alex explained.
“We believe something has to be done about the fact that a company making £1.3 billion profit has workers relying on food banks or unable to pay the rent,” she said.
“And we want something to be done about BA bringing in a company that’s notorious for its discrimination—particularly towards women—for strikebreaking.
“The Civil Aviation Authority that is supposed to stop this sort of thing happening is in BA’s back pocket. So you have a system that’s completely biased, and the government should step in.”
John McDonnell is shadow chancellor and MP for the area around Heathrow airport where the strikers are based.
“We know what it’s about—it’s about smashing the union,” he said to applause. “This is an anti-union management that we’ve dealt with before and that we’ll deal with again until we win.”
McDonnell called the fact that the strikebreaking deal was possible under existing law “one of the most shocking things about this dispute”.
He vowed, “When we get into government we will make sure there are laws so that this never happens again.”
His promise was a welcome change from Labour governments that left Tory union laws intact. But there’s no guarantee he’ll get to keep it, let alone in time to beat BA.
Workers must rely on their own strength.
Unite rep Tom—not his real name—said, “This is costing BA a fortune, and doing long-term damage to the brand. We know we’re having an effect, so we’re going to keep up the pressure.
“We have no alternative, it’s that or leave. We can’t afford to live on these wages.”
Strikers were buoyed by the support from in parliament. And they’ve had lots from outside parliament too—for example on last week’s LGBT+ Pride march in London.
“We were really surprised, people were applauding us for fighting low pay,” said Tom. “There’s a growing gap between rich and poor, so I think people saw themselves in us.”
In low-pay Britain, every worker has something to gain from a victory against such a huge employer. All trade unionists must get behind the cabin crew fight.
And Unite needs to use that support to spread the action at BA, the only sure way to increase the pressure and undermine the strikebreaking.
Political solidarity matters. But the long-running dispute will be won industrially, or it will be lost.
Alex said, “Unfortunately we live in a world where it’s all about the money. The only way BA will listen is if we hit them where it hurts—their profits.”