The long running dispute of cabin crew at British Airways (BA) came to an end this week as workers voted overwhelmingly to accept a new pay deal.
Unite union members in BA’s “mixed fleet” won a wage increase and overturned BA’s removal of certain bonuses and allowances to punish strikers.
None of this would have been achieved without the strikers’ courage and resolve.
The deal is a vindication of the decision to strike. But after striking for more than 80 days against poverty pay, some workers are frustrated that more wasn’t won.
Unite said the deal meant “pay increases of at least £1,404 to £2,908 by March 2018 depending on experience and subject to inflation.”
Workers have complex pay packages including a basic salary and variable components depending on how long they spend in the air in a given month.
Unite said at the start of the dispute that the total averaged at less than £16,000 a year. Some strikers told Socialist Worker that a bad month could mean taking home less than £800.
One mixed fleet rep told Socialist Worker, “All aspects of the pay structure have been uplifted. Our basic pay, hourly rate and holiday pay. There are no unfair sanctions for taking industrial action.
“It’s drastically improved from the previous deal. Members are happy and positive and see it as a step forward.”
Most workers—84 percent of those voting—did vote to accept the deal. That means 16 percent voted no. Some posted on the strikers’ page on Facebook about how much remained unresolved.
One said, “Is it fair that I couldn't pay my rent last month because I got two four-day standby blocks?
“This pay deal does nothing to ease anxiety and stress due to the huge fluctuation in wages from month to month. We need a higher basic wage in line with the London living wage.”
The deal moves money around. One striker said that, “To take money from our incentive payments to boost up the basic isn’t a pay rise in my opinion and I’m not gonna be any better off really.”
The deal also ends legal proceedings against BA for its discriminatory removal of strikers’ allowances.
Another striker pointed to part of the reason why the vote to accept was so high. “I honestly believe we are all exhausted from this battle, I am,” they said. “Most will vote yes to this deal as they want it over with, we are all tired of fighting a monster.”
For too long a hard core of strikers were left to fight on while Unite’s leadership made little effort to rally the rest of the workforce. And Unite responded to BA’s use of scab planes with legal threats, rather than seeking to spread the action and shut down Heathrow airport.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “A great deal of credit should go to Unite members and their shop stewards in British Airways’ mixed fleet for their determination and solidarity in securing this settlement.
“Through thick and thin Unite members stuck together to secure a decent pay rise and a just resolution to this long running dispute.
“Not only does this pay deal start to seriously address long standing concerns on low pay in British Airways’ mixed fleet, but it also shows that it pays to be a member of a union and of Unite.”
That’s true. But with new attacks in the pipeline on BA’s pension schemes, it also shows that workers will have to demand more of their union to get the victory their action deserves.