British Airways (BA) cabin crew were back on the picket lines at London Heathrow airport today, Saturday.
Around 3,000 Unite union members in BA’s “mixed fleet” had began a new walkout. It was the launch of their longest strike to date after a three-month gap and a series of talks, set to continue for 16 days.
Workers are angry as ever at their low pay. Jason, who was on picket line at Hatton Cross Tube station, said, “I’ve had to work second jobs to make ends meet.
“It’s really tiring to come back from a trip and instead of recuperating do an eight or ten hour shift at a bar or waiting tables.
“Because our basic pay is so low we have to live off our flight allowances.
“That means your pay is inconsistent too—it depends what you fly in a given month.”
One worker explained that in a bad month they were paid less than half of what they got in a good month. Other workers are in locked in a trap. They have to get advances on their wages one month to pay off the advance on their wages they needed the previous month.
Many still live with their parents, or rely on the income of a partner. Few come close to the total pay BA advertised when they took the job.
Workers rejected BA’s insulting offer to end the dispute. One picket told Socialist Worker, “It just moved around the same pot of money without adding to it—robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
And it came with a sting in the tail—workers who strike have a series of bonuses taken off them, including the staff travel discount. Sarah told Socialist Worker, “I have two little kids to support, and on this wage that’s not possible.
“Now I’m losing the staff travel allowance it means I can’t take them on holiday. And that’s just because I exercised my legal right to strike for what I believe in.”
Despite this, striker Shane said, “It’s liberating to be on strike. I was worrying about it all last night and I’m definitely glad I came down. We can win if we stick together, and more people seem to be taking action this time.
“They’ve seen that the only way to resolve this is by getting behind the strikes. And they’ve seen what striking is—that what you lose is much less than what you stand to win.”
One first time striker, Harry, was driven to join the walkout by the “unfair treatment of my colleagues and myself”. “We’re responsible for evacuating an aeroplane in an emergency,” he said.
“If that’s the case then we should get a fair wage so we can afford to eat and drink and enjoy our lives a bit.”
In response to the strike BA has cancelled some flights, diverted its other fleets to cover some and “wet-leased” other airlines to cover others. Zak pointed out, “In a way this means we’re already winning—they are having to spend millions on wet-leasing, besides the cancellations.”
And for many pickets, the fact that BA would rather spend money on breaking the strike than paying a living wage only made them angrier.
They largely accept the idea that it’s impossible to ask other workers to refuse to fly their routes.
Nevertheless, the potential is there, particularly among BA’s other fleets where many workers support the strike and stand to gain from beating the penny-pinching bosses.
And to overcome BA’s intransigence this question of solidarity will have to be addressed.
Division and low pay is the point of the mixed fleet. It was set up in 2010 to undercut the collective bargaining of BA’s existing workforce.
It relies on a high turnover of workers, bringing lower expectations and a lower level of organisation. Graham said, “The whole model is that after three years they don’t want you any more.”
But there’s something missing from the model. Bosses didn’t reckon with workers’ determination. Jason said, “We’re striking because we love the job—and we want to be able to afford to do it long term.”
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