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Inside the union: Does Unite leader want a Labour victory more than a win for BA cabin crew?

This article is over 11 years, 9 months old
Socialist Worker has learned of discussions at the heart of Unite that underline why the union leaders cannot be trusted to win the dispute.
Issue 2196

Socialist Worker has learned of discussions at the heart of Unite that underline why the union leaders cannot be trusted to win the dispute.

The Unite executive committee met on Monday 29 March, during the last set of BA strikes.

At it, joint general secretary Derek Simpson said that while solidarity was all well and good, “we can’t give so much support to our people they won’t settle”.

Some even seem to believe that getting Labour re-elected comes before supporting the union’s members at BA.

Tony Woodley said the BA conflict was not a normal dispute and that the company was out to destroy Bassa.

He said Walsh’s intention was to set up a fleet with thousands of new staff on worse conditions and that there were threats that another union would be recognised for this new group.

Sean Beatty, the executive member for Bassa, said that the response from members, and the solidarity, received had been magnificent.

He added that Walsh’s long term plan was to get to about June and then issue a 90-day notice of change of contract to everybody, including scabs.

He said the strikers needed funds, and that 33 people, including seven reps, face disciplinary action.

One executive member asked if the dispute could be spread to BA as a whole.

Many supported the idea of the executive going to the pickets as a group, as well as giving money and setting up a major solidarity rally.

At this point joint general secretary Derek Simpson spoke. He warned that executive members must go beyond euphoria, and that the dispute had got off to a bad start with the media because of the plans to strike for 12 days at Christmas.

He said, “We shot ourselves in both feet.” He went on to say that it is delusional to think the strike could be spread beyond the cabin crew, and that other sections applauded the decision to take travel privileges away from the strikers.

Simpson went on to say that although winning this dispute is crucial for the union, if Labour didn’t win the election then events such as that at BA would be commonplace.


He added it was not helpful when people went on the media saying, “Let’s give Brown a kicking.”

Extraordinarily, he even said that Brown was being as helpful as possible—“apart from his comments”.

Simpson then urged executive members to think more broadly than the dispute, towards the election and the interests of all the members.

In his closing remarks, Tony Woodley did not disagree with Simpson, but proposed to levy Unite members to produce £700,000 for the strikers. The executive voted for this—and it was a step forward.

But the leadership, both Woodley and Simpson, did not agree that the executive should go to the picket line.

Some of those who had earlier supported going to the picket line now changed their mind. Instead, the position accepted was that a couple of hundred BA strikers should be bussed into central London.

A union executive officer revealed, to laughter, that a room had already been booked for this—in advance of the executive discussion.

The lesson is clear. If rank and file workers do not take charge of the dispute then the union leaders will dither and may pressure workers to accept a very bad deal.

The alternative is to shut the airport. It’s not true that other workers do not back the cabin crew.

A BA baggage handling steward told Socialist Worker, “There’s a lot of a sympathy for the cabin crew, and we know it’s a first shot in a wider war.

“It certainly wouldn’t be easy to get people out, but it’s not impossible if there was a push from the top.”

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