By Matthew Cookson
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Retreat by BAA bosses shows more can be won

This article is over 13 years, 3 months old
The threat of a strike by thousands of workers at six airports terrified the British Airports Authority (BAA) bosses this week.
Issue 2215

The threat of a strike by thousands of workers at six airports terrified the British Airports Authority (BAA) bosses this week.

That’s why they upped their pay offer from 1 percent (or 1.5 percent with strings) to 2 percent without strings.

And workers will also get a £10 a week bonus.

BAA management had come under huge pressure from airline bosses fearful for their profits.

“There are some frantic calls going on at the moment,” said one airline source on Monday as BAA met negotiators from the Unite union for talks at the Acas conciliation service.

“I would not be surprised if a number of calls have been made at a senior level,” said Simon Buck, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, which represents most UK airlines.

A strike by BAA workers would close Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports because of the loss of essential staff.

These include firefighters, security staff, engineers, and support staff.


In addition some rank and file workers were pressing for solidarity action at other British airports that are not part of BAA (such as Gatwick).

This would have stopped flights being rerouted from strike-bound airports.

Given all that power—and everything else that’s going on in the airline industry—the deal falls far short of what’s possible.

A “rise” of 2 percent when inflation is running at almost 5 percent means a big pay cut—especially when it comes after a pay freeze.

And Unite leaders grabbed at a deal on the first day of talks at Acas. They didn’t even let the pressure build up on BAA bosses.

Unite national officers, Brian Boyd and Brendan Gold said, “The negotiations were tough but Unite has delivered a fair offer for BAA staff.

“The game is up for employers in the aviation industry. With the recession receding in the industry, Unite now expects BAA’s pay offer to set the standard.”

But who wants the standard to be a pay cut in real terms?

And why has Unite never attempted to bring together the BAA and British Airways disputes (see box, right)?

BAA workers are now to vote on whether to accept the new offer.

They should learn from their management’s retreat, reject the offer, and push for strikes alongside BA.

What we think: Fight together and everyone wins

The BAA and tube disputes show the potential to resist ruthless bosses. Workers do not have to watch while their lives are torn apart.

Nobody should say that in key cases workers won’t fight. But every individual battle also raises wider questions about leadership and strategy across the working class.

This should have been the week that airline and airport bosses felt overwhelming pressure from a united workforce.

It should have been the week that British Airways (BA) cabin crew saw their defiant ten-month battle crowned in victory.

The BAA strike vote hurled the bosses into panic.

If BA workers had come out alongside BAA workers— and both groups had agreed to support one another until they both won—then BAA bosses and BA’s Willie Walsh would have lost. They would have had to make a serious offer to end both disputes.

Unfortunately Unite union leaders did not hold a new strike ballot to enable BA workers to strike officially.

Had it been called on 20 July, when cabin crew rejected their last offer, then the result would have been out this week, and both groups could, quite legally, have struck at the same time.

But Unite has not sought such coordination. Last week leaders of the GMB and Unite unions recommended that 3,000 British Airways ground crew workers accept a job and pay cutting deal.

It means 500 job losses and a one-year pay freeze.

Turning the potential to fight into reality needs argument and organisation in order to overcome the hesitation and retreats at the top.

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