Britain: Support the British Airways Strikers

Cabin crew turn up the pressure on BA boss

British Airways cabin crew are set to take 20 days of strike action starting on 18 May. The strikes will be in four blocks of five days with one day ‘breathers’ in between. In an online poll 81% of union members rejected the new deal put up by the company.

The strike action was called after management’s refusal to restore the staff travel discount or reverse the victimisations of over 50 staff members. This includes the sacking of Duncan Holley, the branch secretary of the cabin crew’s Unite branch, BASSA.

It seems the idea behind breaking up the strike days is to allow time for negotiation without having to call off strike action. It is a well worn tactic of management to refuse to enter talks while strike action is ongoing. In most cases this is then used to disperse the momentum built up by action in fruitless negotiations.

The one day breaks in between action will not be sufficient time to clear the backlog of flights from the previous day’s action before the next action resumes. According to the Financial Times, union reps in the company felt harder hitting action was necessary to underline the seriousness of Unite’s position, pointing out that the only time BA boss Walsh looked shocked during this dispute was when the 12 days of strike action was announced in December.

This escalation of the dispute is an inevitable outcome of management’s hard line on victimisations. The company is now making noises that it intends to seek an injunction against the strike action, on the grounds that the dispute is now over victimisations and staff travel discounts rather than contractual changes.

But the wording of the ballot makes it clear that all matters that arise from the dispute, such as withdrawing staff travel as punishment for taking part in lawful strike action, are also grounds for strike action. It reads: “Trade dispute with British Airways PLC- cabin crew members including all matters arising out of and in consequences of the dispute. Are you prepared to take part in strike action?”

Nevertheless, given the blatantly biased nature of recent industrial relations court rulings, an injunction cannot be ruled out.

BA is undoubtedly in a weaker position financially due to the volcano. 20 days of strike action may well concentrate minds in the board room towards reaching a deal agreeable to the cabin crew. However, widening this dispute across the company workforce could lessen the sacrifice cabin crew have to make to win.

The sacking of Duncan Holley demonstrates what management has in store for reps that refuse to accept BA’s diktats in the rest of the company. It is an attack on the right of all workers to organise and elect their own representatives. This is an issue for all the workforce and needs to be met with a collective response. There is an urgent need to convene a joint meeting of all the trade union reps at the company to discuss industrial action to defeat this attack on trade union rights.

Nationally Unite could issue a call for a demonstration at Heathrow against victimisation. A collective response from the whole of the trade union movement is needed to defeat this union busting drive once and for all.

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May 2010