Members of the BASSA branch of the Unite union, which represents cabin crew working for British Airways, began re-balloting for strike action over pay freezes and job cuts on 25 January, with results due back on 22 February.
The re-ballot follows the decision of a High Court judge to rule illegal a previous strike ballot in which over 90% of workers, on an 80% turnout, voted to strike. Despite renewed press hysteria around the “selfishness” of the workers’ campaign and tabloid speculation that they would try and “target” the Easter holidays in the same way that they had “targeted” Christmas (no suggestion that they were simply timing their action to make sure it was most effective and hit BA bosses’ profits hardest), Unite has ruled out Easter break action. If the ballot is successful, a strike is expected sometime in March.
Aspirant union-busting boss Willie Walsh has already circulated a letter to all 38,000 BA workers across all grades actively encouraging them to scab. Walsh wrote: “I am asking for volunteers to back BA by training to work alongside cabin crew who choose not to support a strike, so we are ready to keep our customers flying as much as we possibly can if this strike goes ahead.”
This kind of naked, scab-herding, union-busting tactic represents an escalation of the dispute from the bosses’ point of view. They have used the courts as a weapon; now they plan to build an army of strikebreakers. Walsh’s behaviour is a lesson, for anyone who was in doubt, that the conflict between bosses and workers is just that, a conflict.
BA plans to send volunteer strikebreakers on a 21-day training programme, but — as Unite points out —there is no way that this will equip them to deal with the range of complex emergency situations that fully-qualified cabin crew are trained to respond to, including medical emergencies and delivering babies.
While the press continues to peddle myths about the opulent lifestyles of cabin crew workers, Unite members are quoted in the union’s press releases telling a very different story. One worker said “I take home around £1,100 a month and I’m still entitled to Working Tax Credits because we’re classified as low paid workers, and that’s common among most of the main crew at Gatwick. Many of us have two jobs in order to pay our bills — often in bars and restaurants — to make ends meet.”
In the face of a concerted campaign against them in the press and a viciously anti-union and scab-herding boss, socialists, trade unionists and environmental activists need to offer full support and solidarity to the BA strike, which represents not only a jobs battle but the potential for workers in the aviation industry - one of the world’s most polluting - to begin to stand up and have a say about how their industry is run. Members of Workers’ Liberty will be involved in building support for the strike through our involvement in the Workers’ Climate Action network.
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