Saturday, 29 January 2011

Support for the cabin crew dispute is crucial for the anti-cuts campaign

As predicted two months ago on The Workers United British Airways cabin crew were in position to carry on their strike action by the end of January.
Eight days ago their union Unite announced a 78 percent vote for action from a 75 percent turnout in the secret ballot required by UK law.
The cabin crews have been fighting the latest changes to their working conditions since 2009.
In March 2010 there were strikes.
I visited the picket lines and wrote two articles for Red Pepper magazine's website - although I used a pseudonym as I was trying to get work in the mainstream media at the time.
I found fantastic spirit on the first day of the strike and discovered a few days later that the dispute was causing more problems than BA admitted.
Despite the latest big strike vote no action has been declared.
There is no evidence of a campaign to raise money from the Labour movement to support these largely-female workers who have achieved cult status among trade union activists for standing up to their bullying boss.
There is no evidence of spreading the action to Unite members in other parts of BA - where local disputes within the terms of UK strike law could no doubt be found.
New Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has been talking about supporting strikes.
But he was part the negotiating team that came up with a deal cabin crew rejected.
What happens next in the cabin crew dispute will be crucial for the reputation of the new Unite regime.
A blog by Duncan Holley - the secretary of the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) branch of Unite - says "nothing is ruled in or out".
Support for action and solidarity would be a big boost to the confidence of Unite and other trade union activists trying to organise the fight to stop cuts and improve working conditions.


  1. Another very good article Miles and at this time most would probably agree that there seems to be a mixed message in terms of solidarity and support for the "cabin crew"

    If there was every to be a society without "strike action" could it possibly be that Aldous Huxley's "Brave new world" was closer to the truth than thought?

  2. BA Cabin crew have shown us how to fight disputes there must be a way other union members and activists can raise money to support them when they are out? Their fight is our fight.

  3. Totally agree that for cabin crew to succeed in this dispute they need more support. Key to this is that whilst 75%+ of the votes cast in the ballot were in favour of strike action, only 56% of the membership balloted actually voted this way. It remains to be seen whether the cabin crew who either voted against strike action or failed to vote at all will follow this slim majority and walk out. Somewhat key to all this is the way that the branch leaderships approach the members now. I have a feeling that BASSA may have shot themselves in the foot. I quote from the UniteBA website

    'Now BA's plans are in the open I would like to send this message to everyone who has either left BASSA, voted NO, or to a lesser extent not voted. You have been given your say and the majority has spoken. If you have any integrity you should accept Bill Francis's offer straight away because your actions and votes are a tacit acceptance of what BA propose.

    Don't sit back and see if your brave colleagues who voted YES can fight your fight for you. That is cowardice, you have made your bed and now you must lie in it, alongside Bill. Good Luck, it has been nice knowing you. '

    It would appear that BASSA want all those who didn't vote for industrial action to now leave the branch. I suggest that at a time when Unite need every member to stand up and follow the majority, this is not just counterproductive, but suicidal. It plays straight into the boss's hands, dividing the workers and fragmenting support. At one stage I was prepared to believe that BA were out to break the union, but this shows the union in rather a different light.

    This dispute is indeed critical to the ability of Unite to move forward on the anti-cuts agenda. If the largest branch of the largest union in the UK cannot show us how to work as one, then there is little hope for solidarity amongst all the branches within Unite, or indeed across all unions.

  4. Ah. So Duncan Holley's blog says "nothing is ruled in or out".

    That would be the same Duncan Holley who promised 'guerilla action'.

    The same man who told all the BASSA members who didn't vote for strike action in the recent ballot to leave the union.

    I do think it a bit suspect that the person who is driving this dispute is someone who was sacked by BA. I'd like to think that their motives were altruistic and that they did not have a personal agenda. I'm not so sure that is the case.