British Airways strike: "Walsh wants to break the union"

Submitted by Matthew on 27 May, 2010 - 12:15 Author: A BASSA activist

Workers definitely got a big morale boost from winning the appeal against the injunction. When that second injunction was granted, people were very down about that.

If it had stood then the dispute would’ve been finished, so it was extremely significant and galvanising when we won the appeal.

Despite the lies from BA and the media, the strike is definitely having an impact. If you know where to look at a big airport like Heathrow, you’ll see dozens and dozens of aircraft grounded and parked-up. BA are literally hiding away the grounded planes.

Their initial statement said they’d had to cancel 117 flights; later that had risen to 133, so the strike is obviously having more of an impact than they want to let on. The workers have been solid; meetings and rallies at the strike headquarters in Bedfont near Heathrow have been extremely well-attended.

People’s morale and resolve to dig in for a long fight varies. Some people are intimidated and battered down, but others are up for a long battle. The low levels of morale that do exist are the result of BA doing everything it can to frighten, intimidate and harass. What Willie Walsh and BA have done would be illegal in a lot of countries.

Their plan is to grind people down over a period of time. People are being suspended all over the place on ridiculous grounds; one worker faces suspension on a bullying and harassment charge for refusing to shake hands with a flight deck worker who worked as “volunteer” cabin crew during the strike!

You can’t allow a company to punish people for taking part in a lawful strike. The way he’s behaved shows that Walsh’s agenda is much wider than BA. He wants to be the big hero who broke the back of the strongest centre of union organisation in the aviation industry and changed the industry forever.

He has an absolutely focused anti-union agenda. He has a passionate hatred for BASSA, and may well go on the offensive against union recognition if he does well out of this dispute. We’ve already got a situation where reps aren’t being allowed to accompany members into disciplinary hearings.

The dispute has definitely done lasting damage, which makes it clear that Walsh doesn’t really care about the future of British Airways. The damage that’s been done in terms of relations between different grades of workers might be irreparable.

People claim that we’re being unrealistic to fight to hold onto the terms, conditions and levels of union organisation that we’ve got, but the fact is that BA has been a world-class service-provider for decades; if Walsh gets away with his attempts to deregulate and de-skill cabin crew workers, then who knows what kind of service the passengers will be getting? I doubt they’ll want to continue paying £3,000-£5,000 for a first-class seat to New York.

Some people are beginning to see aspects of Walsh’s projects as inevitable. There are people who want to fight the introduction of “new fleet”, but other people are arguing that we need to move on to fighting to protect the terms and conditions of existing staff.

We welcome solidarity from the wider labour movement and the left but we want effective, constructive support. People are extremely angry about the SWP’s stunt at ACAS. I’m sure it was done with the right intentions, but it has only served to exacerbate the situation. We’ve had a lot of messages of apology from other left groups and even some individual members of the SWP who were unhappy with the action.

Workers and activists who support us can help even by doing simple things like writing to British Airways and let them know you’re disgusted at the way BA bosses are treating their workers. People can also try and take arguments supporting our strike into the media; we need to build a climate where supporting workers and this strike is seen as mainstream rather than marginal.

We’re living in a crazy society where Walsh is allowed to get away with what he’s done. In other countries he might be facing prison for the way he’s behaved! With the Tories back in power the situation looks set to get worse in terms of attacks on workers and anti-union legislation. The truth is that there won’t be peace at a company like BA while someone like Walsh is in charge.

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