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26 February 2010
British Airways cabin crew joint branch meeting
For the third time in four months hundreds of British Airways cabin crew assembled for a joint branch meeting on 25 February at Kempton Park race course. This was the first mass meeting since a court injunction halted strike action over Christmas. Since then a re-ballot of cabin crew returned a thumping majority of 80.7% in favour of industrial action, on a 78.7% turnout.
In the run up to the ballot result an online poll was organised by BASSA, the Unite branch for BA cabin crew. This found over two thirds of members in favour of a ten-day strike. More than 3,600 BASSA members voted in the poll - about a third of BA's entire cabin crew workforce.
There have been statements from national Unite leaders and BA management hinting at "meaningful discussions" and "some progress" in talks between the union and the company. All of this contributed to an air of expectation of either concessions or action amongst union members going into the meeting.
But the workers emerged with no dates for strike action. All that had been announced was unspecified progress in talks.
One cabin crew worker complained to us that it was not clear what had been achieved so far and what the union was going to do next.
If BA have made significant concessions without the union naming dates for strike action, so much the better. But BA management's behaviour up to this point has been one of refusing to negotiate with the unions, imposing change unilaterally, harassing union activists and attacking industrial action through the courts.
BA chief Willie Walsh built his reputation at Aer Lingus as a hardliner who takes on the unions. Now, under no pressure from looming dates for strike action, BA management is prepared to make concessions? It is more likely that BA is manoeuvring to avoid a strike announcement, strengthening their hand in negotiations.
Any deal that allows for the introduction of a separate fleet of aircraft, crewed under inferior terms and conditions will be seen as a defeat. It will open the door to significantly weakening union strength at the company. A recent provocative advertisement by Ryanair stating they are the 'no strike airline' illustrates what sort of future BA want.
If a fair deal proves impossible then strike action should start. By deferring the announcement of strike action, Unite are in danger of frittering away workers' support. Under the anti trade union laws the union must trigger industrial action within 28 days of the ballot result announcement. Every day spent in negotiation is another day for management to apply more pressure on staff.
BA seem to think Unite should negotiate with them even though they are actively witch hunting union activists and threatening to withdraw travel perks from staff. The strike weapon is the only thing an intransigent employer respects.
For more on BA from the Socialist Party, see www.airstrikes.wordpress.com.