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Strike ballots show willingness to fight
BRITISH AIRWAYS (BA) cabin crew have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action. The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) has planned three days of strike action by the cabin crew from Monday 29 to Wednesday 31 January to be followed up by two more lots of three day strikes in February.
What stands out particularly is that the majority for strike action was 96% on an 80% turnout. The TGWU represents around 11,000 of the 14,000-strong cabin crew, and will probably have the support of nearly all the cabin staff once the strike starts. The bosses of BA have obviously been shocked by this level of support and have applied to ACAS, the conciliation service, to come in and adjudicate to stop the strike.
Support for strike action
Similar levels of support for strike action are increasingly becoming the norm amongst other groups of workers as well. For example, PCS union members working for the multinational information technology company Electronic Data Systems have voted by 93% to come out on strike on 31 January.
Workers in London Underground and rail signallers in the North West have also voted heavily in favour of strike action. The PCS has mobilised its members in defence of jobs, services and pay for national strike action on 31 January (see reports, pages 1 and 3).
All these votes for strike action indicate increased anger and willingness to struggle amongst workers and if the action comes to pass, could be the beginnings of a year of great discontent in workplaces across Britain.
Willie Walsh, the boss of British Airways, was noticeably less belligerent than he normally is when he appeared on television. Walsh was brought in to carry through 20% job cuts as the company prepares for its move to the giant new Terminal Five building at Heathrow Airport.
The immediate cause of the potential strike is the anger that BA cabin crew feel about the measures taken by Walsh against them, including forcing them to report for work even if they are sick. They are also angry about pay differentials and an attack on their pensions.
For the BA bosses this strike could not happen at a worse time. They had to cancel 800 flights just before Christmas because of fog. A strike would cost them millions of pounds just as the unofficial strike in the summer of 2005 did when baggage handlers came out in solidarity with the sacked Gate Gourmet workers.
That strike cost them £62 million and saw 1,000 aircraft grounded with 100,000 passengers unable to get their flights across the globe.
Despite this, BA shares rose 75% last year and BA is seen as "one of the most profitable carriers" (Financial Times 22 January 2007). This has been brought about at the expense of the BA workers who have seen their conditions get worse and worse under Willie Walsh.
The present clear stand of the cabin crew could bring about a victory for them if the TGWU leaders also stand firm. To strengthen their position further, a united fight-back across BA against all attacks on pay and conditions involving the GMB union (whose members have just rejected the pensions deal done by their leadership) and Amicus as well as the TGWU is necessary.
Pressure has been applied on all BA workers to accept worse conditions, including the new sickness rules, and as the cabin crew vote fully demonstrated, there is a massive degree of readiness among the airline's workers to take action if their union leaders seize the opportunity.
In The Socialist 25 January 2007:
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