BA mixed-fleet workers show strikes get results
Rob Williams, Socialist Party industrial organiser and chair, National Shop Stewards Network
The heroic mixed-fleet cabin crew at Heathrow and Manchester airports have finally forced a settlement from British Airways (BA) that has resolved their long-running dispute.
2,000 low-paid Unite members took a total of 85 days of strike action, which began in January 2017. Their upbeat singing “mixed fleet on fire” and dancing picket lines have been a feature of the struggle.
This year’s struggle had its roots in the bitterly fought BA cabin crew dispute of 2009-11. One of the key triggers of that dispute was precisely the bringing in of cabin crew on new inferior contracts.
The mixed-fleet workers have taken action to raise their basic salary from a miserly £12,000 and to end their inferior terms and conditions. Many have felt that BA cynically pitched the contracts at this level with the view of creating a revolving door of new, young starters who move on every few years.
Therefore, in these circumstances, it has been a herculean effort by the union and the reps to forge a fighting force that could take on a vicious employer. Over 1,000 new recruits have been won to Unite during the course of this year’s action.
The settlement deal will see workers get a pay rise of between £1,404 to £2,908 by March 2018, and some of BA’s attempted vindictive strike-breaking measures have been lifted.
Those crew who went on strike will have their withdrawn travel concessions restored, along with being able to fully participate in the airline’s 2017 bonus scheme. It will also see the settlement in full of Unite’s legal action on behalf of crew who had been sanctioned for striking.
Many workers will believe that more could have been won if more practical solidarity could have been provided by the leadership of the Unite Bassa branch, which organises workers on the original contract and still number over 8,000 cabin crew.
The mixed-fleet workers have also shown that a new generation of younger workers can be won to the trade union movement and mobilised to take militant action.
They quickly realised the importance of seeking and giving solidarity to increase pressure on BA. On 3 August, they joined with other Unite members on strike in London at the Bank of England and Barts NHS Trust, with demos and other protests. They were a prominent part of the summer wave of strikes that saw groups of workers taking action, many of them against low pay.
The Socialist Party and the National Shop Stewards Network salute the mixed fleet workers and are proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with them. We believe that the settlement is a firm basis to strengthen union organisation.