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BA cabin crews come out fighting
SANDOWN PARK has witnessed many dramatic moments in its time as one of England's premier race courses. The beginning of a more serious drama unfolded on Monday morning as 3,000 British Airways cabin crew poured into the conference centre for an emergency Unite union meeting.
Emergency is certainly the word to describe the situation facing cabin crew, who number 14,000 in total. British Airways (BA) has recently announced 3,000 redundancies, a wage freeze and crucially, plans to begin a new fleet employing cabin crew on inferior pay and conditions.
All workers who spoke to The Socialist (anonymously for fear of management reprisal, a media gagging order is written into BA workers' contracts) were unanimous in their support for strike action, predicting a massive 'yes' vote.
Click here for pdf of leaflet from the Socialist Party: British Airways: Vote YES to strike action
It seems that even workers who previously opposed strike action have become exasperated with BA's intransigence. One woman when asked her reaction to the planned ballot commented: "I feel really proud. I've never ever in my 34 years been out on strike. I don't agree with that type of process. For the first time in my life I'm really proud to be part of the union."
Many workers were scathing of management. When asked what was the trigger for the ballot, one worker simply said: "The bully boy tactics of [BA chief executive] Mr Walsh". There is a feeling staff are seen as disposable in the pursuit of personal profit: "Workers tend to get shoved to the side, meanwhile management march on with their big houses and ticking their little career CV boxes," said another worker.
The result of the ballot will be announced on 14 December making 21 December potentially the earliest strike date.
Some in the mainstream media have already condemned cabin crew for planning to disrupt Christmas travel but the simple truth is that the timetable for action has been forced on workers by Willie Walsh's provocative attacks.
"We don't want to ballot... we definitely don't want to go out before Christmas but... I can't take less money than I'm getting now. I just can't survive." Amazingly this worker has been employed by BA for eleven years but still receives a basic wage of only £14,000. She, like many cabin crew, is far from being a privileged employee and like most workers is struggling to get by in these harsh economic times.
Strike action before Christmas is not inevitable. Len McCluskey, deputy general secretary of Unite was keeping the options open: "We haven't decided when we're going to take action."
He feels the threat of strike action may yet force BA back to the negotiating table. "When people are faced with the actual confrontation and devastation that will hit British Airways as a company then perhaps it will make them more flexible to reaching an agreement."
If BA management do not feel in a flexible mood there was a stark warning from one worker: "The clear message is that we are going to fight Willie Walsh and his impositions and that we really do count."
In The Socialist 3 November 2009:
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party statement
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis