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From The Socialist newspaper, 6 January 2010

British Airways cabin crew dispute

The union Unite is preparing to re-ballot British Airways cabin crew for industrial action following the court decision before Christmas that declared a planned 12-day strike illegal. On the decision of one judge and at the behest of British Airways bosses, the workers were told that their democratic right to strike was cancelled.

That "disgraceful" legal judgment as the union Unite correctly called it, makes voting in any union ballot almost irrelevant if the bosses and their friends in the judiciary decide to challenge it. Any strike can be declared 'illegal'. The ballot's so-called irregularities would not have made a blind bit of difference to its outcome, as the majority in favour of strike action was overwhelming - 92%, on a turnout of over 80%.

Following the court decision the Socialist Party said in a statement on its website that Unite should defy the law and go ahead with the action, as who can say that other 'irregularities' would not be found in the new ballot? Unite could have called on all its BA members to strike for a least a day in a massive demo at Heathrow against the bosses' law. If the courts then came for the union's funds then the whole of the trade union movement would have needed to mobilise in defence of democratic rights and the trade unions.

The statement added that as a minimum reaction to the disgraceful court intervention, Unite should stop paying money to the Labour Party, as the Labour government continues to support the anti-union laws.

New strike vote

Unfortunately the Unite leaders have not yet gone down these roads, but they have at least announced that "the judge's decision does not mean the end of the dispute" and that "Unite will not accept the imposition of new and inferior conditions on cabin crew". The cabin crew must hold their union leaders to this pledge, and make sure that successful industrial action goes ahead following the re-ballot.

A new strike vote will take around a month to organise and Unite will then have to give BA seven days' notice of any agreed action, so the end of February would be the likely timing of it.

The leaders of Bassa, the section of Unite that represents most of the 12,700 BA cabin crew involved, have defiantly said: "It's not over until the galley girl sings and as we said before, she hasn't even warmed up."

BA bosses are still determined to go ahead with staffing cuts and other attacks on the workforce. But their judicial 'victory' in preventing a cabin crew strike over the Christmas period may come back to haunt them, as the timing of a re-organised strike is likely to coincide with an increased surfacing of grievances involving most of the BA workforce.

In particular, a 60 day consultation on the pension deficit starts this month and there has as yet been no conclusion to talks on staffing levels and the method of working in Heathrow's terminal five. These issues could stack up together, uniting the entire BA workforce around the need to take collective industrial action against the BA bosses.

Socialist Party reporters

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