A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

BA fatcats vs. working class

The battle lines between union-busting British Airways (BA) boss Willie Walsh and 14,000 cabin crew workers have been drawn. Walsh is intent on slashing jobs, cutting pay and ripping up working agreements; he has already imposed damaging cuts on cabin crew numbers without agreement with the workers’ Unite union. But workers are refusing to take it – and have hit him with plans for a spectacular 12-day strike. Cabin crew delivered a massive 92 percent vote for action with over 80 percent turning out to vote in the ballot. This magnificent result shows the strength of feeling and determined spirit to fight that exists among workers. One stated "We worked hard in the good times and made BA lots of profits. They should have kept some of that money for the bad times. It’s not our fault that we’re now in a recession. I have to pay my mortgage and my bills, yet BA wants to cut my wages.” Walsh says he needs to make cuts to save money, and much of the media will back him up on this ridiculous claim. But what he’s really interested in is union-busting – and the workers know it.

Walsh built his callous reputation when he was chief executive of the Irish airline Aer Lingus – where he slashed a third of the workforce and pushed privatisation. “What BA really wants is to end the union,” another claimed. “We know Willie Walsh is a bully because we saw what he did at Aer Lingus. But I’m not worried because we are strong.” Walsh expects workers to swallow the cuts – while he grabs thousands of pounds. Last year he got a pay rise of 6 percent. Makes the blood boil, doesn't it? His basic salary was £735,000, compared to a basic wage of around £18,700 for a cabin crew member. On top of this, BA, which claims it has no money, threw an extra £90,000 into his pension fund. Walsh is proud of his bullying reputation. As he put it when he was at Aer Lingus, “A reasonable man gets nowhere in negotiations.” But this time he may be in for a shock. Bosses everywhere will be watching this battle closely. They know that if Walsh is pushed back then other workers facing similar attacks will have more confidence to fight. BA gives a snapshot of the bitterness that exists everywhere – and shows the potential for resistance to break through.

British Airways (BA) has won a court injunction to stop some 14,000 cabin crew workers from taking strike action; they were set to begin a 12-day strike on Tuesday. The injunction does not resolve any of the issues that led workers into a dispute. Unions should not allow an unelected judge to overrule the democratic vote of thousands of workers. They should defy the law and continue the fight to stop BA’s cuts. Cabin crew workers in the Unite union voted by over 92 percent on an 80 percent turnout in favour of strikes to fight BA plans to slash jobs, cut and freeze pay and cut allowances. The fact that BA imposed cuts on workers without union agreement last month has angered workers. Despite the overwhelming vote for action the court accepted BA management's position that the union had not correctly balloted its members on the strike action. The management argued that because some staff in the process of leaving the company had been balloted industrial relations law had been breached. Unite stated that this was a "disgraceful day for democracy" and that it would reballot if the dispute wasn't resolved. Talks are currently continuing between BA management and Unite. The mood among BA cabin crew is angry and the strength of the vote shows how determined workers are to fight BA’s cuts. They have the potential to win and they should make sure that union leaders don't throw it away.

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