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From The Socialist newspaper, 31 March 2010

BA cabin crew strike: 'We shall not be moved'

AS THE second round of strikes by British Airways (BA) cabin crew comes to a conclusion no-one within a ten mile radius of Heathrow could possibly be unaware of what is happening.

Neil Cafferky

The number of picket lines has increased. Boisterous picket lines are now unavoidable for motorists approaching Heathrow in any direction.

In fact, on an average journey into Heathrow a motorist is likely to pass at least two pickets. Not that the vast majority of drivers mind with most of them only too happy to show their support by honking their horns.

Unite have also acquired a mobile picket line in the form of an open-topped routemaster bus. Cabin crew can be seen on the top deck with red and white Unite flags. The bus circles Heathrow airport like a brightly coloured galleon while cabin crew chant slogans whenever it stops at a traffic light.

The bus can be heard long before it appears thanks to the ceaseless car horns from supportive motorists. A Marine Corps style jeep also appears from time to time, festooned with Unite flags. In short the cabin crew strike totally dominates the mini city that is Heathrow.

The main purpose of this display is to keep the morale of strikers high while also acting as a visible symbol of the poor industrial relations under the regime of BA's chief executive Willie Walsh. But it is also having an electrifying effect on other workers in the area.

Local ambulance drivers and fire crews are frequent visitors to the pickets. Workers from other airlines, particularly Virgin Airline, wave and give the thumbs up from their company buses.

One Socialist Party member returning from visiting pickets on a bus going down the Bath Road (where a picket is visible) overheard two bin workers praising the strikes and saying their union should follow the example of cabin crew.

As cabin crew strikers have often remarked in relation to BA management, 'the only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them'. It is cabin crew's decision to stand up for themselves that is at the root of the tremendous public support they have received on the pickets.

Millions of workers up and down the country experience bullying management and attacks on their pay and conditions every day. They understand that the cabin crew's fight is their fight.

It is the employer's fear of the "bad example" being set by BA cabin crew spreading to other workers that lies behind the hysterical attacks by establishment politicians and the right wing media on the strikers.

Way forward

AS BA management continued to dig its heels in, talk on the pickets inevitably turned to what would happen next once the four days of strike action was completed.

Although some picketers expressed the hope that the BA board would intervene to end the strike, many picketers were of the opinion that more action would have to be called.

There were many discussions on how the union could force BA management to the negotiating table. Over the four days of the dispute the Socialist Party, through its regular strike bulletin (Air Strike) and in discussions with striking workers, has put forward the idea of cabin crew unions calling a meeting of all the union reps in BA to discuss ways to widen the dispute.

In discussions many strikers expressed support for this idea as a way of increasing the impact of the action. Other strikers felt that was premature and were in favour of taking stock after the seven days of action before deciding what to do next.

Whatever the outcome of these discussions the Socialist Party will continue to offer its support and solidarity to cabin crew in their battle with BA management.


Stop donating to New Labour

THE UNITE union has announced that it will raise 700,000 from its branches to support cabin crew in their fight to protect standards and jobs at British Airways. A mandatory 2% levy will be placed on Unite's branches for the next quarter to support the strikers.

Members will be pleased that the union is taking this struggle seriously and nobody would object to a levy on branches to support our colleagues at BA.

But the question many members will be asking, especially after the disgraceful comments against the strike by Gordon Brown and transport secretary Lord Adonis, is why we don't stop the donations to New Labour? Unite has given Labour 11 million since Gordon Brown became leader and an incredible 500,000 in the last three months alone.

Mick Cotter, Chair, London United Craft Branch, Unite

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In The Socialist 31 March 2010:

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PCS: Striking against government attacks

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