TODAY BA mixed fleet cabin crew start another round of four days of strike action against poverty level wages that has meant them relying on second jobs just to survive, and with some reporting that they are forced to sleep in cars between flights because they can’t afford the fare home.
BA rakes in huge profits for its shareholders and bosses on the backs of these workers as a result of a deal agreed between BA and their union, Unite, back in 2010. Under the terms of this deal, a treacherous agreement signed by the Unite leadership to call off a strike over BA’s wage-cutting drive, the union agreed to split the workforce by creating a mixed flying fleet for new crew.
New cabin crew recruited were under completely separate terms and conditions from existing workers with a strictly separate negotiating body. In effect, Unite leaders agreed to a two-tier workforce with the new mixed fleet crew doing the same job as their colleagues but on vastly inferior pay and conditions.
BA management were delirious that Unite agreed to such a deal; it held out the prospect of a wage-cutting programme for the future with the total agreement of the union. In the seven years since this agreement was signed BA have waged a continual war against the wages of these crew.
While claiming that their standard pay of £12,000 a year is bolstered by allowances, incentives and bonus up to over £21,000, the reality is completely different. Cabin crew members report that their total pay in fact can be as low as £16,000 and that BA’s figures are just a cover up for poverty level pay.
Today’s strike is the latest in a series that has seen mixed fleet cabin crew rise up and take on BA with a magnificent determination not to be driven into the ground by a rapacious employer and to fight for their rights. But what their strike needs above all is a strategy to actually win this fight.
So far there have been no signs of a strategy for victory emerging from Len McCluskey and the rest of the Unite leadership. Their policy appears to be to simply let the strikes continue while restricting any action to calling for BA to get round the table for talks.
This is a recipe for the strike to grind on until such time as the workers are literally starved back to work – already BA is cutting the entitlements and allowances to strikers, while promising to restore them to anyone breaking the strike. This shameful inactivity by Unite leaders has been exposed by the news that cabin crew members have been forced to set up their own food bank for striking members with donations from other unions.
While feeding strikers is crucial, it begs the question: Why is Unite, the biggest union in the country, leaving it up to them to carry out what is the most basic function of a trade union – to support the membership in a fight against the employer?
Immediately Unite must be forced to organise a levy of its total membership and establish a strike fund to support cabin crew members and not let them be beaten back by BA. This struggle by mixed fleet cabin crew is a fight for every Unite member and trade union in the industry.
It is clear that the whole thrust of the 2010 agreement was to split the workforce in BA and use this as a wedge to drive wage cutting throughout the workers in every airline. The Unite leadership bear responsibility for this and today must be forced to face up to their responsibilities by firstly organising a strike fund and strike pay and secondly by tearing up the 2010 agreement and demanding that all mixed fleet cabin crew be placed immediately on the same pay, terms and conditions as their fellow workers.
To lead this fight Unite must call out on indefinite strike all its members throughout BA until the company concedes. This is the strategy for victory.