THE HIGH Court on Tuesday dismissed an attempt by British Airways to secure an interim judgement that would make planned strike action by pilots illegal under Tory anti-union laws.
On Monday, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) had announced that its members backed industrial action over a pay dispute by more than nine to one, a 93% majority on a turnout of 90% of BA’s 4,000 pilots.
BA immediately ran to the court to try and stop the strikes, which would cost the airline up to £40 million a day. In court, BA’s barrister argued that the ballot of pilots did not comply with the anti-union laws.
Despite the overwhelming vote for strike action, BA argued that the ballot was invalid because Balpa did not provide a list of categories of employees who had been balloted and that the union’s failure to specify whether pilots were in long-haul or short-haul fleets meant that Balpa could not rely on the ballot.
Under all the stream of anti-union laws inflicted by successive Tory governments, trade unions are required not only to get over a 50% turn-out of members in a strike vote but specify to the company exactly where every one of their members is located.
Even when unions are able to navigate through the minefield of laws designed to make strikes illegal, they are still confronted by ludicrous appeals that even the judge on Tuesday threw out.
Not that this set-back has deterred BA, who quickly announced their intention to make a further appeal against this ruling.
The strike ballot was called after Balpa rejected a pay offer for pilots which BA claim represents an 11.5% increase spread over three years but which the union has rejected as ‘derisory’.
This offer by BA in no way compensates pilots for the savage cut in wages inflicted on them over the past years, including a two-year pay freeze introduced by BA in 2010 when the company pleaded that it was going bust in the wake of the 2008 banking crash and had to cut the wages and conditions of pilots, cabin crew and staff in order to survive.
In fact, it was revealed in 2010 that BA, although losing money, was prepared to lose £100 million in facing down proposed strikes by cabin crew for the ‘prize’ of destroying the unions and inflicting even greater cuts on its workers.
Today on the backs of previous cuts, BA has recovered and provides the largest share of its parent company IAG’s £2.6 billion profit in 2018.
Pilots are quite reasonably demanding a decent pay increase and a share in the profits made on their backs. As Balpa has pointed out, a strike will cost the airline £40 million a day – far more than the cost of BA conceding a reasonable pay offer.
But, as in 2010, the issue for BA and for all the airlines is union-busting. This has become even more crucial for the bosses as the entire airline industry faces an even worse crisis than in 2008.
After years of cuts to pay and conditions, the industry is being convulsed by workers’ demands for increases.
Balpa is balloting Ryanair members over pay while strikes have been called by the members of Unite at Heathrow airport as the entire industry is set to explode over poverty level pay for ground staff and pilots.
The employers will be using the full force of Tory anti-union laws to try and smash the unions to defeat these strikes. Jeremy Corbyn has pledged that a future Labour government would scrap anti-union laws in favour of ‘collective bargaining’.
The fact is that BA bosses and indeed every boss in bankrupt British capitalism are not interested in collective bargaining only in using the full power of the capitalist state to outlaw strikes and drive trade unions out, leaving workers as helpless individuals to be mercilessly exploited.
The answer to this crisis is not to issue calls for a return to the long-gone days of ‘free collective bargaining’ but for the working class to take the power through the overthrow of capitalism and going forward to a workers government that will expropriate the bosses and bankers under socialism.