EXTENSIVE talks have been taking place over the last seven weeks under the Chairmanship of TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber between Unite and BA, after BA imposed new terms and conditions of service onto its cabin crew.
BA is in head-on collision with the UNITE trade union and is imposing the axing of 1,700 jobs, a two-year wage freeze and introducing a two-tier workforce.
Tuesday 9 March is D-Day to determine whether or not a ‘mutually acceptable settlement can be achieved’.
This is a struggle from which the working class has already learnt a lot, principally about the nature of the state, as the main instrument of ruling class power, and definitely not neutral in the class struggle between workers and employers.
They have also had confirmed to them the cringing, weak, backsliding, unprincipled and capitulatory nature of the Unite trade union bureaucracy.
There have been two ballots opposing the forced imposition of new terms and conditions of service onto cabin crew, in which workers voted massively for strike action, in record numbers, and with a turn-out well above the average for a general election.
After the first ballot, the trade union leaders puffed themselves up and issued a communique that there would be 10 days of strike action over Christmas.
Just as quickly, they crumbled when it became obvious that BA intended to call their bluff, and when the law courts picked on some minor technical defects in the ballot to outlaw the strike.
Instead of proceeding with the action, they told cabin crew that they should work the new conditions, while the union went to the law courts to demand a declaration that imposing terms on cabin crew was illegal.
They were under the illusion that the judiciary would find against the bosses in a situation where the bosses were squealing that only the ending of the negotiated terms and conditions of service would give BA a chance of survival.
When the judiciary duly found for the bosses, the trade union bureaucrats organised another strike ballot, saying that this time it would be watertight and there would definitely be strike action.
The second ballot ended in the same way as the first, with a huge turnout and a massive vote for strike action.
The bureaucracy then refused to call the action and entered more talks, which BA have used to buy time to try to build up an army of scabs.
Trade union members are entitled to ask themselves just what they have to do to be able to carry out the required strike action. The only real answer is to to get rid of the present Unite leadership!
While Unite has been talking for the last period, BA has been suspending workers and seeking to intimidate them, saying that they have organised thousands of scabs.
Now the moment of truth is approaching. Notice of strike action has to be given by March 15 if there is to be a legal strike.
The Unite leaders meanwhile are alleged to have made an offer to give BA 90 per cent of what it wants.
BA is having its union-busting appetite whetted by the capitulatory nature of the Unite leadership and must now be considering a further upping the ante to drive Unite out of Heathrow.
Facing a talks deadline of March 9, word has it that the Unite leadership is offering to help set up a parallel BA fleet, operating the new terms and conditions of service, and is also offering to accept a two-year wage freeze for the established cabin crew, in return for a partial repeal of the staffing reductions for the established staff.
The cabin crew will reject this sell out, and BA may well decide that facing this kind of Unite leadership it can bully them into submisson.
Cabin crew must demand that notice be given of the strike action, and that if the judiciary illegalises the action or strike breakers are used, the whole of Unite is brought out and that the TUC is told to call a general strike.
This is the only way to see off the bosses.