BRITISH Airways cabin crew cheered and danced and celebrated yesterday morning. They sang ‘We are the Champions’ after their strength forced a panel of three senior judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice, to overturn a judicial decision that their strike action was illegal.
While the cabin crew jigged their Unite union leaders Simpson and Woodley looked shocked at the result, with Simpson stating: ‘This is not a moment for being triumphant. We shouldn’t have been in this process.’
He added: ‘The courts have given a further opportunity to open negotiations,’ but added that if the issues of the ending of travel allowances, the suspension of 50 or 60 people and the sacking of seven reps were not resolve,d there could be strike action on Monday. Woodley added: ‘This is a pause for peace. Willie Walsh must make the most of it.’
The TUC’s Brendan Barber commented ‘This is an important victory. I hope it marks a halt to the recent run of arbitrary legal judgements where employers have found it all too easy to get courts to find in their favour and prevent employees from exercising their democratic right to take strike action.’ In fact the about turn of the judiciary constitutes an important victory for the working class.
The first arbitrary judgement was indeed a desperate expression of the needs of the ruling class to crush the cabin crew as a prelude to forcing its savage cuts onto the working class as a whole.
It wasn’t the kind of judgement that could be turned on its head without a severe loss of face by the judiciary and the ruling class behind it. They picked the fight and then they bottled it.
The reason why they changed course is that the trade union bureaucracy was losing control of the situation, and inevitably, if that judgement was maintained the General Council of the TUC would have had to meet to discuss what to do about the ending of the right to strike, and before long an untried and untested coalition led by public school boys would have been facing a general strike.
The ruling class therefore beat an embarrassing retreat, before the working class has even used a fraction of its strength, and for the moment the trade union bureaucracy has breathed a mini-sigh of half-relief, urging BA to reinstate everybody that they have victimised, as well as the travel allowances.
The union leaders are determined to prevent this legal victory from turning into a counter attack on BA to demand the end of wage, pension and job cuts.
However it is not a case of ‘The workers united will never be defeated’. Reformist leadership always ends in big defeats, from the 1926 general strike onwards.
The crisis of the working class remains the crisis of its leadership.
For the Marxist movement, the about turn of the judiciary again emphasises that the working class is the only really revolutionary force in society, and that what it lacks is a leadership that is prepared to use its strength to put an end to capitalism.
This defeat for the ruling class is however not a decisive one. The ruling class will be forced to hit back, and soon, by the deepening of the world crisis, as it has done in the past.
In 1981 Thatcher set out to close 23 pits, but the resistance was so great that the pit closure programme was withdrawn. This was a victory. Thatcher, however, proceeded to build up her strength using the Malvinas war to do so, and North Sea oil to build up huge coal stocks, before provoking a miners’ strike in 1984, and plunging the country into a year long civil war.
This is a great lesson for today. Workers must demand that Unite use its strength to win the BA dispute so that the wage cutting and job cutting programme is scrapped, and all sacked and disciplined workers return to work.
A motion must be put down at the TUC General Council that savage cuts, and any further attack on the right to strike, will be met with a general strike.
The reactionary Tory-led coalition that has already developed a taste for dictatorship must be brought down and a workers government brought in that will carry out socialist policies. This is what has to be done. All those that want to see this done must join the WRP at once.