ON THE eve of the four-day strike by British Airways cabin crew, which begins today, the company’s Chief Executive Willie Walsh stepped up his threats against them and their union, Unite.
Walsh declared belligerently that those cabin crew who had their travel concessions permanently withdrawn after going on strike last weekend would ‘never’ have them restored. He would not ‘compromise’ on this.
This was the response of the BA boss to Unite which had just issued a statement saying: ‘Any agreement to end this dispute must and will include a framework for the full restoration of those travel concessions.’
In a letter to their BA cabin crew members, Unite joint general secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley had said that ‘the withdrawal of travel concessions from crew who have been on strike represents unacceptable anti-union bullying’.
The BA boss then proceeded to rubbish a letter from 116 university industrial relations experts. These academics said: ‘It is clear to us that the actions of the chief executive of British Airways, notwithstanding his protestations to the contrary, are explicable only by the desire to break the union which represents cabin crew.’ They said a victory for BA would lead to a ‘unilateral management prerogative’.
The BA boss wants to dictate to staff and make big profits in cut-throat competition with other multinational airlines by turning BA into a Ryanair-type operation. Walsh wants to do to airline staff what Rupert Murdoch did at Wapping in the 1980s, where 5,000 printworkers were sacked and were replaced by scab labour.
The BA bosses want to destroy trade unionism and dictate manning levels, impose sackings, and dictate slave-labour pay and conditions. Cabin crew know this and that is why they voted overwhelmingly to strike.
Even Unite leader Woodley, who did everything to prevent a strike at BA and help the company, has been forced to admit that Walsh has declared ‘war’ on the union.
Not only do cabin crew know that this is a struggle they must win in order not to fall under a BA management dictatorship, so does every other Unite member working for BA. They know that if the cabin crew are defeated they will be Walsh’s next victims.
That is why the trade union motto, ‘An injury to one, is an injury to all!’ must be acted upon. Unite must organise solidarity strike action throughout BA, calling upon all unions to take action to defend trade unionism at the airports.
All those working at airports in Britain are aware that a defeat for Unite at BA, the largest airline, would give the green light for every other employer to proceed with union busting in order to impose sackings, pay cuts and speed-up. To win this war the call to battle must go out: ‘All out at BA! All out at the airports!’
For Woodley and Simpson, Unite’s joint leaders, to refuse to call such action as it could be illegal under the anti-union laws is to duck the fight.
Trade unions were built through defying laws such as the Combination Acts and they will be only defended today by mobilising the full strength of the working class to defeat these Tory anti-union laws.
The whole trade union movement internationally recognises the importance of the cabin crew’s struggle. The 4.7m-strong International Transport Workers Federation, which has 264 affiliated aviation trades unions has declared: ‘We are all backing the cabin crew and their desire for a speedy solution. . . Our member unions will continue to mobilise to support the strikers.’ The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has also just said it will stop BA scabbing at any Irish airports.
Solidarity nearer to home is demanded. The TUC must call an emergency General Council to organise solidarity strike action by the whole trade union movement in Britain to take place until the BA cabin crew win.
Unite trade union leaders must stop pleading with Willie Walsh and BA managers and must be forced to lead this fight. Otherwise they must be removed and replaced by leaders ready to organise this battle and take it to victory.