AT A THOUSAND-strong mass meeting of British Airways workers at Bedfont Football Ground on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport on Thursday, workers voted unanimously for strike action.
On August 5th, British Airways sacked 42,000 workers with the intention of rehiring 30,000 on inferior contracts in a ‘sign or be sacked’ operation.
The furious anger of BA workers over the mass sackings has now forced the Unite union leaders into a position where they have had to call for industrial action. This is not something the Unite leaders wanted to do. They were prepared to accept the mass sackings without even a fight.
Only days ago, Unite in a statement said: ‘Both Unite & GMB recommend acceptance; alternative is compulsory redundancy, fire & rehire.’
However, BA workers refused to surrender, and the union leaders have been forced to change their line. British Airways workers are not just demanding strike action. They are demanding that the unions call the whole airport out, and that Unite calls an indefinite national strike and that all workers’ jobs are defended.
This is the polar opposite to the Unite leadership’s position. They are being driven, unwillingly, into the struggle by the determination of their members to defend their jobs, their standard of living and their families’ futures.
In fact, the Unite leaders wanted to beg the Tory government to intervene on behalf of the union and the workforce. They launched an ‘Ask Rishi to save UK aviation’ campaign along with a ‘Sign now’ on-line petition, urging members to send Tory Chancellor Sunak a ‘wish you were here’ postcard.
The 42,000 British Airways workers are furious at the lack of union leadership. At Thursday’s mass meeting angry BA workers challenged leading Unite officers, condemning them for allowing BA to carry out their plans. ‘Don’t tell lies,’ cried out one member. ‘You claim nobody’s been sacked. That’s not true. They have.’
Another Unite member called out: ‘You should have called this mass meeting three months ago. You would have had all of BA behind you.’
The sheer cheek of the union leaders is shameless. At the mass meeting, Oliver Richardson, Unite National Officer for Civil Aviation, said: ‘The union is determined to throw the kitchen sink at this if you’ll stand with us.’
The working class has been standing fast; it is the union leaders who turned tail and refused to call any action, while the members were screaming for a strike. Now they are trying to cover their tracks!
Unite Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett warned the workforce about strike action, saying: ‘It’s not just for one week. This industrial action could be carried out for months or even years. The clear message to BA is, you’ve started something you can’t stop.’
A steward for baggage handlers interjected: ‘Since last Tuesday we have seen guys who have done 35-40 years for the company treated like scum, sacked and marched out. We’ve spent a whole week with guys from baggage and loading asking what is the union going to do, grown men, some of them in tears. What is Unite doing for these guys?’
Beckett replied: ‘I’d love to stand here with a silver bullet. The reality is they can do it,’ he claimed. ‘This is what BA is doing. It’s not Unite. This is the worst behaviour. Don’t direct your anger at Unite, but BA.’
The truth of the matter is that the 42,000-strong workforce has every right to be angry at their union leadership.
BA workers have now unanimously voted for strike action.
However, this is a fight for the whole working class. The British working class has enormous power. The Unite union and the TUC must be forced to call a general strike – then the huge strength of the UK working class will bring down the Tories in days.
This bosses’ government must then be replaced by a workers’ government that will nationalise BA and bring in a planned socialist economy.
This is the way forward. The crisis of leadership in the working class must be resolved – a new revolutionary leadership must be built in the trade unions, one that is not frightened to use the full strength of the working class to defeat the bosses once and for all.
Only the WRP is building this type of leadership. Workers and youth must join the WRP and the YS today!