Only BA renationalisation can defend wages and jobs – Part Two

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BRITISH Airways workers are faced with taking strike action to defeat the management onslaught on their jobs, terms and conditions.

BA boss Walsh has issued a demand that every employee volunteers to work for nothing and take unpaid leave to cut costs for the airline.

BA management is also demanding 4,000 sackings among the 40,000 workers and the permanent slashing in conditions of employment.

Yesterday we reported a communique from the A-scale sub group NSP (National Shop Stewards Panel) dated 4th June, which showed that management are demanding 4,000 sackings by the end of June.

A second communique reveals that union offers of a two-year moratorium on pay increases has been dismissed out of hand by the bosses, who are demanding the creation of a permanent wages and conditions cutting regime.

The communique also clearly reveals the strength of determination of the workers, as well as the need for a new leadership to be built urgently in the union to prosecute the struggle to victory.

The communique, dated 8th June, opens:

‘Dear Members,

‘First and foremost we would like to say thank you to everybody who turned up today at your mass meeting.

‘By the end of play, we counted 932 names made of attendees out of a community of 3,500.

‘More of our colleagues wanted to come but we also had an operation to run so they had to be at their post looking after our valued customers.

‘The following Q&A is for the benefit of all those brave women and men of our community who could not be at the meeting. . .

‘How compulsory will the redundancies be?

‘As usual BA has made very little information available to your reps and the entire community. Nobody in the management has come up with specifics. Therefore we are in the dark as to how random these targets are and whether they are sustainable in the long run. . .

‘Can BA target staff for redundancies based on absence (i.e. sickness and lateness)?

‘As you know it would be illegal for BA to target anybody based on sickness, especially if they suffer a disability as per the Discrimination and Disability Act 1995. They cannot also target you based on lateness, as we do not have a corporate lateness policy despite the Trade Unions best efforts to tell BA that we need one at a corporate level. . .

‘Why should I give up my terms and conditions?

‘We have made it clear to BA from the get-go that we are wedded to the commitment to find ways to work harder, run faster, jump higher, dance better, whatever it takes to help the airline through difficult times, until the economy recovers and we return to profitability.

‘We were making progress when outside influences got involved and turned the debate into one for getting rid of all our hard-earned terms and conditions.

‘We can do this and still remain decent to all our people. . .

‘What is the worse case scenario?

‘The worse case scenario is if we fail to get the leadership team including Willie to see sense here and warned that Industrial Relations have not got all the answers.

‘If they had, their proposals on the ramp would not have registered such a massive rejection (85 per cent No on an 85 per cent turnout).

‘Somebody has got to let those at the top know it is all feasible without losing the soul of British Airways.

‘A decent employer that still attracts the loyalty of its entire Customer Service staff, be it on the ramp, the ground and the air.

‘We want to do our bit to save the airline, but Members unanimously made it clear that we say No to any opportunistic attack on our terms and conditions which have got nothing to do with the financial crisis and have not stopped BA from making a profit for seven decades or so.

‘What have been the Trade Unions counter proposals?

‘We have offered a pay deferral for the duration of the recession or until we return to profitability and work on MPE (ManPower Equivalent) savings by working smarter.

‘We were told that it was not enough because these were temporary solutions to long-term problems.

‘In the same breath managers were telling us they could afford to make a month worth of sacrifice when our offer is for at least a year or two. . .

‘What is the significance of the 30th June 2009?

‘No manager could tell us. We chased our local management for seven months asking for urgent talks, to no avail. The vast majority of meetings got cancelled as the restructuring needed to be given time to take place.

‘Where are our TU Full Time officers on all of this? Are they likely to go off and sign a deal behind our backs?

‘They are firmly behind all of us and they told BA that these lives-changing decisions will rest with the membership.

‘They have cleared all their diaries and are focussing on our plight like laser beams. No deal will be ratified until we have come to you for acceptance. That is how we have always done business in the A-scale and that will not change. . .

‘What is the problem with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)?

‘It is a blank cheque. It is vague. We are being asked to take a leap of faith as per Vicki’s words and trust BA management to fill in the blanks after mere consultation with us. It is akin to buying a house whilst denied a viewing. It is unacceptable as per the GSS (baggage and loading) ballot result.

‘Will the MoU apply to management terms and conditions?

‘No.

‘Are all the NSPs (National Shop Stewards Panels) sticking together on this?

‘Our understanding is Yes. No NSP have found the wording of the MoU agreeable to them and their members. The three biggest NSPs (A-scale, Cabin Crew and GSS) who make up close to 70 per cent of the entire workforce are all united on this front.’

The meeting ended with three votes:

‘Who agrees that we must engage BA to find ways at working hard and help the company out (of) the crisis? 932 Yes 0 No

‘Who agrees that we must fight for the

preservation of our hard earned terms and conditions? 932 Yes 0 No

‘Who agrees that outsourcing is a recipe for disaster that will make BA lose control of “service that matters” on the ground and still increase cost as per the catering deal?’ ‘932 Yes 0 No.’

This communique clearly reveals the unanimity of the BA workers in their determination to defeat the management sackings and slave labour plans.

But it also seriously reveals that the necessary leadership to win the struggle has yet to be built.

Despite what this communique states, ‘targeting’ workers for compulsory redundancy was turned into a disgusting art form in the Gate Gourmet dispute, when the TGWU leadership sat down with management and selected 144 compulsory redundancies based on what they jointly described as ‘objective criteria’ – levels of absence and sickness.

They developed a ‘points system’ and women workers were selected for compulsory redundancy based on absences, including bereavement leave or time off for operations.

The ‘worst case scenario’ is not failure to ‘get Willie to see sense’, rather it is failure to develop the necessary leadership inside the union in time to defeat him and his gang.

Also, it is not the workers’ responsibility if British Airways is losing money. If British capitalism cannot afford a national airline then it’s capitalism that has to go.

The NSP authors of this communique say: ‘We are navigating without a flight chart in the hope that we will still reach the destination with the help of God.’

What an admission!

A new leadership is urgently required in the unions that will organise the necessary action to defend all BA jobs and conditions.

BA workers must prepare to occupy Heathrow and the other airports and organise national strike action to defend their jobs and conditions.

No cuts in jobs or conditions of service!

BA must be renationalised and run as a public airline, as an integral part of a nationalised public transport system, run under workers’ control.

Join the Workers Revolutionary Party and build a leadership inside Unite and the other unions that will fight to mobilise the full strength of the trade union movement in a general strike to defend all jobs and services, bring down the Brown government from the left and go forward to a workers government and socialism.