Union leaders refuse to defend BA workers wages and jobs – Part one

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BRITISH Airways workers are facing a huge fight to defend their jobs and conditions of employment against a vicious management onslaught.

BA management have announced plans to decimate the workforce, sacking 4,000 out of 40,000 workers by 30th June.

They intend to do away with ‘restrictive practices’ and demand that workers who remain sign up to a Survival Plan which destroys existing terms and conditions.

BA recently announced pre-tax losses of more than £400 million, and then, on Tuesday 2nd June, Chief Executive Walsh sent an email to the 40,000 employees calling on them to volunteer for unpaid leave and to do unpaid labour, with the implicit threat that those who fail to volunteer will be the first to go.

BA workers ridiculed Walsh’s call, asking ‘what planet is he living on?’, while the Unite leadership responded: ‘Willie Walsh can afford to work for free on £60,000 a month. Our members cannot.’

However, Walsh and the BA management are deadly serious, while the leaders of the Unite union, as well as the GMB and Balpa pilots union, have, in fact, made it quite clear that they are only too prepared to talk about cuts in jobs, wages and conditions.

The trouble is, as far as they are concerned, the management is no longer prepared to talk to them, saying that they are no longer interested in temporary cuts: they want permanent cuts.

The 4,000 sackings BA is aiming for comprise 2,000 cabin crew, 1,000 GSS (ground staff) and 1,000 A-scale (supervisors, junior managers, etc).

News Line has seen two communiques sent out to its members by the A-scale NSP (National Shop Stewards Panel) sub-group.

On Wednesday 3rd June, BA senior manager Vicki O’Brien sent the A-scale NSP an email saying: ‘We have informed the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform of the potential for 1,000 redundancies across the whole of the A-scale community . . .

‘Time is running out’

‘Over the next few days I will be working with my management team to look at how we can accelerate the plans and I remain committed to talking with the trade unions.

‘By 30th June, in line with the deadline set across the business, we need to reach an agreement on how to deliver this challenging new timetable.

‘I know there are some tough messages in this email, but I have to underline the gravity of our situation and the need to increase the pace at which we deliver permanent cost-savings.

‘If we don’t face up to this issue we will go out of business . . .

‘Regards, Vicki’

The A-scale NSP sub group communique of 4th June opened: ‘Dear Members,

‘The last couple of days will probably rank as the most sobering days in our British Airways careers.

‘First on Tuesday the Chief Executive sent us an email warning of dire consequences if radical actions are not taken. Yesterday the A-scale was served with an HR1 redundancy form with the company making their intent clear to lose 1000 staff members at Heathrow Passenger Services predominantly.

‘It is clear that we are being targeted for the biggest cull out of all the other groups (ie 2000 out of 15000 cabin crew). . .

‘We are now given a month notice to dismantle our hard earned terms and conditions.

‘After wasting seven months we have made it clear to Vicki that we are committed to find the ManPower Equivalent (MPE) savings to sustain the business now and we were making progress.

‘That was until the rags were pulled from all our feet (including Vicki’s) when Industrial Relations (based in Waterside) unexpectedly changed course by asking us to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

‘The task is no longer MPE but our job security being taken away from us.

‘The GSS (IE Baggage and loading colleagues) have just massively rejected their MoU by the following margin: 2972 No, 487 Yes and 12 spoilt ballots.

‘We are all for helping BA through the crisis but it does not mean making our future and that of our beloved airline precarious.

‘The MoU is made of new starter contracts, the abolition of the Redeployment Agreement (including pay protection and last in first out) and with that Career Link.

‘Furthermore the language of the MoU makes absolutely clear that in the future BA will not (seek) any agreement to change our terms and conditions as the management sees fit.

‘Everything taken together (means) we can in less than a year’s time be asked to make a choice of either signing new contracts with a median pay without increments and annualised hours or taking the paltry statutory redundancy pay.

‘The challenge today for us all is to influence the Chief Executive so that he knows there are better ways of achieving our goals without the disastrous remedies of the Industrial Relations department.

‘The department is devoid of all the big hitters who left in December and we are left with a team with no terminal experience whatsoever.

‘They have convinced the Chief Executive that we are the problem by coining words such as “restrictive practices” that do not exist. . .

‘This is a time for unity.

‘There is no need for any conflict to be created at a time like this one. There is no management or Trade Unions side. There is a British Airways side and that is the one that matters.

‘We cannot wish our Chief Executive to fail because that would also call for the company to fail.

‘He has our backing but it cannot be at detriment of decency and “service that matters”. If our management had all the answers we would not be here today. We have to find a way to work together leaving ideology, dogmas, and egos outside of the room for the good of British Airways. Men and Women come and go BA stays.’

BA workers are not as naive as the NSP Subgroup appears to be, exposing its reformist imbecility most graphically in this last statement.

Of course there are ‘two sides’ and the above corporate nonsense is a pathetic attempt to hide the fact that they have no intention of taking the necessary action to defend jobs or conditions of employment.

The ‘challenge’ is not to influence Walsh, it is to defeat him.

The developing sequence of events is reminiscent of the Gate Gourmet ‘dry run’ of provocation and mass sackings, when more than 800 Heathrow workers were set up during the summer of 2005 and then sacked by megaphone on 10th August.

The present reformist leadership of the main Heathrow union, Unite, is incapable of defending a single job and, following the cowardly betrayal of the Gate Gourmet workers by the T&GWU (now part of Unite), is utterly discredited at the airport.

Meanwhile, as the document clearly reveals, the local leadership is unprepared for a fight which will require the mobilisation of the full strength of the Unite and GMB unions to defeat the onslaught.

This is, indeed, the time for unity. But the unity required is the unity of the working class against the bosses and their plans, and a leadership in the trade unions that will organise the necessary action to go forward to victory.

The next, most revealing communique by the A-scale NSP, sent to members on 8th June, is dealt with in tomorrow’s News Line.