Unite Betrays BA Workers – Demand Emergency Conference Of Union To Elect A New Leadership

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BA Unite ground staff voting unanimously for strike action at the mass meeting on August 20th

LAST Wednesday Howard Beckett, Unite union assistant general secretary, welcomed as a victory for the union British Airways ‘partial U-turn on fire and rehire’.

Beckett announced that a draft agreement had been reached with BA that would not be finally agreed until Unite members had voted and agreed to the changes in their contracts contained within it.

Last week, Unite members employed at Heathrow in the below-wing section – which covers baggage handlers, loaders and other ground staff – were presented with the 7-page document headed: Memorandum of Agreement, Redundancy Mitigation Plan.

They were given just a few days to study this document before casting an electronic vote before 4pm last Friday.

No attempt was made to organise meetings with Unite members. All they were subjected to was a series of electronic messages warning of dire consequences should they vote against.

The union leadership were clearly scared of facing a mass meeting.

They most certainly didn’t want a repeat of the mass meeting on Thursday 20th August – the first called by Unite since BA announced its plan to sack the entire 42,000 workforce and then carry out its ‘fire and rehire’ plan.

At this meeting over 1,000 ‘below-wing’ Unite members, furious at the BA’s plans to slash jobs and reduce remaining staff to the level of ‘zero hour’ contract workers, vented their anger at the leadership of the union that had done nothing to defend jobs.

They voted unanimously for strike action.

In a clear sign of the growing militancy of the members this was accompanied by calls for the whole of the airport to be called out and that Unite call an indefinite national strike to defend all jobs.

This demonstration of anger and the determination to use the power of strike action to defend jobs and conditions terrified the union bureaucrats.

Days before the mass meeting Unite leaders issued a statement that they were prepared to accept mass sackings without any fight.

The statement read: ‘Both Unite and GMB recommend acceptance; alternative is compulsory redundancy, fire and rehire.’

At the meeting the leadership were forced to abandon this submissive position of urging members to accept mass job and wage cuts along with the destruction of their working conditions.

Instead, they tried to cover their tracks with Beckett telling the meeting: ‘The union is determined to throw the kitchen sink at this if you’ll stand with us.’

Beckett went on: ‘Fire and re-hire is a capitalist device to shaft the working class. Your position is strong. We say take industrial action now. It will bring the company to a halt. The timescale for industrial action is for half term at the end of October.’

Beckett explained that a strike before the end of October was impossible as Unite had to ‘see out the voluntary redundancies and compulsory redundancies before we ballot’.

In other words Beckett and the Unite leaders were once again hiding behind Tory anti-union laws to delay strike action, giving them time to reach a face-saving agreement with BA and avert any real fight to defend jobs.

Just for good measure Beckett added a threat to the membership designed to frighten them into submission.

He said of strike action: ‘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.’

If he thought that this would scare workers then he was badly mistaken – the working class are not scared of a fight and an all out strike would not take years to bring BA or any other industry to its knees as Beckett and the bosses know full well.

Immediately after the Unite leadership were dealt a massive blow at this meeting they scurried off, not to organise industrial action, but to desperately seek a sell-out agreement they could pass off as a victory – even if it was just a partial victory.

This emerged last week as the Redundancy Mitigation Plan that members were given no chance to discuss at a meeting but required to vote upon at home.

This proposed agreement between Unite and BA is the outcome of the biggest act of betrayal by the trade union bureaucracy in living memory!

It represents the highest point in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of the trade union bureaucracy subordinating themselves entirely to the requirements of the bosses and throwing their members to the wolves.

All their actions are an attempt to ‘manage’ the anger and hatred of the working class and keep it away from entering into any real fight using the strength of the unions to defend jobs and wages.

This can be clearly seen in this agreement which Unite claims as a victory.

It starts: ‘The parties to this Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) have worked together in a constructive and meaningful way to avoid the need for, or reduce, the number of proposed redundancies by the creation of a Community Retention Pool (CRP). This MoA reflects a common position that has been reached through the consultation process to achieve these aims.’

It makes clear that this agreement means existing terms and conditions no longer apply and all retained staff will be shifted onto new terms that include wage cuts, five and a half weeks forced unpaid leave along with cuts to other payments.

Existing pay agreements with the union are scrapped and replaced by this agreement.

In short BA has achieved everything that it wanted.

But even this does not begin to plumb the depths of the Unite leaders’ betrayal which is laid bare in the section dealing with the community retention pool (CRP) that the union is claiming will solve the explosive issue of compulsory redundancies.

These are outlined in the section headed: Redundancy, Selection & Mitigation.

After outlining the numbers of staff, 129, who have already been thrown out on compulsory redundancy, ‘It is agreed that these colleagues will be invited to re-join the company as part of a Community Retention Pool.’

It continues: ‘This is a redundancy mitigation plan and the cost of running the CRP will be met through pay deductions. Pay reductions required to fund the CRP will be incremental to those already attributed to “Pay Reductions” below.

The exact cost of the CRP will need to be determined using actual numbers who join the scheme, and the actual salaries of those in the scheme and those remaining in the business based on current numbers the cost of running the CRP will be 5% per remaining person (salary and shift pay reduction) in the business, with colleagues in the CRP receiving a 29% salary and shift pay reduction while in the pool.’

In other words, this pool of workers who the company intended to turf out on compulsory terms are to be offered a place in the CRP and the wages they receive, just 70% of their old wages, will be paid not by BA but by deduction of 5% on the wages of workers still in employment.

This is unheard of in the trade union movement.

All too often unions have forced through pay cuts on their members to ‘save’ companies and factories from closure, but this is the first time that a union has agreed that on top of wage cuts workers have to finance a pool of their fellow workers so that the union and BA can claim to have prevented compulsory redundancies and avoided ‘fire and rehire’.

This is what is behind this agreement that the union has rushed through with a deadline of last Friday in a few days notice and made sure that there would be no mass meeting to call them to account.

The Unite leadership are contemptuously telling BA workers that they alone must pay and pay again to keep BA’s profits rolling in and that there is nothing the union can do but accept it.

Fire and rehire at BA and across every industry and business is an explosive issue for workers and as we saw last month they are more than ready to fight it with strike action.

For the trade union leaders strikes must be avoided at all costs.

They are well aware that with the economic crisis of capitalism destroying the jobs of millions of workers a strike by any section would ignite a massive eruption of the class struggle.

Any strike today would win the overwhelming support of millions of workers who are sick to death of this bankrupt system that can only offer mass unemployment and acute poverty for the working class while companies like BA wallow in profits and handouts from the Tories.

With BA leading the pack of employers turning to fire and rehire to keep them in profit, so Unite is in the lead of powerful trade unions whose leadership are working overtime to dampen the fires of insurrection.

What is happening at BA is not just a burning issue for union members there; it raises crucial issues for the entire working class.

It is today a common feature of the trade union and labour bureaucracy that it is growing ever closer to the bosses and the capitalist state and ditching any pretence of fighting for workers rights.

This is not due to any personal attributes of this or that individual bureaucrat but results from a common social outlook that is completely wedded to the existence of capitalism as the ‘natural order’ of the world.

A strike, especially one that takes on the aspect of a general strike, objectively challenges the right of the bosses to rule the lives of ordinary people.

It challenges the very existence of capitalism and this is unthinkable for these leaders – a danger that must be countered at all costs.

Keeping the working class in order requires the Labour and trade union leaders to ever more openly enter into a collaboration with the capitalist class and its Tory government, while preaching to workers that their sacrifices are necessary to keep this whole rotten capitalist system from collapse.

As the economic crisis of British capitalism deepens by the day these leaders are desperate to find a role for themselves as the saviours of capitalism.

They are reduced to a constant begging to be allowed to join with the Tories and bosses in some form of National Government.

Such a national government is more and more attractive to the ruling class today as the Johnson government, despite its parliamentary majority, is weak, spineless and hated by the great mass of workers and middle class.

They see in a national government the vehicle for imposing the most savage austerity and poverty on workers, driving them back to conditions of the 19th century before trade unionism became a powerful weapon for the working class.

This is the road to corporatism where the trade unions cease to be independent fighting for their members but instead are incorporated into the capitalist state.

This is the road the trade union leaders are rapidly heading down.

The events at BA are a warning to workers that they must take action to throw these class collaborators out.

Unite members should immediately demand an emergency conference of the union to expel them and replace them with a new leadership.

This demand must be taken up throughout the entire movement and a new leadership built that is prepared to mobilise the full strength of the trade unions in defence of jobs and conditions.

It must be a leadership that is prepared to call a political general strike to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers’ government, that will nationalise BA and every major industry and the banks without compensation and under the control and management of the working class.

A general strike poses point blank the issue of the working class seizing power and going forward to socialism.

It requires a leadership that is politically ready to lead the struggle for the socialist revolution to victory.

Only the WRP and its youth movement the Young Socialists are building the revolutionary leadership necessary and we urge every worker and young person to join today.LAST Wednesday Howard Beckett, Unite union assistant general secretary, welcomed as a victory for the union British Airways ‘partial U-turn on fire and rehire’.

Beckett announced that a draft agreement had been reached with BA that would not be finally agreed until Unite members had voted and agreed to the changes in their contracts contained within it.

Last week, Unite members employed at Heathrow in the below-wing section – which covers baggage handlers, loaders and other ground staff – were presented with the 7-page document headed: Memorandum of Agreement, Redundancy Mitigation Plan.

They were given just a few days to study this document before casting an electronic vote before 4pm last Friday.

No attempt was made to organise meetings with Unite members. All they were subjected to was a series of electronic messages warning of dire consequences should they vote against.

The union leadership were clearly scared of facing a mass meeting.

They most certainly didn’t want a repeat of the mass meeting on Thursday 20th August – the first called by Unite since BA announced its plan to sack the entire 42,000 workforce and then carry out its ‘fire and rehire’ plan.

At this meeting over 1,000 ‘below-wing’ Unite members, furious at the BA’s plans to slash jobs and reduce remaining staff to the level of ‘zero hour’ contract workers, vented their anger at the leadership of the union that had done nothing to defend jobs.

They voted unanimously for strike action.

In a clear sign of the growing militancy of the members this was accompanied by calls for the whole of the airport to be called out and that Unite call an indefinite national strike to defend all jobs.

This demonstration of anger and the determination to use the power of strike action to defend jobs and conditions terrified the union bureaucrats.

Days before the mass meeting Unite leaders issued a statement that they were prepared to accept mass sackings without any fight.

The statement read: ‘Both Unite and GMB recommend acceptance; alternative is compulsory redundancy, fire and rehire.’

At the meeting the leadership were forced to abandon this submissive position of urging members to accept mass job and wage cuts along with the destruction of their working conditions.

Instead, they tried to cover their tracks with Beckett telling the meeting: ‘The union is determined to throw the kitchen sink at this if you’ll stand with us.’

Beckett went on: ‘Fire and re-hire is a capitalist device to shaft the working class. Your position is strong. We say take industrial action now. It will bring the company to a halt. The timescale for industrial action is for half term at the end of October.’

Beckett explained that a strike before the end of October was impossible as Unite had to ‘see out the voluntary redundancies and compulsory redundancies before we ballot’.

In other words Beckett and the Unite leaders were once again hiding behind Tory anti-union laws to delay strike action, giving them time to reach a face-saving agreement with BA and avert any real fight to defend jobs.

Just for good measure Beckett added a threat to the membership designed to frighten them into submission.

He said of strike action: ‘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.’

If he thought that this would scare workers then he was badly mistaken – the working class are not scared of a fight and an all out strike would not take years to bring BA or any other industry to its knees as Beckett and the bosses know full well.

Immediately after the Unite leadership were dealt a massive blow at this meeting they scurried off, not to organise industrial action, but to desperately seek a sell-out agreement they could pass off as a victory – even if it was just a partial victory.

This emerged last week as the Redundancy Mitigation Plan that members were given no chance to discuss at a meeting but required to vote upon at home.

This proposed agreement between Unite and BA is the outcome of the biggest act of betrayal by the trade union bureaucracy in living memory!

It represents the highest point in the development, or more correctly the degeneration, of the trade union bureaucracy subordinating themselves entirely to the requirements of the bosses and throwing their members to the wolves.

All their actions are an attempt to ‘manage’ the anger and hatred of the working class and keep it away from entering into any real fight using the strength of the unions to defend jobs and wages.

This can be clearly seen in this agreement which Unite claims as a victory.

It starts: ‘The parties to this Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) have worked together in a constructive and meaningful way to avoid the need for, or reduce, the number of proposed redundancies by the creation of a Community Retention Pool (CRP). This MoA reflects a common position that has been reached through the consultation process to achieve these aims.’

It makes clear that this agreement means existing terms and conditions no longer apply and all retained staff will be shifted onto new terms that include wage cuts, five and a half weeks forced unpaid leave along with cuts to other payments.

Existing pay agreements with the union are scrapped and replaced by this agreement.

In short BA has achieved everything that it wanted.

But even this does not begin to plumb the depths of the Unite leaders’ betrayal which is laid bare in the section dealing with the community retention pool (CRP) that the union is claiming will solve the explosive issue of compulsory redundancies.

These are outlined in the section headed: Redundancy, Selection & Mitigation.

After outlining the numbers of staff, 129, who have already been thrown out on compulsory redundancy, ‘It is agreed that these colleagues will be invited to re-join the company as part of a Community Retention Pool.’

It continues: ‘This is a redundancy mitigation plan and the cost of running the CRP will be met through pay deductions. Pay reductions required to fund the CRP will be incremental to those already attributed to “Pay Reductions” below.

The exact cost of the CRP will need to be determined using actual numbers who join the scheme, and the actual salaries of those in the scheme and those remaining in the business based on current numbers the cost of running the CRP will be 5% per remaining person (salary and shift pay reduction) in the business, with colleagues in the CRP receiving a 29% salary and shift pay reduction while in the pool.’

In other words, this pool of workers who the company intended to turf out on compulsory terms are to be offered a place in the CRP and the wages they receive, just 70% of their old wages, will be paid not by BA but by deduction of 5% on the wages of workers still in employment.

This is unheard of in the trade union movement.

All too often unions have forced through pay cuts on their members to ‘save’ companies and factories from closure, but this is the first time that a union has agreed that on top of wage cuts workers have to finance a pool of their fellow workers so that the union and BA can claim to have prevented compulsory redundancies and avoided ‘fire and rehire’.

This is what is behind this agreement that the union has rushed through with a deadline of last Friday in a few days notice and made sure that there would be no mass meeting to call them to account.

The Unite leadership are contemptuously telling BA workers that they alone must pay and pay again to keep BA’s profits rolling in and that there is nothing the union can do but accept it.

Fire and rehire at BA and across every industry and business is an explosive issue for workers and as we saw last month they are more than ready to fight it with strike action.

For the trade union leaders strikes must be avoided at all costs.

They are well aware that with the economic crisis of capitalism destroying the jobs of millions of workers a strike by any section would ignite a massive eruption of the class struggle.

Any strike today would win the overwhelming support of millions of workers who are sick to death of this bankrupt system that can only offer mass unemployment and acute poverty for the working class while companies like BA wallow in profits and handouts from the Tories.

With BA leading the pack of employers turning to fire and rehire to keep them in profit, so Unite is in the lead of powerful trade unions whose leadership are working overtime to dampen the fires of insurrection.

What is happening at BA is not just a burning issue for union members there; it raises crucial issues for the entire working class.

It is today a common feature of the trade union and labour bureaucracy that it is growing ever closer to the bosses and the capitalist state and ditching any pretence of fighting for workers rights.

This is not due to any personal attributes of this or that individual bureaucrat but results from a common social outlook that is completely wedded to the existence of capitalism as the ‘natural order’ of the world.

A strike, especially one that takes on the aspect of a general strike, objectively challenges the right of the bosses to rule the lives of ordinary people.

It challenges the very existence of capitalism and this is unthinkable for these leaders – a danger that must be countered at all costs.

Keeping the working class in order requires the Labour and trade union leaders to ever more openly enter into a collaboration with the capitalist class and its Tory government, while preaching to workers that their sacrifices are necessary to keep this whole rotten capitalist system from collapse.

As the economic crisis of British capitalism deepens by the day these leaders are desperate to find a role for themselves as the saviours of capitalism.

They are reduced to a constant begging to be allowed to join with the Tories and bosses in some form of National Government.

Such a national government is more and more attractive to the ruling class today as the Johnson government, despite its parliamentary majority, is weak, spineless and hated by the great mass of workers and middle class.

They see in a national government the vehicle for imposing the most savage austerity and poverty on workers, driving them back to conditions of the 19th century before trade unionism became a powerful weapon for the working class.

This is the road to corporatism where the trade unions cease to be independent fighting for their members but instead are incorporated into the capitalist state.

This is the road the trade union leaders are rapidly heading down.

The events at BA are a warning to workers that they must take action to throw these class collaborators out.

Unite members should immediately demand an emergency conference of the union to expel them and replace them with a new leadership.

This demand must be taken up throughout the entire movement and a new leadership built that is prepared to mobilise the full strength of the trade unions in defence of jobs and conditions.

It must be a leadership that is prepared to call a political general strike to kick out the Tories and bring in a workers’ government, that will nationalise BA and every major industry and the banks without compensation and under the control and management of the working class.

A general strike poses point blank the issue of the working class seizing power and going forward to socialism.

It requires a leadership that is politically ready to lead the struggle for the socialist revolution to victory.

Only the WRP and its youth movement the Young Socialists are building the revolutionary leadership necessary and we urge every worker and young person to join today.