‘WALSH IS OUT TO SMASH THE UNION’ –it must now use all of its strength


‘THIS is like the 1980s with the miners, even though this is meant to be a democracy and we’ve got the right to withdraw our labour. The judge overruled our ballot when we had at least 8,000 out of 9,000 votes for strike action.’

A British Airways cabin crew member was talking to News Line at the mass rally of striking cabin crew at the Bedfont Football Club on Saturday morning after the 12:01am walkout.

He continued: ‘Walsh is out to smash the union and the union must use all its strength.

‘Now is the time for everyone to stand up and fight.’

Unite national officer, Brian Boyd, told News Line: ‘Members are resolute: Walsh has left us with no choice, Unite will not accept imposition.

‘Walsh has now made this personal.

‘He’s proposed a punitive measure and one we won’t accept.’

When asked if Unite would call the rest of its members on the airport out on strike to support the cabin crew, Boyd claimed: ‘It’s not going to happen.

‘Each individual group has its own negotiating point.’

Jerry Hicks, a Unite member, came down from Bristol to support the cabin crew.

He said: ‘This is blatant union busting.

‘We hope the whole labour movement will throw its weight behind the cabin crew.’

There were as many as 3,000 cabin crew and supporters at the rally.

Steve Hart, Unite regional secretary, told the rally: ‘This dispute must be won.

‘We won’t accept the race to the bottom that Walsh is trying to organise.’

Tony Woodhouse, chairman of Unite, said: ‘We’re here to support you all the way.’

Paco, from the Heathrow Liaison Committee, said: ‘We bring solidarity and all our backing. We want you to win.’

Local Hayes and Harlington Labour MP John McDonnell said: ‘BA HQ is in my constituency and many cabin crew are BA workers live there too.

‘I’m here to tell you that I am 100 per cent behind this strike.

‘The only way to deal with a bully is stand up to them.

‘This strike is against attempts to break the union.

‘My message is: we have to struggle to go forward. We won’t be bullied.

‘Solidarity! Whether in parliament or on the picket line.’

Len McCluskey, Unite assistant general secretary, declared: ‘We have had first-class support on our picket lines.

‘Our members have responded as we knew you would, magnificent.

‘Walsh behaves like a 19th century mill owner.

‘He must be made to understand he can’t bully the workforce.

‘There are 30,000 Unite members at British Airways.

‘This dispute, organised by Walsh, is to destroy organised labour, not just the cabin crew but across British Airways.

‘Mr Walsh can put together a band of rag, tag and bob-tail people if he wants, but sooner or later he will be found out.

‘The intimidation t hat is taking place at British Airways is being perpetrated by cowards.

‘The British public will see what is going on.

‘I must thank all the British Airways workers from all the other unions including the GMB as well as the dozens of other unions throughout the world who have sent their messages of support.

‘United together we will defeat this intransigent management and have victory.’

With 80 per cent of cabin crew standing strong on the first day of the BA stoppage, Unite has issued an update of how the strike is biting so far, which reveals that BA’s much-vaunted contingencies plans are failing:

• BA has managed to fly only one third of its normal scheduled departures;

• BA’s flagship terminal T5 is a ghost town as passengers stay away;

• The first long-haul BA flight out (10am) was to Abu Dhabi and crewed by 6 pilots and 2 international cabin crew;

• From 12.20pm until 2.30pm only 10 flights departed from Heathrow, normally there would be 50 during the same period; of the 10 which left, 8 flights were chartered and only 2 were BA flights;

• By lunchtime today, 85 BA planes were parked at Heathrow – consuming the maximum parking space allowed for BA aircraft;

• 20 more planes had been moved to Cardiff to be parked, and a further 20 flown to Shannon, in western Ireland, to sit out the strike;

• By 2pm, only one flight to JFK airport had departed – normally there are five;

• At Gatwick, one third of flights have failed to take off;

• BA planes are taking off empty, save for cargo, as BA stretches efforts to make it seem it is functioning;

• On average only 14 passengers are travelling on those flights which are taking off, far short of capacity;

• 2 strike-breaking chartered flights did not depart because of technical problems;

• That by mid-morning around 113 BA passengers had complained about the poor quality of food on-board the flights; and

• That there are reports of no food on in-bound flights from Germany and Italy.

Thousands of BA cabin crew walked out in their fight against the driving down of pay and standards at the airline.

Unite the union has denounced BA’s fear culture and demanded that the company remove the gag stopping crew speaking about the dispute.

Len McCluskey, assistant general secretary of Unite, said: ‘Our challenge to Willie Walsh is that he needs to let his cabin crew speak publicly about the real cause of this dispute.

‘Decent men and women are terrified about speaking out about this fight for their futures for fear of reprisals.

‘Isn’t Willie Walsh ashamed that his employees are having to speak with their backs to TV cameras and their voices distorted? That stewardesses are covering their faces going into meetings to avoid identification?

‘This is not just bad industrial relations it’s an offence against democracy. Willie Walsh should remember this is Britain not Burma.’

Cabin crew – striking for the first time in 13 years – are extremely fearful of reprisals from BA’s management for taking part in lawful industrial action, fear that has built up as a war waged against crew has seen 38 face disciplinary charges.

Willie Walsh has also vowed to remove travel benefits from striking crew, a move that will hit the one in three crew who commute to work at Heathrow from around the UK.

The union has also spelt out why the BA offer was ‘mission impossible’ for cabin crew

The new proposals – submitted by the airline over three days of talks – were worse than those put forward by the airline – and suddenly withdrawn – last week.

Described by Tony Woodley, Unite joint general secretary as setting Unite ‘mission impossible’, the main difficulties were:

• BA’s insistence that crew sign up to a four year pay deal which will, at best, freeze real pay until 2014 – but most likely will see a real pay cut year on year by BA. Crew had offered to cut pay for one year and give the company a three year deal, but that has been dismissed by BA as the airline looks to make a wider attack on wages.

• The company’s failure to commit to extending the validity of the industrial action ballot to allow for members to be balloted on any offer from BA. This failure could have led, in the event of a rejection of BA’s proposals by cabin crew, to a third strike ballot in five months – and continued instability for the airline, its customers and the wider BA workforce.

• BA’s failure to address Unite’s concerns about the impact on existing crew as the airline pushes forward with its new fleet plans, in particular how routes will be distributed between existing and new crew in the future.

Calling once again for BA to stop waging this war against its workforce, joint general secretary Tony Woodley said: ‘The disruption that passengers will inevitably experience over the next three days could have been spared had BA grasped that you cannot put an offer on the table one day, take it off the next and then come back with a worse one a few days later.

‘To expect this union to recommend to its members any such proposal shows an insecure grasp of industrial relations reality.

‘Unite remains available at any time to talk to BA. We urge them to think again about what is truly in the long-term best interests of this great airline.’