The five-day strike by British Airways (BA) cabin crew went ahead at midnight last night after talks between the Unite union and BA management broke down over the weekend.
This was despite a ‘let’s put the public first’ last minute appeal by Unite joint secretary Tony Woodley. He offered to ‘call the strike off now’ if BA boss Willie Walsh agreed to restore the travel rights of cabin crew.
Woodley was speaking after briefing the union’s cabin crew section BASSA reps yesterday afternoon.
He said that this followed what he described as a ‘catastrophic breakdown’ of Saturday’s talks.
On the steps of the Unite head office in Holborn, Woodley said ‘don’t let’s get diverted by Twitter’, adding that on Saturday ‘we made some really good progress on the big issue of discipline of our members at ACAS, that is a move in the right direction.’
He added that ‘we’ve already made it clear we’ve got an agreement on the business issues’.
He stressed that ‘yesterday, this union was making progress on the other issues and ready to suspend the action before we were so rudely interrupted by our friends from the SWP.’
He appealed to Walsh: ‘Turn around and reinstate our people’s travel without the unnecessary vindictive removal of their service.
‘Reinstate the travel allowance now and this union will suspend tonight’s strike, suspend the action.’
Woodley said talks had been continuing throughout, saying, ‘I’ve spoken to BA’s personnel director today, and (TUC general secretary) Brendan Barber is here.’
Saturday’s talks broke up after a number of Socialist Workers Party members and supporters burst into the ACAS building.
Yesterday morning, BA boss Willie Walsh told the BBC he had been shocked by the protest and that he wanted talks to resume, but he was most angered by Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson using the microblogging service Twitter to reveal detail of the talks.
The BA boss said: ‘I was shocked and angry when I found out that Derek was doing that.
‘Sending out his version of events to the wider audience, that really did undermine my confidence in his desire to resolve this situation.’
Entries on Simpson’s Twitter page, dereksimpsonjgs, on Saturday included ‘Arguments over the eight sacked workers’, and ‘Fear of more sackings to come’.
These were later followed by ‘If I have to apologise to Willy over twittering then I shall. . . But I am not afraid of saying what is really going on. . . ’
As News Line went to press Walsh had failed to break cover to take advantage of Woodley’s offer.