British Airways workers entered their third day of strike action today—and they are in a confident mood.
Cabin crew at BA are in the middle of a five-day strike against Walsh’s plans to cut jobs, slash pay, rip up terms and conditions and attack their union.
Two more five-day strikes are planned—from Sunday 20 May until Thursday 3 June and from Saturday 5 June until Wednesday 9 June.
“Willie Walsh has started to panic,” Duncan Holley told Socialist Worker. “He’s started spreading more lies about the union. I don’t think he ever thought in his wildest dreams that we would call over 20 days of strike action.”
Duncan is chair of Bassa, the section of the Unite union that organises cabin crew. BA sacked him for “gross misconduct” during the dispute. It has suspended more than 50 workers and reps during the dispute, creating an atmosphere of fear and harassment.
“Cabin crew are like mice when they are at work,” said Paulo, a striking worker. “People are scared to speak to each other—so much for democracy.
“I’ve worked here for eight years and it has gone from being one of the best companies to work for to being one of the worst. But I won’t let BA cut my pay.”
Several BA planes flew over the picket lines today. But there’s no way of knowing whether they are any passengers—or BA crew—on them.
“I just flew back in today and came to the picket line,” said Ryan. “I was on a long haul flight and there were 11 passengers on it.
“BA is flying empty planes to make it look like the strike isn’t working. It’s a scandal—a huge waste of fuel and bad news for the environment.”
Strikers know that their action is hitting BA’s profits and reputation. “Even last night they were cancelling flights at the last minute,” said Catherine. “Forward bookings are down too.
“BA is talking about going back to the courts to try and stop the strikes. It wouldn’t do that if the strikes weren’t biting.”
Many workers are backing cabin crew. They can see that cabin crew are fighting the same attacks that are hitting workers everywhere—and want to see crew give Walsh a bloody nose.
A group of striking teachers from Clifton primary school in Southall visited the pickets to show their support today. “Clifton teachers and BA crew share bullying bosses,” said Nick Grant, secretary of Ealing NUT union.
“For our members, striking for the first time in their lives, the organised resistance at Heathrow is impressive.”
There is potential to build the kind of mass support for the BA workers that would terrify Willie Walsh.
More talks are set to begin today between Walsh and Unite leaders. Bassa reps should be in these talks too. And there should be no deal until Walsh has fully reinstated staff travel for all workers, has lifted all disciplinary procedures and reinstated suspended staff, has reversed the sackings he imposed in November and has made serious movement on the other issues that sparked the dispute.
BA workers at Heathrow are well organised. They could send groups of pickets to visit local workplaces. They could send speakers to union branches to explain the dispute and win support.
They could make sure that, as union national conferences take place, motions supporting the strikes go in—and that BA cabin crew go to every single one to call on trade unionists to back their fight.
Unite should be taking a lead in pushing this kind of activity. But if it doesn’t, pickets can organise it themselves. Strikers should insist on having regular mass meetings so that all workers feel part of the dispute and can have their say on where it goes next.
Strikers must also talk to other BA workers about how they can support them. There is an urgency to this dispute. On 12 June, Walsh will be able to legally sack strikers without fear of any comeback.
Cabin crew have to win fast. The easiest way to do this is to involve other groups of BA workers to shut down Heathrow.
Walsh is not popular among BA workers. And many see that, if he gets away with his assault on cabin crew, they will be next in the firing line.
Cabin crew have nothing to lose from talking to other workers. But they have everything to gain.
A victory for cabin crew would dent the confidence of all of Britain’s bosses and raise the spirits of every worker. Every trade unionist must do all they can to back the strike.
Names of cabin crew have been changed to protect strikers.
Are you a striking cabin crew member or a BA worker in another section? Do you have a story to share about BA? Email firstname.lastname@example.org