British Airways and the Unite union representing BA cabin crew have been in dispute for 18 months over BA management’s plans to cut costs. Today, the first of 3 strikes was due to start but yesterday, in one of the most egregious assaults on union rights in recent years, the High Court granted BA a strike injunction on the flimsiest of legal technicalities. A strike ballot of BA’s 13,500 workers produced a 71% turnout and 81% support for industrial action. The injunction bid by BA was successful because the court found that Unite’s failure to inform all members that there were 11 – count ’em – 11 spoilt papers, invalidates the ballot.
This judgment is the latest in flurry of recent rulings that together suggest it is becoming harder and harder for workers in this country to take the ultimate sanction of withdrawal of labour. It is perfectly right and proper that a union should be required to consult members before industrial action can be called, but once the votes have been counted and the verdict of members is clear, events must be allowed to take their course. This is not Burma.
The MSM has mostly eschewed all opportunities to analyse the core issues and instead focused on demonising the Unite union leadership: Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley. What you may not know is that what were the mains areas of disagreement with the airline – staffing levels, pay and conditions – are no longer contentious. Unite and BA management have an agreement in principle on all this. The continuing dispute is now focused on BA’s insistence that travel perks are withdrawn from cabin crew who participated in industrial action in March and pending disciplinary proceedings against 50 members who did likewise.
Willie ‘Slasher’ Walsh, BA’s CEO, cut his teeth turning around the fortunes of Aer Lingus. There is broad consensus that changes needed to be made at a company that lost more than £340m in the 9 months to Dec 2009. Derek Simpson doesn’t dispute this nor does Tony Woodley. But until Willie Walsh drops the vindictive pursuit of cabin crew union members who participated in legal industrial action, the company cannot move forward. This is no longer a dispute about jobs or pay and Willie Walsh mustn’t be allowed to claim it is.