FROM THE JERRY HICKS CAMPAIGN
Running simultaneously and arguably as crucial as the election for
Unite’s General Secretary itself is the BA dispute and a proposal to
‘settle’ it. 12 months ago British Airways cabin crew on an 80% turn
out, voted by a brilliant 92% to take strike action to defend their hard
won terms and conditions. The dispute started as a result of the
imposition and erosion of ‘Terms and Conditions’ but has been diverted
by British Airways and is now being defined by staff travel and the
disciplinary process. But with scores of cabin crew suspended and a
dozen sacked, the proposed ‘deal’ is already unravelling.
In a dramatic twist, the Unite Amicus Section Committee has issued a
statement rejecting the latest offer from British Airways. They point
out they are not in opposition to BASSA but consider the offer to be
unacceptable. British Airways have also carefully timed these events and
continue to dominate the time line in order to delay and manipulate the
impact of any ballot for further industrial action by a rejection of
the current offer, which effectively is a rehash of a twice rejected
previous document. Any additions to the document lack genuine and
authentic commitment, and are cleverly worded to primarily benefit
certainly as a result of growing anger on the cabin crew ‘forum’ at the
offer and coupled with an Open Letter signed by some of the sacked
workers, calling for a rejection of the deal – which until today had
been ‘final offer’ and came recommended by Woodley as “the best that we
could get” – got a little better for the sacked members who now seem to
have a choice of ACAS the arbitration service or an Industrial Tribunal.
Though full details have yet to emerge it still makes it conditional on
Unite dropping all further litigation against British Airways for
anyone now opting for ACAS.
Many believe Walsh seeks to make it acceptable to punish members for
taking lawful industrial action. The deal, includes a 3 year punishment
for Legal Industrial Action, by refusing seniority to all strikers.
Essentially, a blacklist of democratic strikers. It is an attempt to
‘seal approval’ to additional measures that have the sole purpose of
undermining collective agreements.
Many members of BASSA have been increasingly at odds with its
recommendation to accept the ‘offer’. Today a member of BASSA said to
Jerry Hicks [the grassroots candidate in the election for Unite General
Secretary] “I believe that if we at BASSA fail, despite a 90% vote for
legal industrial action, then a death knoll could toll for UK trade
unionism. The deal that Mr Woodley has recommended we accept is an
insult. I cannot believe he has said, ‘It’s the best I can do.’ Since
when did the Leader of a trade union approve of punishment for
Colleagues who took part in the strike will still suffer severe
financial hardship regarding travelling to work. And if we agree that
the union will not support in any way any legal disputes that arose out
of industrial action it lets BA get away with illegal excessive
deductions of pay.
BASSA members went on to say “Continual use of anti union legislation
has meant that BA has managed to recruit a new parallel work force who
have taken over some of the existing routes,” and “Bullying and
intimidation have been used to gag people resulting in serious breaches
of freedom of speech.” Suspended members of staff have been arrested
and, as reported in The Guardian newspaper, their home computers seized
and members of British Airways’ shadowy Asset Protection group have been
outside of their homes photographing them and their children without
The atmosphere of fear in the work place is so great that issues of
safety are not being reported through fear of reprisals from managers
and other senior personnel. Numerous safety reports sent to British
Airways and the CAA are felt by crew to be ignored. There are volunteer
cabin crew on British Airways jets today who do not know how to fasten a
baby’s seat belt! A crew member described the relationship between
cabin crew and flight crew, so essential for safety, as toxic.
The cabin crew who have been caught up in the Unite election have
suffered appallingly and as a result so has every trade unionist. It
started with the spectacle of the Joint General Secretary Derek Simpson
undermining the dispute by calling the announced 12 days strike, “A bit
over the top”. And instead of condemning him the rest of Unite’s
leadership kept quiet.
at the top of Unite meant BA’s confidence grew and they organised
strike breaking and embarked on a campaign of fear, intimidation and
It has carried on as Derek Simpson’s chosen candidate, Les Bayliss,
attacked the BA cabin crew brave enough to resist and fight for a better
future, and instead offered a ‘strike free union’.
Tony Woodley’s ‘heir to his throne’, Len McCluskey, has sought to
promote himself throughout on the back of the BA dispute. He originally
said, “This is blatant union busting” only to subsequently downgrade his
rhetoric to “This is a normal dispute”.
Jerry Hicks says, “ if I were the General Secretary I would not
recommend this latest offer and if I worked for BA I would not vote for
it.” He has long argued that with the very first suspension and sacking,
Unite should have sought to extend the action beyond the cabin staff.
Bringing the dispute to a head and to a conclusion, whilst making
Unite’s 1.5 million members and the 7 million trade unionists across the
country aware of all the gory details. Instead the leadership tried to
contain it and by doing so their error led us to where we are today.
Employers, one after another, are sticking the boot in and disputes and
strikes are inevitable. More of the same won’t do and Cabin Crew and
every member of Unite deserve better.