Unite members at British Airways have scored an important win, forcing management to retreat over plans to fire and rehire the workforce. The lesson is clear: militancy pays. We need a bold fightback against the bosses’ offensive.
Workers organised in Unite the Union have achieved a tremendous victory at British Airways’ cargo division, defeating management’s plans to fire and rehire the workforce.
This win comes thanks to nine days of hard-fought strike action by workers over the Christmas period – an effective and disruptive tactic that forced the bosses to retreat.
Anger and determination
Last December, more than 840 workers – mostly based at Heathrow Airport – secured a whopping 98% Yes vote for strike action. This was in response to BA’s announcement of massive pay cuts of 20-25%, alongside significant attacks on terms and conditions.
This huge strike vote shows the enormous anger and determination stoked up by the bosses’ ruthless plans.
Despite rocky negotiations and reports of bullying from management, the union eventually won a deal guaranteeing the end of the fire-and-rehire plans, and the reversion to previous contracts. As a result, nine more days of strike action – initially planned to begin on 22 January – were called off at the last minute.
Impressively, Unite representatives also secured a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, improved pay protection, and an increase in wages for a significant number of staff.
✊ @unitetheunion ends #BA #FireAndRehire dispute by securing deal to avoid forthcoming cargo strike action. ?#UniteWin
Via #UNITElive ⬇️https://t.co/JTNHHclWN3 pic.twitter.com/8sQ3BPD5Ax
— Unite South East (@unite_southeast) January 28, 2021
Furthermore, it was also agreed that those who refused to sign up for the new proposed contracts, and who were subsequently dismissed, would be offered their jobs back.
This is an encouraging victory, showing what can be achieved with militant action. However, the danger of fire and rehire remains for many workers employed by Heathrow Airport itself.
Management has threatened around 4,000 workers with a 25% pay cut. This would affect firefighters, engineers, and campus security, alongside staff in baggage operations, central terminal operations, and landside and airside operations.
According to Unite, some of their members – facing the prospect of poverty under the proposed pay reductions – have been forced to sell their homes or cars. Further strike action is planned for February.
As well as condemning the pay cuts, Unite has denounced the disregard shown by Heathrow Airport Ltd. towards the health and safety of its workers, who have risked their lives working through the pandemic.
In particular, the union has repeatedly raised concerns over the level of firefighter cover. As we’ve seen across society throughout the pandemic, profits are yet again being prioritised over safety.
These battles in the aviation industry are just one example of a wave of fire-and-rehire disputes being undertaken by the bosses, as the capitalist class moves into the offensive, attempting to boost their profits at the expense of workers.
Other recent examples of this callous tactic being deployed at the strike of GMB members at British Gas; retail workers at Debenhams; and bus drivers at Go North West in Manchester.
Today’s day 10 of the courageous strike action by @GMB_union members at @BritishGas against ‘Fire and Rehire’ threats.
Solidarity with the strikers.
Chief Executive Chris O’Shea should ditch these disgraceful plans.
And let’s outlaw the ‘Fire and Rehire’ bosses’ blueprint. pic.twitter.com/SKXwP4sKPw
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) January 30, 2021
Unite – along with other unions, such as GMB – have called for legislation to ban fire-and-rehire practices. But the Tory government will be deaf to such pleas, unless they are backed up by large-scale industrial action.
What is needed is a coordinated and militant response from the labour movement to this onslaught from the bosses, rather than the current ad hoc and isolated approach.
These industrial struggles, emerging with increasing frequency, are only the beginning; a harbinger of even more bitter battles to come. United and determined, organised workers can be victorious, landing a blow against the bosses and the Tories.
The trade union movement must fight to end fire and rehire, and to protect every single job from redundancy or wage cuts. This requires a national industrial campaign across all sectors of the movement, with a bold lead provided from the top.
Not one worker’s position, nor a single penny from our wages, should be sacrificed to line the bosses’ pockets. If businesses claim this is not financially viable, they must open up their accounts to the labour movement, so that workers can see for themselves where the money goes.
Any industry facing cuts or closures – including the aviation industry, where this latest battle has taken place – should be nationalised and placed under workers’ control, as part of a socialist plan of production.
With British capitalism in terminal decline, and UK industry up against the wall, the labour movement must fight for a socialist planned economy to ensure that workers are not made to pay for this crisis. This is the only way to secure a lasting victory for workers across the board.
Once the aviation industry is under public ownership, run by workers for society’s needs, we would be only too happy to rehire the capitalists on our own new terms – so that they can get a job like the rest of us!