Striking nastiness

Not much from me tonight, but here is an interesting story on the current British Airways dispute.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t paid a huge amount of interest as to what is going on between BA and the Unite Union, but as this is slowly boiling down to workers (and the public) taking sides in what seems to be becoming a personal scrap between BA’s Willie Walsh and Tony Woodley et al of Unite, I’m getting more interested.  

Sky News was reporting some pretty nasty stuff going on and reading the Telegraph article brought back some vivid memories of the 1984 Miners’ Strike. I lived in Sheffield at the time, and the papers were full of the violence that surrounded that strike, not least the infamous Battle of Orgreave on the other side of the city. And yes, again there was that personal element at the top – Thatcher versus Scargill.
But that was the dirty, grimy mining industry and these are the guys that offer you drinks on the night flight to Heathrow. That was 1984, in the rough North of England; this is 26 years on in the shiny corridors of Terminal 5.

So why on earth do I find myself reading stuff like this?

It can be revealed that some female cabin staff braved the threat of intimidation by union workers to go to work as normal yesterday.
Some of those who worked had received threatening emails on Friday night, one of which read: “If any of you go into work tomorrow, your life won’t be worth living.”


There’s obviously more to this than just a row over whether hot towels should be dished out on short-haul flights. With the UK general election around the corner and Unite funding the Labour Party to the tune of £11million, with Charlie Whelan as Unite’s political director and with these ridiculous threats flying around, this is going to be a story worth digging deeper into.

I’m off to polish my spade.

UPDATE: Started reading on the Miners’ Strike instead of the BA one. But there are some thought-provoking and salient lines in there, relevant to the BA dispute:

Those who called the miners “the enemy within” might have won the war, but they did not win many hearts or minds.

Trouble is, I’m just not sure which side they’re relevant to.

6 thoughts on “Striking nastiness

  1. It seems as likely that these things get framed as tete-a-tetes because the news media love a familiar narrative. Is it a big, messy industrial squabble between hundreds of individual actors, each with their own murky agendas and random impulses… or is it an EPIC BATTLE BETWEEN TWO IRON-WILLED ADVERSARIES?

    Stay tuned.
    .-= Murray´s last blog ..Son of Dave: same old sound, maybe new sunglasses =-.

  2. Murray > Oh – the media are loving this. And why not? I, for one, am happy to lap it up.
    But this dispute will never be a passionate as 1984. That was community-based – there are few “national” industries that operate that way.
    Not that that passion excuses violence. But it might explain it.
    This appears more – orchestrated. Sinister.
    P.S. That link in the update is hugely interesting. Promise.

  3. One of the big differences between the miner’s strike and this one is that the mines were, then, nationalised. It was ultimately a battle between union and government. It was fair and reasonable to anticipate the government to be directly involved and, of course, it was: we’ve subsequently learned that Thatcher prepared for the strike with the aim of breaking not just the NUM but British unions in general.

    Whether it was the right approach is open to debate I guess.

    In this case, there is a growing feeling that Walsh sees the parallel with the miners’ strike. He sees it as his mission, before he leaves BA, to break the unionisation of his workforce. Again, we can debate the rights and wrongs of his approach.

    The big difference this time, though, is that BA is a private company. The government has neither the duty nor, in any meaningful sense, the right to intervene. Non-intervention, however, leaves the Labour Party open to the charge that it is in the pocket of the Unite union. Intervening in any substantive way, though, would not only set a terrible precedent, but could finally break the increasingly tentative link between the Party and the unions that founded it.

    The only thing that seems straightforward about this situation is that it’s a gift for the Tories!
    .-= Ro´s last blog ..Let Them Watch Sport … =-.

  4. This is a complicated issue, with many factors in place. Interestingly, it is only the Heathrow based cabin crew who want the strike. On top of this, they are already the best paid cabin crew BA has. The pilots’ “car park” test of cabin crew pay shows the staff car parks at Edinburgh, Gatwick, Newcastle, etc all with Corsas, Fiestas and Puntos. The one at Heathrow holds more Z4s, A3s and baby Beemers. Its the cabin crew at LHR who stand to lose most in this deal and this is just one of the factors playing a role in this strike (despite all the things mentioned above).

    With this in mind, I have the utmost admiration for the non-LHR based crew (who have already accepted their pay deal). BA is going to suffer an even more tarnished reputation following this (our company is moving swiftly to only booking with Virgin Atlantic for reliability issues) and the ones who will suffer when BA nose dives are the ones currently on strike. Very short sighted of them when they are already being paid better than their colleagues who are not striking.

  5. @Persona…
    “Interestingly, it is only the Heathrow based cabin crew who want the strike.”

    Is that for certain? I know someone in the Gatwick crew who’s been suspended because of her involvement.

  6. @ Murray – Today, only 2% of the Gatwick based crew did not pitch up for work. Small minority. There are obviously a few sympathisers and supporters outside of Heathrow for their colleagues and their cause. I wonder how many of them were union reps? Sorry, that is probably just the cynical side of me creeping out and I am by no measure aware of your friends circumstances.

    BA also reports that more than half of their Heathrow based crew arrived for work this morning. In my humble opinion, I think this proves that the Unite Union (who are obviously disputing these numbers) does not have the support of the majority of its members, who appear to have voted with their feet rather than their pens. A brave statement, but we are probably more likely to see then end of Unite, rather than the end of BA.

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