BA pilots vote for strike action

50 posts / 0 new
Last post
BB
Offline
Joined: 12-08-04
Feb 21 2008 12:10
BA pilots vote for strike action

"British Airways pilots have voted overwhelmingly for strike action. Such action would be the first for nearly 30 years and would effectively ground BA worldwide."

http://www.balpa.org.uk/Media---Pr/BA%20Pilots%20Strike5.htm

miles's picture
miles
Offline
Joined: 21-09-08
Dec 14 2009 18:04

Here we go again....

The kinds of crisis facing BA - huge drops in profits, ballooning pension deficits - are symptomatic of the wider problems faced by other companies in the economy (not to mention the state sector).

Whether it's more than sabre rattling we'll have to see - it's clear the union had to 'do' something, given the extent of unhappiness amongst the cabin crew (which obviously is on top of the militancy shown in the past by baggage handlers). Either way - BA will get its cuts. If not now, then whenever they complete the tie up with Iberia, there'll have to be a whole round of cuts again...

(Edit: sorry, I didn't read the title of the thread properly, can an admin move my post or perhaps re name the thread? Thanks)

silkandmatt52
Offline
Joined: 10-09-07
Dec 15 2009 11:04

I'M not as pessimistic as Miles I think it's excellent that the discontent with the bosses extend to all sections of the class so this strike gives an opportunity for class consciousness to develop. Lets hope that the BA workers can begin to control their strike and not leave it to the Unions not to sabotage the strike. What would be good would be the development of general assemblies which would include all workers. What is also needed is the active support of other workers class solidarity is the key.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Dec 15 2009 20:54

Is it OK to talk about the BA cabin crew strike on here?

The vote for striking, 92% on an 80% turn out is about par, or slightly above par for recent strike votes in various sectors where the action has been first dominated and then sabotaged by the trade unions. The whole ballot business has been constantly used by the unions in order to take control of, confuse and exhaust workers' combat. Union ballots, the isolation of the struggle, go hand in hand with "legal questions" where the needs of the struggle, essentially self-organisation, are further pushed into the background.

Just like the post workers, the cabin crew workers have come in for immediate and sustained abuse by the four main television channels and the press. There is a certain weakness in calling a strike over the holiday period when millions of workers will be travelling around. But this weakness lies with the union method of "struggle", ie, hobbled from the beginning.

A positive aspect of the action is reported in today's Guardian, where the 2500 workers at the union's meeting included older and younger, newer workers (the latter bearing the brunt of the attacks) mixing together.

I agree with the needs expressed by silk above, but this has the look, at the moment, of another union stitch-up a la CWU. Unite has already agreed a similar deal with BA for its cabin crew members at Gatwick, leaving the Heathrow workers more isolated. It has already more or less agreed to the reductions in staffing levels. Unite boss Len McClusky, pleads with Willie Walsh not to damage a "British institution", showing once again the nationalism of trade unionism. Individual BA workers have already been suspended by the company for using the tannoy on some flights to talk directly to passengers about the cuts in services being forced upon them.

Demogorgon303's picture
Demogorgon303
Offline
Joined: 5-07-05
Dec 17 2009 16:05

Apparently, there's been anger expressed by some workers against the union, signing them up for 12 days over xmas, when they thought they were signing up for 3 days in January.

How true this is, I don't know but a positive interpretation could indicate there is some reflection about whether the timing of the strike would alienate others.

See this article in the Independent.

BA have also now won the court case to halt the strike on the basis of irregularities.

It seems like a classic set-up, with the union talking tough (a 12 day strike would mean a huge salary hit!) while "accidentally" leaving a legal loophole for the employer to use to force the workers back to work. Similarly, it can also derail militancy into defending a struggle that many workers clearly already have doubts about and portray any attempt to actually discuss how to struggle as "defeatist".

Nonetheless, the series of strikes in the airline sector demonstrates that there's a growing will to fight - if this is accompanied by a reflection on how to fight, the potential for linking up these struggles could be significant.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Dec 17 2009 21:02

Baggage handlers and check-in staff at Heathrow and Aberdeen have said that they will be holding a series of two-day strikes from December 22nd and threatened more walk-outs in January, according to The Guardian today.

john
Offline
Joined: 9-07-06
Dec 18 2009 10:57

Am I right in thinking that some contributors on here are supporting the media position that you shouldn't strike during Christmas?

surely the best time to strike is when the employer is most sensitive?

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Dec 18 2009 12:50

Bourgeois justice is full of "dangerous" precedents for the class struggle, except if you think that it is there to dispense "fairness" beyond class lines.
There are a lot of indications in this event that the unions will not be unhappy with the court's decision. There is a great deal of inter-union rivalry and factionism within the Unite union itself that was obvious in the last strike. The union could have made an immediate appeal against the obvious biased judgement, but interestingly choose not to. The whole union ballot rigmarole is wide open to this sort of abuse pointing to the need for workers to action in their own hands.

And no John, no-one on here is supporting the media position on the strike. But I would think that it's fairly clear that disrupting holiday travel for millions of workers is one more example of the anti-working class nature of trade unionism. Again, it points to the need for self-organisation.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Dec 18 2009 13:20

"The idea that the union deliberately left a legal loophole is so beyond bizarre it's staggering"

Not qualified to comment on this case and i won't . But as i have described in a post on a past strike within Royal Mail it is not unknown for union to collaborate with management to thwart the will of the membership by using legal loopholes to discredit the vote .

Quote:
We were to be balloted once again, just to confirm to the Doubting Thomases that our resolve remained firm .That was the story for public consumption .
The truth of the matter smacks of intrigue , corruption and betrayal. Apparently , when the union informed Royal Mail of the original ballot results as the law requires , someone tippexed out the number of spoilt ballots - 400-odd out of tens of thousands of a majority in favour of industrial action . This occurred only on Royal Mail's notification , no other . Lo and behold , Alan Johnson informs the National Executive that he has legal advice from the union's lawyers that the strike ballot had been illegal ! If any more industrial action took place without a second ballot , then the CWU could be sued and made bankrupt ! Incredible as it may seem , Royal Mail with its extensive legal department had been oblivious to this tippexed "blunder" . In their ignorance , they had allowed damaging strike after strike to take place, costing them an estimated £100 million , and permitted British industry to suffer incalculable losses through the disruption of the post , all because some person or other had tippexed out a few spoilt ballot papers . Who , when , no-one knows . It just happened to be discovered just when the postal strike was entering a new phase - an increased offensive against out employer at a time when the " New" Labour Party ( Johnson is an executive member and ally of Tony Blair ) desired calm on the class war front to ensure election victory. Nor was Johnson finished there . If the majority on the National Executive dared to insist upon continuing the strike , then he would invoke the union constitution and call in the British Telecom executive members to overrule the Postal executive .
Naturally all of this was confidential , and ordinary members were to remain unaware of the realities. Fortunately , someone smelled a rat and had the honour to leak the details of this curious affair. Johnson is threatening all manner of dire consequences to whoever is responsible for leaking out this "accidental discrepancy".
So there you are . One unknown bureaucrat has "inadvertently" undermined the postal workers' struggle , a struggle which was in the process of breaking free of union leaders shackles.
http://libcom.org/forums/organise/strike-bulletin-postal-workers-07112009
Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Dec 18 2009 14:45
Jack wrote:
Let's be clear on this - the reasons the ballot was unlawful apply to basically every single ballot ever held by a union, ever.

There is no possible way a union is ever going to have a 100% up to date database of members and who works where. No bureaucracy ever in history could ever be this accurate.

It's not about whether the union would collaborate with management like this - it's whether they dI'd delibrately set it up. And they obviously didn't.

actually Jack, unite have been caught out previously making absolutely outrageous deals with management. There was that big case in Northern Ireland that shop stewards took out against their own union and employers, and won - then the union tried to completely wreck the lives of the reps. So I wouldn't put something like that passed them. But you are correct also that this kind of problem would be in every strike ballot, pretty much, so this is a terrible precedent.

One note though, this is about the cabin crew strike, not the pilots.

Finally, baboons comment saying that striking over Christmas shows the unions are "anti-working class" is completely stupid. The CWU stopped postal workers striking over Christmas, where their power is at its highest, in order to sabotage their struggle. These airport workers have the maximum amount of power over the Christmas period, as there will be the biggest pressure on the employers to give in. If baboons comment were true, it would mean that it would be a good thing that the strike was being postponed - and it clearly isn't.

Demogorgon303's picture
Demogorgon303
Offline
Joined: 5-07-05
Dec 18 2009 15:09
Quote:
A source within Bassa said that morale was low after the ruling, with members questioning how a year of negotiations which led to a ballot for strike action had left any legal loophole for BA to exploit.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/dec/17/ba-christmas-strike-blocked-court

It's not just crazy left-communists asking the question then.

Quote:
One BA cabin crew worker contacted the BBC to say she was "delighted" the strike had been stopped.

"I voted for the strike but never dreamt it would be for 12 days over Christmas," she said.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8418805.stm

This seems to underline my previous point that many workers were unclear about what they were signing up for.

We've now got a situation where:

- workers in other unions(such as the pilots) were actually supporting BA's line in bringing the court case: "Several BA pilots there – who have agreed to take a pay cut along with most of BA's staff – congratulated Bruce Carr QC, representing the airline."

- there's a division between those workers who've accepted paycuts and those who've tried to fight: "BA insiders said the cabin crew's planned action had attracted hostility from colleagues resentful that they were holding the loss making airline hostage when most other BA staff had agreed to take pay cuts."

- morale within those who were willing to fight has been crushed by the deceptive manipulation of the union and the court defeat: "Industrial relations experts said Unite might struggle to secure a second big mandate from members for industrial action. A number of cabin crew questioned the length of the planned strike and Simpson had said earlier this week that it was "probably over the top"."

So, to add it all up, we've had a union that deceived its own membership about exactly what the strike entailed, who's own leader said it was "over the top", and was also warned by BA about the invalidity of the ballot "Unite had considered delaying the announcement of a walkout earlier this week after receiving warnings from BA executives that the vote was invalid."

If you want to think it's all an accident, fair enough ... but it's an enormously convenient series of accidents, don't you think?

As for the point about striking over Xmas, it depends on what you think the aim of a strike is. A strike that "wins" its proclaimed objectives at the price of pissing off the rest of the working class and fracturing opportunities for future unity is in reality a victory for the ruling class. Some of the workers seemed to understand this bigger picture, which is why I considered it a possible positive development earlier in the thread.

Demogorgon303's picture
Demogorgon303
Offline
Joined: 5-07-05
Dec 18 2009 15:11
Quote:
If baboons comment were true, it would mean that it would be a good thing that the strike was being postponed - and it clearly isn't.

The fact that's its been postponed by the state is a bad thing. If workers themselves had decided to postpone it on the basis of an attempt to build wider unity, this would have been a positive.

Demogorgon303's picture
Demogorgon303
Offline
Joined: 5-07-05
Dec 18 2009 15:18

Some more on workers reaction to the news:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/dec/17/ba-cabin-crew-union-strike

shug's picture
shug
Offline
Joined: 12-11-06
Dec 18 2009 15:49

While accepting the points about union manipulation and sabotage of the struggle, I'm a bit puzzled by the ICC's comments on the timing of this strike. Baboon writes

Quote:
There is a certain weakness in calling a strike over the holiday period when millions of workers will be travelling around.

And

Quote:
But I would think that it's fairly clear that disrupting holiday travel for millions of workers is one more example of the anti-working class nature of trade unionism.

While Demogorgon writes

Quote:
As for the point about striking over Xmas, it depends on what you think the aim of a strike is. A strike that "wins" its proclaimed objectives at the price of pissing off the rest of the working class and fracturing opportunities for future unity is in reality a victory for the ruling class.

Leaving aside the questionable idea that "the rest of the working class" would have been pissed off by the strike, any and every strike is portrayed by the media as damaging to other workers. It seems to me (leaving the union machinations in this dispute out of it) that workers coming out on strike should in no way shy away from timing things so they have the most effect. Surely you're not suggesting that, say, rail or underground workers avoid action in case it pisses off other workers?

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Dec 18 2009 17:03

Heard one news extract featuring union official explaining that BA timed the break down of talks so industrial action would coincide with Christmas/New Year because it knew that its most profitable customer , Business Class , most of them would be on holiday and not flying over the festive period , and so would be little effected if strikes took place .

In all my history as postal worker , the most vulnerable time for Royal Mail was Christmas Pressure , and always , even in the present situation , the union suspends action on the basis that public opinion would turn againt us . Even though it is a period of more or less guaranteed overtime and like all workers , extra money is needed to buy the presents and good cheer , staff have always resented union practice of avoiding industrial action at that time . Just as we all knew , the best tactic was wildcats unofficial stoppages and trap mail in the system . I forget how many times we had the union repudiation letter read out to us at strike meetings .

Demogorgon303's picture
Demogorgon303
Offline
Joined: 5-07-05
Dec 18 2009 18:35
Quote:
Surely you're not suggesting that, say, rail or underground workers avoid action in case it pisses off other workers?

Of course not. But it's precisely because of the incessant campaigns that you point to that it's important that workers take these factors into account when planning actions. The workers who were questioning the timing of the strike weren't (necessarily) saying they shouldn't take action - many of them had voted for action, after all.

But they recognised the impact this action would have on other workers trying to get to their families for Xmas and the potential for alienating other workers (usually phrased as "losing the PR battle"). They also questioned why the union had taken this tack (which many of them don't seem to have realised when they voted for it) when it would so obviously "lose the PR battle". Behind this is a dim recognition that they're not just an isolated sector but need the support of other sectors of the class to win, even if this still takes the embryonic form of seeking public "support" and that the union's tactic was completely counter to this.

The important thing here isn't so much the conclusion workers are coming to - there are arguments for and against an Xmas strike as we can see - but the fact that they're thinking about how to struggle and are not simply taking the union's word for it.

But, as far as the union is concerned, I have no doubt at all that the motivation for planning an Xmas strike was to cause maximum resentment among the rest of the population and further divide and isolate workers.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Dec 18 2009 19:46

First of all, the role of the unions. This "action", and the one before that which didn't happen because sabotaged by the unions, and the one before that which ended up in wage cuts and worse conditons, both of them laying the ground for this strike, has been waylaid by the unions.

What sort of struggle is this that ballots individuals then takes that as carte blanche to decide what sort of struggle it will be, how and when to strike and so on. This combativity deserves more than that. The workers are beaten from the off. In the face of significant militancy and solidarity between the generations of BA workers, the unions have divided it and sabotaged it from the beginning. What sort of example is it for the solidarity of the workers when different factions of the unions are at each other's throats before and after the ballot. My experience, for what it's worth, is that there are moments to strikes breaking out, a certain elan that can take over from even the most restricted action and propel the struggle forward. This has had its legs cut off and the unions have wielded the axe. Let's not get into what degree of "conspiracy" this was. Let's just look at the fact, that however it got there, the "legal loophole" for example, came about as a direct result of the union ballot and the union ballot took place under the auspices of the Trade" Unions Act 1992, which is part of the same legal system as the "legal loophole". I hope we are not going to start basing positions on legal technicalities. The Lindsey workers weren't interested in legality, let alone the finer points of bourgeois law, which will be used against the working class.

When asked (today's Guardian), a BASSA (the cabin crew reps in Unite as far as I understand) said that there would be no unofficial walk-outs: "This will not happen. The crews are very disciplined. One or two wild ones have been suspended already" said rep, Joseph Stalin (joke name, real quote). BASSA's fallen out with Unite. And if ever a blow was dealt to the idea that workers can at least get legal protection from a union, then this is it. What a team of lawyers Unite have got!

To deal with the point about Christmas - making this a very festive discussion: no-one is supporting the media villefication of the workers, not the postal workers, not the airline workers. Workers mostly support other workers' strikes. The most effective way for this strike to start, even if after the ballot, was by an immediate walk-out and mass meetings. Straightaway, and then pick up momentum, legal or not, Christmas or not, because the positives would have outweighed the negatives. And one can say, that at the very least and however long or short the strike was, this method of struggle would have certainly checked the attacks. Now, once again, the unions have facilitated them.

The beginnings of strikes are important moments for subsequent developments and the unions have turned the advantage away from the workers in more ways than one. It's often a sign of weakness of the struggle to pick times to strike that greatly inconvenience many workers going on holiday,etc.

Steven says that "these airport workers are at their maximum amount of power over the Christmas period". Apart from the fact that this position sees workers only able to gain a trade union, seasonal consciousness, the airport workers will have their maximum amount of power, or rather begin to maximise their power, when they fight on their own ground, when they fight as part of a class. Their attempt to do that here has been subverted by the unions all round.

john
Offline
Joined: 9-07-06
Dec 18 2009 22:08

baboon - I'm sorry, but that's a load of garbage.

of course we'd all like all workers to walk out and form workplace councils through which to coordinate their move towards taking control of the means of production

if you're not going to present some kind of analysis that at least recognizes where the working class is at present - and instead just present a re-statement of what we all know you think is the perfect route to the perfect revolution - then is there really any point in posting anything at all?

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Dec 19 2009 09:21
shug wrote:
While accepting the points about union manipulation and sabotage of the struggle, I'm a bit puzzled by the ICC's comments on the timing of this strike. Baboon writes...
While Demogorgon writes

Baboon isn't a member of the ICC and therefore doesn't speak for it. Demogorgan, on the other hand, is.

shug wrote:
Leaving aside the questionable idea that "the rest of the working class" would have been pissed off by the strike, any and every strike is portrayed by the media as damaging to other workers. It seems to me (leaving the union machinations in this dispute out of it) that workers coming out on strike should in no way shy away from timing things so they have the most effect. Surely you're not suggesting that, say, rail or underground workers avoid action in case it pisses off other workers?

I agree with this completely and disagree with what is implied in Baboon and Demo's posts. However, this is a message board where people are posting as individuals. Not every idea a member of the ICC posts here, expresses the opinion of the ICC as a whole, just as mine don't now;

I completely reject the idea that workers should be careful about "pissing off the rest of the working class". As has been pointed out, in all major strikes the bourgeois media will attempt to portray the strikers as "hurting ordinary people". Whilst I personally wouldn't go quite as far as saying that nurses should walk off ICU wards and leave people to die, I am really not impressed by what in fact is not 'hurting ordinary people', but merely inconveniencing them.

I think it is very important to be clear that if a group of workers can defend their wages and living conditions this brings benefits to the whole class, which are quite frankly much more important than getting your Christmas cards on time.

ajjohnstone wrote:
In all my history as postal worker , the most vulnerable time for Royal Mail was Christmas Pressure , and always , even in the present situation , the union suspends action on the basis that public opinion would turn againt us . Even though it is a period of more or less guaranteed overtime and like all workers , extra money is needed to buy the presents and good cheer , staff have always resented union practice of avoiding industrial action at that time . Just as we all knew , the best tactic was wildcats unofficial stoppages and trap mail in the system . I forget how many times we had the union repudiation letter read out to us at strike meetings .

On a personal level I once took part in a work to rule at Christmas, and finished delivery of the Christmas cards in mid April. I stopped and talked to many people on my walk about the situation (at the time I had been doing that walk for four years and you get to know people). I found very few people agree at what we were doing, and the ones who were most angry were shopkeepers.

Demogorgon303 wrote:
But, as far as the union is concerned, I have no doubt at all that the motivation for planning an Xmas strike was to cause maximum resentment among the rest of the population and further divide and isolate workers.

This statement is problematic to me, and really comes to the core of how we see the unions. Both I and demo, as members of the ICC, agree that the unions are integrated into the state, but what that exactly means can often come across differently.

The way I see it is not that the unions sit there planning how to police the working class on behalf of management, but that they are full of people who sincerely believe that they are fighting for their members interests. For me, the role of the union within society makes it impossible for the unions to defend their members on a collective basis, and their methods of working tend to imprison the working class in a straight jacket.

That there are some union leaders who do actively try to 'divide and isolate' workers is undoubtedly true. That doesn't mean that it is the general trend though. The dynamic of the way unions work can bring about these results anyway independently of the 'individual' desires of the people running them.

Devrim

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Dec 19 2009 09:25
baboon wrote:
To deal with the point about Christmas - making this a very festive discussion: no-one is supporting the media villefication of the workers, not the postal workers, not the airline workers. Workers mostly support other workers' strikes. The most effective way for this strike to start, even if after the ballot, was by an immediate walk-out and mass meetings. Straightaway, and then pick up momentum, legal or not, Christmas or not, because the positives would have outweighed the negatives. And one can say, that at the very least and however long or short the strike was, this method of struggle would have certainly checked the attacks. Now, once again, the unions have facilitated them.

The beginnings of strikes are important moments for subsequent developments and the unions have turned the advantage away from the workers in more ways than one. It's often a sign of weakness of the struggle to pick times to strike that greatly inconvenience many workers going on holiday,etc.

But I don't think that this was ever going to happen. You have to look at where we are at the moment. If postal workers, probably the most experienced sector of the class in the UK were unable to this, why should we have expected the cabin crew to do it. Yes, it is something we should say, but we also shouldn't deceive ourselves that the class struggle is at that point yet.

Devrim

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Dec 19 2009 12:12

I agree with what Devrim has said here about the nature of the unions.

A big problem with the ideas of demo and baboon is that if there actually were evil scheming conspirators running the unions then you could get yourself elected in their place and run them better. As Devrim points out, this is not possible because it is not the individuals which shaped their behaviour, but but their position and role in the economy.

In fact, those comments about causing resentment from other workers directly contradict posts one of those two made (I'm afraid I can't remember which as they often post very similar things explanation mark) in one of the threads about the postal workers strike where they argued against prioritising things to get "support" from the general public, saying the only thing that mattered would be strike action, not abstract public support.

So someone has completely reversed his position in order to bash the unions from a right wing point of view.

Cleishbotham
Offline
Joined: 28-08-08
Dec 19 2009 13:19

Agree with Devrim, Shug and Steven's posts here. I don't know Baboon personally but from a debate we held about the unions on another thread we arrived at a mutual accord (at least I think we did!). From that debate I know him to be sincere and has valid and telling concrete experience of union manoeuvres. However as others have argued (I think it was Jack) turning our resistance into the unions into bad arguments undermines the whole anti-union case. These arguments are methodologically that of the ICC (whether Baboon is in or not) for whom everything that happens in history is conspiracy. the idea that human beings make history but not in circumstances of their own choosing (and that cock-ups can occur) is alien to them. Devrim's effort though shows that all is not lost here and his attempt to get the debate back on to sensible grounds is to be welcomed.

However for me the main issue is the fact that the Thatcherite anti-strike laws were used to the full without a response from the working class. Pace Jack above there is no surprise that Judge Laura Cox should interpret the law in favour of the bosses (that is what it is there for) but it demonstrates the fragmented nature of our class response that this has not been taken up to demonstrate that this is class war. Derek Simpson played his part by saying it was a "bad day for democracy". It was no such thing - it was democracy (i.e the dictatorship of capital) working to perfection. Then fact that airline pundits are now rolled out on TV and radio to say there will be no wildcats amongst BA staff only underlines the level we are currently at but this kind of episode (like Fujitsu) is a sign that the worm is beginning to turn

Alf's picture
Alf
Offline
Joined: 6-07-05
Dec 19 2009 17:05

The two main issues regarding the idea of a strike over Christmas are:
- thanks to the ballot and the union control over the terms of the action, the workers seem to have had little or no real discussion about what tactics to use. Obviously there is no abstract principle about striking at 'inconvenient' times, because as comrades have said strikes will always cause 'inconvenience' (including to the strikers themselves who have to make many sacrifices to go on strike). But what is a principle is that workers should discuss the best methods to use to make their struggle as effective as possible;
- the unions, especially the more militant parts of them, very often argue that a workers' strike is most effective precisely when it causes the maximum disruption to a particular service. The problem with this is that it poses the question entirely in terms of what a particular sector can achieve in isolation from other sectors.
To take an example where the issues are more serious than people missing out on their holidays (although I'm not dismissing the fact that losing thousands of pounds on a wasted holiday can be a heavy blow for working people): the piles of garbage that result from refuse workers going on strike, which clearly pose a threat to public health (and thus the health of other workers). We have seen this in Leeds and we are seeing it now in Greece. Seen in isolation it would be a sensible tactic to force the authorities to the negotating table by simply allowing the garbage to pile up. But already in Greece, from some of the reports coming in, there seems to be a tendency toward the extension of the movement, and in that context, workers can begin to take up the question of taking charge of social issues in the course of their struggle, and thus discussing how to deal with the problem of the garbage while keeping the struggle solid. This only makes sense if the garbage workers are part of a wider struggle.
The situation in Britain is clearly not at that stage at the moment. But it does take us back to the first issue I mentioned: the need for workers to discuss and decide on the methods to use. Among the BA workers we have the very positive examples of solidarity between the catering workers and baggage handlers a few years back. As I understand it the current dispute is limited to cabin staff but the idea of linking up with other employees is not some utopian fantasy. This is in fact the most pressing problem facing the cabin crews and the way the union has posed the problem of the effectiveness of the dispute has pushed it into the background.

Supersonic72
Offline
Joined: 19-12-09
Dec 19 2009 17:52

First post on here, spent a while gazing in so here's some thoughts I've had

Apologies if its laughable, but hows about this as an idea.. Thinking aloud

So the ballot has been overturned in the HighCourt due to these irregularties. If the stike were to go ahead, BA could then press for damages for an illegal strike, based on the fact that the Union is based in the UK and is subject to UK law...

Well, if the Union had its financial and physicalbase outside of UK law (...somewhere offshore or further afield) who would BA then go after, as all you'd have is a local area office to to speak, with no legal accountability??

The ballot has been taken, counted and the result reported. If the above idea is feasible, then a strike's a strike.

baboon
Offline
Joined: 29-07-05
Dec 19 2009 17:59

There's a general idea above, expressed most clearly by Devrim, that this is not the time for workers to take the struggle into their own hands and walk out under their own steam (Christmas or not, legal or not). Jack caricatures this position (not by much though), saying that to propose workers' self organisation at this moment is to put forward "the perfect road to the perfect revolution". Devrim, Jack and others see the working class as being only capable of following a trade unions. Devrim further confuses the role of the unions seeing only a minority of union leaders who try to divide the struggle, saying that the majority of union members do not sit there planning how to police the working class on behalf of the management. This is an Aunt Sally that Devrim sets up in order to be able to it knock down. Of course the majority don't sit down and plan how to police the working class Devrim - and these "conspiracy theory" arguments are getting more and more threadbare. It's the framework of the trade unions that forces them in that direction. And this BA "action" is a perfect example of it. When the vote to strike was annonced at the racecourse where 2500 workers had gathered there was uproar and elan, an expression of a positive will to fight. Within this situation a minority of workers could very easily have channeled this into an immediate walk-out and from there mass meetings and beyond. If people on here can't see that this was a possibility then the BASSA section of the union most certainly did by disciplining its own members that continued to call for a wildcat. What would you say to the workers of Lindsey Devrim? Go back to work - we're not ready for this type of illegal and mass action?

Shug says, "leaving aside the union machinations"... but how can one leave them aside. They are real, they happened and are happening for all to see. They have sabotaged this struggle. It turns out that the result of a previous Unite ballot to strike was annuled by a judge under the 1992 Act regarding Metrobus. Of 11 appeals against positive strike ballots so far this year, eight have been upheld by judges - so it's not like the unions and their lawyers are unaware of this situation. The whole BASSA/Unite set up is tensions, emnities, divisions - how can any sort of organisation like this organise a strike? What is does is directly contribute to its defeat.

Steven above calls a 12-day Christmas strike the period when the workers are at their maximum power. That's not correct by any stretch of the imagination. The idea that one sector of the class being led by its union in any strike could be at its "maximum power" is a mockery of the workiing class.
It was me Steven that talked about abstract public support being part of the media's attack on workers. Now, my argument from a workers' point of view, is that many workers would find their holidays ruined and that should be considered, you call me "right wing". Are you saying that workers shouldn't discuss these issues, that they are not of concern? That if you raise this question then you will be denounced as "right wing".

We are well past the period when one isolated strike, of one sector of a sector can win anything. And we are not even talking about a strike here but an expression of combativity from the workers that has been smothered and side-tracked by their union. More than this, from reports, the unions are actively "discipling" a minority of workers arguing for immediate action. They may be telling the other workers that the time is not right for this yet, that "you have to look at where we are at the moment" in order to sow more confusion and reinforce hesitation.

The strongest strikes, the most positive struggles, are those that protect the weakest and engender feelings of class solidarity. It's not enough to cause damage and examples of strong movements, from the last decades, sometimes show striking workers, organised, going to work to enable or maintain essential supplies or services, particularly to the most vulnerable sectors of the working class. Causing maximum damage doesn't equate to "maximum power" to the working class and, as in the case in the clearly anti-working class French trade union, the CGT, these so-called "militant" actions are actually a means to isolate the struggle.

There are many industries in Britain today which, if a significant number of workers walked out, would bring this country to its knees in days; gas, electrical supply, water, transport and so on. Any one on their own would do so. But it would be the content of the struggle, the degree of self organisation that would be the deciding factor of the possible maximisation of workers power. To imply that this belongs to a far off, distant future is to disarm the working class. What's clear to me from this current BA "dispute" is that the workers should avoid these "spectacular" actions cooked up by divisive trade union structures, organise themselves, form mass meetings and fight from a position of real and not illusory strength. The lesson from the post strike is not that someone wouldn't be getting a Christmas card, but that the UCM sabotaged the struggle, led the workers to defeat and opened up the way for more attacks on the workers.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Dec 19 2009 18:00

legal unions in the UK have to be based and registered in the UK.

And you're working on the assumption that the union actually wants to do what it can to help the workers. Which is not actually the case.

ernie
Offline
Joined: 19-04-06
Dec 19 2009 19:31

As Devrim has said we have not taken a position on the BA strike yet, so at the moment we are seeking to better understand the struggle and issues raised.
So here is my penth worth.
The calling of the 12 strike strikes me as being a cynical maneuver by the union to try and undermine the obvious militancy of the workers. The workers have taken weeks and days of concerted propaganda against them and still come out massively in favour of strike action. However, as far as I can see the union at no point suggested it would be a 12 day strike. The general impression was that it would be two day strikes etc. On the day of the ballot result, on the Radio4 morning news the industrial relations correspondent said he had been talking to workers and others and had got the impression that the strike would be after xmas. This situation smacks of union ultra radicalism to divert the workers.
The BA workers are in a very difficult situation, as are all workers when faced with struggling in isolation. They want to struggle but being trapped in the union framework which means seeing the whole question from the angle of ones industry. This does raise very real concerns for workers about causing problems for their fellow workers. Devrim raised the question of nurses. It is not only ITU patients but all patients that worry nurses and other health workers and this is used effectively against them. But as long as you look at the struggle in isolation you are trapped in these problems. The only way out of this dilemma is to seek to go beyond this prison and spread the struggle.
The real question is not whether to strike over xmas or not but to struggle effectively, which means spreading the struggle, which at xmas is probably not going to happen because the majority of workers will be on holiday , though other airport and airline workers will still be working.
This is not a question of wanting a pure struggle or of rejecting the strike if it does take place, but how to struggle effectively.
As for whether this was planned in advance or not by the union, only the union leader know that. It could well be that when they saw the size of the vote for a strike they had to think about how to deal with such an explosive situation. A couple of two day strikes was not going to wash well with the workers, so it was decided to call a 12 strike over xmas to appear militant but also places the workers in a difficult situation. The point is the union decided upon this question, not the workers, and it was not the rank and file union stewards etc who made these decision but the union leaders: and i think we are all agreed that they did not make this decision in the interests of enabling the workers to struggle as effectively as possible. Consciously or not they have done all they can to keep the workers within the union prison, thus to defeat them: they can do no other because this is the role of the unions for the capitalist state, whether the unions are conscious of it or not.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Dec 20 2009 08:40
baboon wrote:
There's a general idea above, expressed most clearly by Devrim, that this is not the time for workers to take the struggle into their own hands and walk out under their own steam (Christmas or not, legal or not).

I don't think that is at all what was expressed. What was said was that now is a time when workers are not, generally, taking the struggle into their own hands, which is a very different idea. In fact I think it is something that communists should argue for as I said:

Devrim wrote:
But I don't think that this was ever going to happen. You have to look at where we are at the moment. If postal workers, probably the most experienced sector of the class in the UK were unable to this, why should we have expected the cabin crew to do it. Yes, it is something we should say, but we also shouldn't deceive ourselves that the class struggle is at that point yet.

We also should understand where the class struggle is at the moment.

baboon wrote:
Devrim, Jack and others see the working class as being only capable of following a trade unions.

Nor do I think this is true. There is a difference between saying the working class is only capable of following trade unions, which I haven't and saying that at the moment the working class are mostly following trade unions.

baboon wrote:
Devrim further confuses the role of the unions seeing only a minority of union leaders who try to divide the struggle, saying that the majority of union members do not sit there planning how to police the working class on behalf of the management. This is an Aunt Sally that Devrim sets up in order to be able to it knock down. Of course the majority don't sit down and plan how to police the working class Devrim - and these "conspiracy theory" arguments are getting more and more threadbare. It's the framework of the trade unions that forces them in that direction.

This is pretty similar to what I said:

baboon wrote:
For me, the role of the union within society makes it impossible for the unions to defend their members on a collective basis, and their methods of working tend to imprison the working class in a straight jacket.
baboon wrote:
This is an Aunt Sally that Devrim sets up in order to be able to it knock down. Of course the majority don't sit down and plan how to police the working class Devrim - and these "conspiracy theory" arguments are getting more and more threadbare.

Maybe you should look at an example of what was written:

Demo wrote:
But, as far as the union is concerned, I have no doubt at all that the motivation for planning an Xmas strike was to cause maximum resentment among the rest of the population and further divide and isolate workers.

Here Demo clearly talks about the 'motivation' of the union leaders being to divide the working class. In my opinion, it is necessary to be very careful about what we say about the unions for it can all to easily change from describing what the unions objectively do, to saying that the shop stewards are consciously trying to defeat the struggle.

baboon wrote:
What would you say to the workers of Lindsey Devrim? Go back to work - we're not ready for this type of illegal and mass action?

Talk about erecting straw men.

There is a more serious issue here though. At the moment as Baboon rightly says according to the statements of the union officials they have been actively discipling people who were pushing for struggle immediatly. Of course, it is very clear to communists which side we have to be on when something like this is happening. When making an overall assessment of the level of struggle though we have to take into account that unlike as Baboon suggests worker's didn't walk off the job immediatly, and we have to ask ourselves why. Baboon counter-poses it with the action taken at Lindsey, and seems to be asking why workers there could take 'wildcat' action, and why workers at BA didn't. I think that the answer is quite simple. The vast majority of what are termed 'wildcat' strikes are organised by the lower levels of the union. In that case shop stewards supported action, in this case they seem not to.

Recognising that the working class is not at the moment taking its struggles into its own hands, is not the same as saying that it isn't capable of doing so, nor is it the same as advocating following the unions.

Devrim

ernie
Offline
Joined: 19-04-06
Dec 20 2009 18:44

Devrim is highlighting what is one of the central questions in this situation: that worker are not taking the struggle into their own hands. Without this dynamic there is a very difficult situation for the BA workers to confront. However there is the example of the Lindsey and other construction workers struggle in June, when the strike spread across some of most important construction sites. It is difficult to say how much the workers took the struggle into the their own control but there was clearly a push by workers spread the struggle, to hold mass meetings. This dynamic forced the bosses to back down. So the potential is present within class for such actions but potential is different to actualisation. This does not mean the proletariat is straining at the bit and it is only the unions stopping them, that would be a very different situation. Rather there is a confidence in the unions amongst the class, especially now faced with the increased attacks, given that the class does not have a lot of recent experience of its own strength. This confidence is increasingly clashing with the reality of the unions actions, but this is a difficult process. Thus with the BA situation it is very clear that the workers are determined to defend not only their jobs but those of those to come, but at the same time they have confidence in the unions to do the 'right thing'. A confidence the union is manipulating for all it is worth.
Within this difficult process the question of struggling at xmas is another complex aspect. Outside of a dynamic struggle this becomes an individual decision. As is the question of striking for nurses and other health workers, care workers etc in a similar situation. The only real answer to this question is collective discussion and confidence in the solidarity of the rest of the class,

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Dec 20 2009 22:55

Ernie, regarding the decision to strike for 12 days at Christmas, I thought that actually seemed very poetic and hilarious!

ernie
Offline
Joined: 19-04-06
Dec 21 2009 10:17

Very good!