BA strike: Workers' solidarity versus the bosses' law

BA strike: Workers' solidarity versus the bosses' law

Leaflet about the banned and then un-banned strike by British Airways cabin crew in 2010 by the International Communist Current.

Workers’ solidarity
versus the bosses’ law

So, finally, the BA strike is on.

To judge from the media, you’d think the whole issue was something that goes on in the courts and in the top level negotiations between BA and union bosses.

First the courts issued an injunction against the strike– the latest in a series which have blocked even the most carefully organised official strikes, the most recent being the RMT strike a few weeks ago. Then the Court of Appeal overturned the injunction.

Is this because the courts can really be on the side of the workers? No. Most likely it’s because parts of the ruling class have realised that if you legally abolish even the appearance of a ‘right to strike’, workers will have no alternative but to take matters into their own hands. The example of the unofficial oil refinery strikes, which spread so rapidly across the country, is very fresh in their memory.

The truth is, however, that the ruling class have already made all effective strike action illegal. The law on ballots – aimed at preventing workers from taking decisions in mass meetings where they feel strongest and can launch struggles on the spot. The law on secondary action – aimed at preventing workers from going directly to workers from other categories and companies and asking them to join their fight. These laws are often described as ‘Thatcher’s anti-union laws’. In reality, Thatcher only carried on where the previous Labour government had left off; and the laws are really designed to increase the unions’ grip over the workers, by outlawing all spontaneous, wildcat actions.

So now the BA workers are on strike. And there’s no doubt that there is a strong will and determination on their part. Coming out on strike and losing pay at a time when many are struggling with rising living costs is not an easy decision to make. And the media, with their incessant campaigns about all the ‘inconvenience’ caused by the strikes, are doing their best to make workers feel guilty and isolated. The problem is that the strike is taking place inside the cramped confines of the law and the union rule book, which are tailor-made to isolate workers even more.

The BA workers are not alone Over the last decade and, especially since the September 11th attacks in New York, there has been a crisis in the airline industry. This has lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, for example a report in the eTurbo News website (posted 24th February) states “As the U.S. airline industry lost tens of billions of dollars over the past 10 years, it also lost a tremendous number of employees. Nearly one in every four U.S. airline jobs disappeared in the 10 years that ended Dec. 31, and the largest airlines were among the hardest hit, according to new data.” As it says, the largest airlines have been the hardest hit leading to huge job losses, ‘voluntary’ redundancies, agreements for the suspension of pay, changing shift patterns and attacks on travel ‘perks’ for airline employees. And this was before the current debt crisis hit the world. We are now seeing the bankruptcy not just of the big financial institutions but of entire nation states: Greece is in the front line but the whole Eurozone is under threat, as is Britain itself.

None of the election parties made any secret of the fact that they were preparing to make huge cuts to deal with Britain’s debt. The new government has already set the ball rolling. The public sector will be hardest hit, but no workers’ job is safe today.

So BA cabin crew are in the same situation as the entire working class. But the present strike is being limited even within BA – to the cabin crew, as if the thousands of other BA employees from pilots to baggage handlers and catering and cleaning staff – haven’t also got their grievances against the company. And as if hundreds of thousands of other workers employed by other airlines aren’t facing the same attacks on their conditions.

There’s a crying need for solidarity, for workers raising common demands and fighting together. But experience has shown that they can only get this solidarity if they act on their own behalf. The best example in the airline industry was supplied by the baggage handlers in 2005, when they walked out in solidarity with Gate Gourmet workers who were being trampled on by management. No ballots, no separation between workers with different jobs or bosses. This kind of solidarity is what workers need now, and it will mean ‘illegally’ making decisions in mass meetings, ‘illegally’ sending pickets and delegations to workers in other categories and asking them to join the struggle. The law is there to protect the bosses and their state. Workers’ solidarity can only develop if we develop our own power against them.

WR 25.5.10

We will be putting this online as a PDF. At present we have limited opportunities to get this out to BA workers, but people are welcome to use it if they do have the chance to discuss with pickets. etc. In any case it is fairly general.

Posted By

Alf
May 26 2010 14:12

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Alf
May 26 2010 17:43

Any comments?
Would anyone be willing to help give out copies?

No doubt it will date fast. Perhaps for the next leaflet there can be a more collective kind of drafting, but it would be good to get this one out before the end of this week, even if on a very limited scale.

Cassady
May 26 2010 18:08

A quibble - yes no doubt sections of the ruling class realise the danger of appearing to abolish even the appearance of the right to strike, but the judiciary? Not the most class aware section of the ruling class. But a good leaflet nonetheless. Not much opportunity here in Aberdeen but we'll see what we can do.

A more collective kind of drafting would be a valuable way of demonstrating our common purpose. The constraint of time is against it of course - but where possible there should be a collective effort. Perhaps we are approaching a time when this should be possible. Certainly, all left-communist organisations should already be attempting this.

Beltov
May 26 2010 18:24

Our leaflet is now online as a PDF:
http://en.internationalism.org/files/en/BA%20leaflet.pdf

Alf
May 26 2010 19:22

Even when it's not possible to reach workers out on strike, a leaflet can generate discussions about the strike among other workers. I will give out a few at work over the next couple of days.

Alf
May 26 2010 19:28

Cassady:
The judges are not alone!

But we certainly welcome your offer to distribute the leaflet if possible.

Regarding collective leaflets, I'm thinking more of the possibility of them being produced by something like the Manchester Class Struggle Forum, where left communists and internationalist anarchists can work together. I think this would also provide a better framework for the different left communists to collaborate.

Sheldon
May 27 2010 01:45
Alf wrote:
Is this because the courts can really be on the side of the workers?
No. Most likely it’s because parts of the ruling class have realised
that if you legally abolish even the appearance of a ‘right to strike’,
workers will have no alternative but to take matters into their own
hands. The example of the unofficial oil refinery strikes, which spread
so rapidly across the country, is very fresh in their memory.

I've always thought this sort of posturing on the part of the bourgeoisie has been about giving the workers enough "flexibility" (although carefully under the guise of the union apparatus) to blow off steam without seriously threatening the capitalist edifice. This tactic also has the ability to reinforce the myth that some parts of the ruling class have workers interests in mind.

Very good leaflet and I hope it gets circulated widely.

Steven.
May 27 2010 17:37

very good leaflet, nice one for getting it done

Alf
May 27 2010 21:13

Thanks for the positive comments. The main problem has been in distribution; although perhaps more can be done during the next round of strikes (which would require an update). However, we are now going to be putting out a more general international leaflet about the attacks and workers' response across Europe, which I will put up on libcom as soon as it's in English.