BA workers must fight to ensure the next series of strikes, due to start on Tuesday, are not called off. Once again BA has gone to the courts to get an injunction to stop the strikes.
The increasing frequency of employers using the courts to call off strikes is significant. It is another way to hurt the union movement’s ability to resist job cuts and attacks on pay and conditions.
On the whim of one high court judge the democratic decision of hundreds of union members can be reversed. The injunction is the bosses' new favourite weapon. They use it because it helps them - it buys management time, it drags the dispute out and takes the momentum away from the strike.
The reasons the injunctions must be resisted are the same reasons why the strike must not be called off due to the volcanic the ash cloud. Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, has said ‘you would have to be stupid to want to ground planes that are going nowhere anyway’.
But there is a point - it shows BA there is nothing that will call the strike off, and it means that the few flights BA would be able to put on will have to be called off. Unlike other airlines, BA would not be able to inform passengers when the next flights would be back on. This means the ash cloud would hit them doubly hard.
The excuse for taking the union before the courts is BA’s questioning of whether an online ballot could have been rigged. The politicians, who regretfully shook their heads helplessly only a week before at scenes of hundreds of people being denied access to polling stations in the general election, have somehow not managed to be so swift at dragging the cost-cutting councils before the courts as BA has been with its workers.
And that’s because this is a political and economic attack on the BA workers. The Tories spent the last strike gleefully conjuring up a 1970s myth of a Labour government too weak to ‘take on’ the unions. Now they will be desperate to prove they are different.
The Tory-Liberal government does not want the BA strike to turn into an example for other workers, wanting to resist the onslaught of cuts they have in store. The government, the courts and BA all need this strike to lose, which is why the only way to win is to fight back hard.
While the strikes are limited to a few dates, BA can calculate the losses and organise scab labour. If the workers argue for an all-out indefinite strike they put BA under much more pressure to capitulate.
Union activists, and everyone who cares about democracy, need to show the BA workers that the support is there for them to escalate the action. BA workers should be invited to speak at workplace meetings and rallies against the cuts in towns and cities across the country.
On the day of the injunction we will be demonstrating outside the court to expose how undemocratic the bosses injunctions are - and to show that there is a will to resist them.
That way, the BA strike can become a warning to the Tories and Liberals, and an inspirational example for everyone who thinks that the rich and not ordinary working people should pay for the crisis.
Penny White from the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) will be speaking at the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay event in London on 26th May.
Kate Connelly is a writer and historian. She led school student strikes in the British anti-war movement in 2003, co-ordinated the Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign in 2013 and is a leading member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography, 'Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire' and recently edited and introduced 'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets and Political Change'.
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