Socialist Alternative

British Airways: Job losses show need for co-ordinated strike action

The Coronavirus has spelt disaster for the airline industry like nothing ever seen in our lifetime. With flights grounded, hospitality workers furloughed and no cure in sight, capitalism offers no way out of the crisis. Instead, it is the working class who are increasingly expected to take the hit while those at the top continue to increase their wealth. The Tories’ disastrous handling of the pandemic, with mixed signals and conflicting messages has only exacerbated the situation for millions of workers within the hospitality and travel sectors. The lockdown led to a virtual standstill in global aviation travel. And now the bosses are seeking to claw back those losses.

Already a pattern is beginning to emerge as businesses come out of lockdown and the wider economy slowly begins to function again. A growing number of firms are using the cover of Covid-19 to attack any hard-earned gains won over the years by trade unions, and using the pandemic as an excuse to push prices up. The case of British Airways (BA) is a chilling example of such brutal attacks. The airline announced it was looking to shed a quarter of its workforce with around 12,000 jobs to be axed. Shamefully, BA plans on firing and rehiring long standing employees on inferior contracts.  The result of this will be cuts to staff pay by up to 40%, along with an inferior terms and conditions deal.

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite has rightly condemned the move and warned that strike action may take place to defend jobs and conditions. BA has made it clear that the cuts and new contracts would help it compete with low-cost airlines. This would basically amount to a race to the bottom, with workers and customers suffering the consequences while bosses line their own pockets. Long standing crewmembers would have their basic pay frozen permanently and eroded by inflation in the new single fleet proposals, which represent a blatant attack on workers’ gains won in past struggles at BA.

The ‘fire and rehire’ policy comes at a time when BA happily received a £300m bailout by the Bank of England and is clearly using the pandemic to attack working conditions and pay for the very workers who have built the airline over the years. Bosses at BA appear to have been emboldened by it’s proposed deal with pilots for temporary pay cuts and unpaid leave.

Union hating chief executive Willie Walsh gave a clear indication of where he stood by saying: “We are living in a new world environment and the future is going to be very different to the past. The sooner we all embrace that reality, the better for everyone.” The actual reality is that capitalism will always try and make workers pay for their crisis. Those at the top just hope workers will meekly accept worse conditions in order to restore wealth for the ruling class. We’ve seen EasyJet using sickness records as it plans to shed over 700 jobs and there are reports that Icelandair has sacked all their flight attendants and replaced them with pilots.

An unprecedented wave of attacks is being unleashed on workers, the likes of which far outweigh anything we have seen in our lifetime, reflecting the sinking of the economy into a new Great Depression. We urgently need united coordinated action by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in a response to attacks from the likes of BA and EasyJet. We welcome calls by Unite the Union to ballot for strike action in defence of jobs and conditions at BA.

BA appears confident that it can steamroll over Unite members and has simply ignored Unite’s publicity and leverage campaign to date. As the dismissal and re-engagement of workers is due to take effect imminently, it is urgent that Unite acts swiftly to mobilise members from the ground up. The first step is for the union to hold mass meetings of members to discuss how the employer can be resisted. A strategy of action from the Unite leadership worked out in conjunction with the stewards and members will need to address how to rapidly escalate the struggle if, as is likely, BA remains intransigent. Within Unite more widely, a discussion is needed about how the battle can be broadened to other airlines and other airports, at many of which workers are facing the same issues with the crisis in the budget airline industry. A lesson from previous disputes with BA is that it must go wider than one section of workers in order to win.

While Unite is preparing to elect a new General Secretary, candidates for the position should outline their views on how huge employers like BA can be tackled and defeated, as part of the debate about the direction for Unite.

The response by the Labour Party under Keir Starmer has been pitiful and weak. We cannot stand by, dithering while thousands of jobs are thrown on the scrap heap. We need action now. BA should be renationalised, and the whole airline and airport sector taken into public ownership under workers’ control. This would allow us to defend jobs and take steps towards a more environmentally sustainable public transport system, which can drawing on the skills of transport and manufacturing workers in general. Join Socialist Alternative and be part of the fightback!

Coventry BLM protest blocks roads

All the propaganda of the media and government trying to deter the Black Lives Matter protests from taking place didn’t stop thousands of people marching in Coventry on two #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations last week in the wake of the brutal police murder of George Floyd. Not even the dismal weather on Sunday could dampen the energy that had gathered. Socialist Alternative members were out in force showing solidarity. Around 500 people came out on Tuesday and marched through the city centre, stopping outside the police station to demand justice for victims of police brutality in the UK, including Darren Cumberbatch from Coventry. Socialist Alternative member and Coventry City UNISON Assistant Branch Secretary spoke at the protest, bringing solidarity greetings and reading out part of a statement passed by his UNISON branch. This highlighted the role played by transit workers in Minneapolis, including members of Socialist Alternative, who refused to transport arrested protesters for the police. This kind of concrete action from workers is essential to building a movement against racism. Over 1000 people then joined a second demonstration on Sunday. Many in the crowd had never been on a demonstration before and the City Centre was filled with homemade banners. Parents brought their children along, standing shoulder to shoulder with people of all races and all ages – united in their struggle to stamp out racism. Protesters marched on the city’s ring road, stopping traffic, then through Earlsdon and back into the city centre. A further group of protesters went further and marched onto the M6 demonstrating the level of anger and energy. Over 1000 also protested in Rugby and 500 in Leamington Spa, showing the huge anger being felt by ordinary people on this issue. Our stall was busy as protesters signed up for more information, bought newspapers and badges. Leaflets advertising our online public meeting, ‘Windrush, Grenfell, Covid-19 the Tories are not innocent!’ were snapped up willingly. Young people were very open to discussions around socialism and older members of the public remembered racism, decades earlier in Coventry. One of the striking features on this protest was the amount of young people that had turned out. Voices of young black women, angry and unafraid, were being heard for the first time by many. This was also reflected on the long march as slogans boomed around the city. But it wasn’t just about #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd – other names were remembered too. Chants also rang out for black London Underground worker Belly Mujinga, whose bosses forced her into work when she had an existing health condition – a passenger claiming to have coronavirus disgustingly spat in her face, and she subsequently died of Covid-19. Anger over the death of 32 year old Coventry man, Darren Cumberbatch in police custody with 50 injuries was also heard. Chants of “the UK is not innocent” reflected the obvious reality that racism is not just a US problem, black people in the UK face police violence as well – and the Windrush scandal and the Grenfell fire prove that, to this Tory government, black lives don’t matter. This anger at the Tories was expressed succinctly in spontaneous chants of “f*ck Boris Johnson!” 30 people came to a Socialist Alternative meeting during the week and heard Maddy, a member of our sister organisation in Minneapolis, give a report from the front line of the protests. After the meeting Maddy and other workers led successful walkouts at workplaces across the US, with workers stopping work for 9 minutes – to mark the 9 minutes the police knelt on George Floyd’s neck. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has highlighted the anger felt by many, and must lead to the wider struggle to change society by ending the system which oppresses us all – capitalism!

Covid-19: postal workers on the frontline

Postal workers have always been on the frontline as a public service. Now more than ever we need a publicly run postal service, and a nationalised Royal Mail. The public appreciation for key workers has been demonstrated in many ways, including customers putting our union poster in their windows, yet shamefully bosses are lining up ready for fresh attacks once the coronavirus has subsided.

Hollow “thanks” from the employer were soon replaced with phrases like “the day after coronavirus” – management buzzwords for attacks on workers and a warning that the capitalist elite intend to make the working class pay for this crisis.

Workers’ Memorial Day was very pertinent this year, especially given the number of people that had sadly lost their lives during the spread of covid-19, including a number of postal colleagues.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) have fought hard to ensure the employer provides PPE and safe distancing for all, supporting every office that has walked out over safety concerns.

On the one hand Royal Mail have said, “our people are our top priority”, yet on the other hand they have refused to give sick pay for those self- isolating that had already used up sick pay allowances due to long-term absence, for major illnesses like cancer. This is an issue the CWU are rightly campaigning to change. Why should any worker be forced into a dangerous situation or face financial hardship because bosses put profit before safety?

Throughout the country posties have been saying it has been busier than Christmas, as the nation in lockdown has resulted in bumper online orders and parcel deliveries. The union have asked for a one-year pay deal (without strings attached) to show appreciation for the tremendous hard work shown. Instead, the employer not only refuses to meaningfully engage with workers through the union – they have failed to offer anything, while at the same time maintaining their own inflated salaries!

The 6% three-year pay deal, previously bandied about by the company has suddenly disappeared. Our dispute is on hold during the covid-19 crisis but there are further attacks planned on terms and conditions.

Unagreed workplace changes (known as Executive Action) are set to increase again. Postal workers are rightly concerned about the attitude taken by some managers. For example, police were called in by a manager at South Midlands Mail Centre in Northampton over a disagreement. A ‘riot van’ turned up!

The CWU continue to face opposition from directors who seek to drive this great postal service to the ground and the union continues to speak out and campaign for justice and dignity, never ashamed to “call out” bad working practices.

Over the next period there will be a relentless assault by the capitalists towards the working class, as they seek to claw back their profits and the bailouts at our expense. We must not be made to pay for a crisis we did not create!

The lesson for us all is to unionise, help establish fighting militant workplaces and build the consciousness within the working class through Socialist Alternative. As Karl Marx said, “workers at the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains!”