Statement by Jerry Hicks on the BA strike:
20th December 2009
From ‘Fanfare to Fiasco’. What a deBAcle!
The vote by British Airways cabin crew to defend their hard won terms and conditions was fantastic. More than 80% of members took part in the ballot and a staggering 92% supported taking strike action, proving how members feel both vulnerable and angry. It also proves how well organised the union members and their branch are.
It is worth taking this into context when comparing it with political parties who bemoan ‘indifference’ and brand their electorate as ‘apathetic’ when council elections barely inspire a 30% turnout. Even General Elections fail to capture the imagination of people, with average polls of 60%.
Given such a winning hand, what could possibly go wrong? It started with a flurry of national officials ‘popping up’. At least one blatantly electioneering on the backs of the members, was the first visible sign of the impending unedifying debacle, followed by the spectacle of the Joint General Secretary initially, whatever his intentions, undermining the dispute. Then we see him crying crocodile tears and feigning anger outside the High Court. I and millions of trade unionists know that our main opponents are the government and the employers, but our dismay and frustration extends to those in the union leadership who have allowed it to happen.
Thatcher’s and Tebbit’s anti-union laws drawn up with all the intent and malice to thwart trade unions and its members are now Tony’s [Blair] and Gordon’s [Brown] anti-union laws. The paradox is that it is our union Unite that helps funds the Labour Party with £10s of millions since 1997.
After more than twelve years of Labour government, it’s a scandal that employers like British Airways are able to use anti-union laws. But it should come as no surprise that they do, or that the courts rule against us. Repeal of these laws simply has not been a priority for the TUC or our union. If it had been, Unite would not have been dragged into the High Court, and how much stronger would we all be now and especially the BA cabin staff.
Sadly, in fact all too often, our union has hidden behind those same laws when repudiating workers who, when at their wits end, are brave enough to take on employers by breaking the unjust laws, as with Lindsey oil refinery in Humberside which was coupled with solidarity walk-outs; or the Visteon workers occupying their factories to win back their pensions when sacked with only 15 minutes notice. Instead of supporting those struggles and confronting the anti-union legislation our union chose to comply with the laws. Those disputes were successful, despite the union leadership.
All three main political parties are now lining up to wield the axe as they try to make us pay for the banking bosses mistakes. Employers, one after another are sticking the boot in.
Which means that over the coming weeks, months and years – disputes and strikes are inevitable.
Members have proven over and over again their worth. The question is, will the union’s leadership be the solution or part of the problem?
Next year there will be two elections that will be defining moments. One is the General Election and I hope the Tories don’t win it. The other will be for the election for General Secretary of Unite, the country’s biggest trade union with the potential to be the most powerful union.
It is almost certain all but one of the candidates will come from the current leadership, who bear a collective responsibility for where we are now and how we got here. More of the same will not reinvigorate our union. As someone who is not an official of the union I will offer a real choice and the chance of something very different.
Notes to editor: Jerry Hicks’ legal challenge forced the election for General Secretary in the UK’s biggest union Unite Amicus this year in which he finished runner up. He is thought of as being a possible winner in next year’s election for General Secretary of the whole of Unite.
To visit Jery’s website click here