The BA three day strike has kicked off with politicians scrambling to condemn it pre-election. Brown has called it, “unjustified and deplorable”, Cameron said the prime Minister’s efforts were “feeble” and Nick Clegg carped that Labour was “bankrolled” by the strikers, the Unite Union. To be fair, Norman Baker, Lib Dem Shadow Transport Minister did call on both sides to "sort this mess out".
BA has been boasting that it has made a “good start” with 1,000 cabin crew and 22 planes were available to fly with volunteer staff. It said that 65% of BA travellers could still fly. The omens are not good when both sides take strident views. However in this case Unite has offered to negotiate but BA have taken off the table an offer from last week. The sabre rattling in the war of words between the two sides will only prolong the suffering of passengers. They have to come to some sort of deal in the end.
The Unite Union has set out it’s stall why strike has been required. It’s website says:-
Described by Tony Woodley, Unite joint general secretary as setting Unite 'mission impossible', the main difficulties were:
· BA's insistence that crew sign up to a four year pay deal which will, at best, freeze real pay until 2014 - but most likely will see a real pay cut year on year by BA. Crew had offered to cut pay for one year and give the company a three year deal, but that has been dismissed by BA as the airline looks to make a wider attack on wages.
· The company's failure to commit to extending the validity of the industrial action ballot to allow for members to be balloted on any offer from BA. This failure could have led, in the event of a rejection of BA's proposals by cabin crew, to a third strike ballot in five months - and continued instability for the airline, its customers and the wider BA workforce.
· BA's failure to address Unite's concerns about the impact on existing crew as the airline pushes forward with its new fleet plans, in particular how routes will be distributed between existing and new crew in the future.
The effects will mean that there will be thousands of travellers (voters) who will be infuriated by disrupted holidays, business trips and essential travelling ( for instance seeing sick loved ones).
There is even an updated Blog dedicated to the strike; www.bastrike.com.
There are few votes to be won by anyone in this but Brown may be especially damaged just enough to nudge the election outcome away from him, unless there is a speedy resolution. When will ACAS be called upon by both sides to try and mediate?
If Lord Mandelson and/or the Prime Minister roll up their sleeves and can be seen sorting out the BA mess, then Labour may actually gain support. However, if the strike drags on into a second round of four more strike days, starting on 27th March, voters may take a long look at what is happening. They may see a worrying trend (together with other strikes such as on the railways) and fear regular industrial unrest in 2010 and 2011 as the post election budget cuts bite deep.
The question is then, who is best placed to minimise the effects of strikes?
Some Conservative voters will want a Maggie-like leadership of ‘up and at ‘em’ with ‘no surrender’ written all over the newspapers. Cameron will be naturally drawn to this type of belligerent stance. But drawn out public sector strikes will be incredibly damaging on some of the most vulnerable in society if it spreads into universities and colleges and medical services, over the next two years.
It is time that a ‘New Deal’ for industrial relations is drawn up. Only the Labour Party has the clout with the unions to influence them and potentially secure a medium term deal that cuts across many industrial sectors. Without strong but fair leadership recognising the effects and fears of hard working people in the public sector, there will brutal and damaging strike consequences not just to travellers but students, patients and ordinary families.