The BA cabin crew dispute: The view from the shop floor

It is easy to forget that the British Airways cabin crew dispute is about real people's lives; here, Left Foot Forward presents the testimony of a BA employee.

The British Airways dispute is often portrayed as a battle of wills between management and union bosses, glossing over the fact that people’s livelihoods and lives are at stake. On the day that union members meet for the first time this year, ahead of the next strike ballot which closes on 21 January, we hear from a longtime BA employee on the effect on their life; they have asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals

Cabin crew are a disparate workforce varying enormously in terms of age, race, class and nationality. We don’t know each other. We meet each other for the first time at the pre-flight briefing and after the trip, largely never see each other again. For many of us, attending a union meeting is the first political action we have ever taken. And British Airways cannot understand why 91% of the workforce is unionised, why at every ballot, between 81% and 92% vote to strike and how the union managed to realise that unprecedented degree of solidarity.

There is one simple answer:  A company gets the union it deserves.


So for a management fixated on its own cabin crew being the overpaid, under worked, indolent, thieving entity that stands between it and an even greater increase to their personal bonuses and share options, there is also one simple answer: destroy the union.

In pursuit of this quest, British Airways has engaged thoroughly in every principle of union busting, including the creation of a climate of fear among the workforce in an attempt to undermine confidence in the union’s power and its ability to protect and to chip away at the workers’ resolve.

BA created a secret intelligence unit with the specific remit of gathering evidence against striking cabin crew and have actively encouraged staff to inform. They conduct covert surveillance and having dispensed with normal policies and procedures, threaten, suspend and dismiss crew in unprecedented numbers with apparent impunity.

I was one of the suspended cabin crew but am now sacked. I am a single parent, have a good degree and have worked for them for more than ten years. I earned about £27,000 per year. I love my job and always have.

Some of the very best days of my life have been spent on trips with crew who though a bunch of strangers are among the warmest, most dynamic, creative and caring people I have ever known. I may not have always been there for the school play and have had to juggle madly like all working parents with the added difficulty of being away for days on end and doing it all through a haze of chronic jetlag. But my working for the airline has afforded me and my family some incredible experiences.

I have always enjoyed the actual work; the meeting the passengers and making a difference to them, however small. I care about them. I respect them. And it is because of this that I believe in my union’s aims and actions.

Being sacked from BA means not just the loss of my livelihood but also my entire way of life. I don’t know who I am if I am not BA cabin crew. And being sacked is one thing, but being sacked on trumped up charges heard by a kangaroo court as a pawn in a political game is quite another.

It’s actually not, not yet anyway, the how am I going to pay my mortgage that keeps me awake at night. It’s the lies and the injustice and the powerlessness. It’s the moral outrage that I play through my brain on a continuous loop all day and night as though if I run it once more the outcome might be different.

In taking on BA, we cabin crew take on the British anti-union labour laws and the courts, we take on union busters and one of the biggest legal firms in the world, Baker McKenzie. In continuing the fight we expose ourselves to the unbridled vitriol of a largely right-wing press. Our own management will undoubtedly continue removing benefits, making threats and stepping up their campaign of dismissing those who do not yield to their brave new world order.

Prior to this dispute, BA cabin crew may not have been political animals. We are now.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.