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Solidarity with BA workers – their fight affects us all

RICHARD BURGON MP argues that we need to fight to stop BA’s attacks on workers’ pay and conditions becoming a blueprint for the whole economy

AN economic crisis is on its way that will not only be far greater than the global banking crisis of 2008 but one that many experts fear could be comparable with the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In that context, in the best traditions of the shock doctrine of disaster capitalism, there will be some in the economic and political establishment who see an opportunity to reshape and rebalance things even further in their favour.

In the world of work this will mean attacks on jobs, pay and terms and conditions, hitting working-class living standards hard.

The situation at British Airways is a case in point and the trade-union and labour movement need to ensure this doesn’t become a blueprint for the post-coronavirus economy. Thankfully, there is an inspiring fightback by BA workers and their union, Unite.

BA has been taking taxpayers’ money as part of the government’s furlough scheme — a scheme intended to help companies protect their employees from redundancy. But BA plans to fire all its 42,000 staff and re-hire those that survive on inferior terms and conditions of employment.

The Parliamentary cross-party Transport Select Committee called these plans “a national disgrace.” This has quite rightly been described as a betrayal of so many workers who have created BA’s wealth and made it a success. It’s no wonder that a recent survey showed that 99 per cent of British Airways’ employees say they have no confidence in the airline’s CEO.

BA bosses claim that without this attack on staff, the company will go bust. This doesn’t add up. No other airline is attacking its staff in this way. BA was making huge profits at the end of 2019 — more than £1bn after-tax – and had cash reserves of £2.6bn.

In addition to the furlough scheme, the airline’s parent company received £300 million from the Corporate Financing Facility set up to assist large corporations. Unite the Union has shown that staffing makes up less than a quarter of BA’s costs, with fuel being its most expensive outgoing.

The BA Betrayal campaign has been gaining widespread public support and Unite is fighting for its members. A sign of the momentum of the campaign is that the consultation period has been extended. BA workers are lobbying their MPs and there is gathering support for the call on the government to take action to stop the BA betrayal.

Campaigners are calling on the Prime Minister to act if BA continues to attack its own workforce by amending BA’s access to a large number of lucrative UK landing slots.

I’m proud to back the BA workers, Unite the Union and the BA Betrayal campaign. I have written to the Prime Minister urging him to take action to prevent the BA betrayal. The government should right now be working with trade unions to develop an aviation strategy that protects jobs, workers’ rights and the environment. Whatever action they decide to take to defend their jobs, pay, terms and conditions, BA workers will have my full support.

In many ways, this betrayal by BA bosses represents an opening salvo in an onslaught on working-class living standards which will become more and more widespread in the huge economic crisis that’s to come.

Our Labour Party needs to be part of the fight back. We need to support trade unions and workers in struggle and push for state intervention, not in the interests of corporate interests and profits, but in the interests of the working class in all its diversity.

The frightening truth is that the BA betrayal represents a blueprint for much of the economic and political establishment in the period ahead. We can — and must — defeat their class-war project with action outside and inside Parliament.

Alongside our fighting trade-union movement, as a Labour Party we need to be campaigning in Parliament and in our communities for the radical policies that are more necessary than ever if we are to find solutions to the problems that working people will face in the economic crisis to come.

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