VOICE EXTRA: Corporate thuggery at British Airways

✭ the capitalists' new normal

COME STRIKE WITH ME: Unite the Union are threatening industrial action against the greed-driven assault by British Airways

by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser

· British Airways bosses have given us a toxic taste of the jobs slaughter and wage-slashing that millions of workers face as capitalists and their hired politicians return to what they call ‘a new normal’ after lockdown.

In an act of corporate thuggery, BA is firing all its 42,000 staff, making 12,000 redundant and then rehiring the remaining 30,000 on savagely reduced wages and conditions.

Cabin crew members with decades of loyal service face pay cuts of £20-30,000, if they’re lucky enough to be kept on.

As one of them, Michelle, told the Voice back in June: “If I was selected to stay, I’d be on the same pay scale as a 19-year-old just starting, even though I’ve worked for BA for 23 years. My last P60 was £49,000 before tax; under the new contract it would be £24,000.

A friend of mine who is a supervisor has worked there for 35 years. He would see his pay collapse from £60,000 to £24,000.

The new model takes away all allowances, such as meal allowances for trips to the likes of Japan, Singapore or Hong Kong, where breakfast costs you £50. Cabin crew would be sitting in their hotel room with a pot noodle.

I could understand it if BA were on the brink of liquidation, but they’re not. Last year each crew member generated £45,000 profit for them.”

Merging fleets – slashing wages and conditions
For at least a decade Willie Walsh and his bully boy BA boardroom have been hell-bent on abolishing the two distinct fleets – long-haul and short-haul – in order to merge them into one and thereby get rid of the better-paid staff in the long-haul crews.

Now, under cover of the pandemic, these corporate thugs are implementing a race to the bottom which industrial action prevented for the past decade.

Last week 6,000 cabin crew members volunteered for redundancy. But this is a very strange version of the word ‘volunteer’.

Carol has worked with BA for 23 years: “Even before I accepted the voluntary redundancy offer, I had a message on my roster from BA. ‘Thank you for your service. Good luck’.

“That is all I got from them after 23 years. It was a foregone conclusion that they won’t rehire older cabin crew members. And if you don’t take this offer you go into the fire-and-rehire phase, but if you aren’t rehired you only get statutory redundancy.”

BA forced loyal, long-serving staff to sign away their legal rights to challenge being selected for redundancy, or else face loss of staff travel – long regarded as an established right for those leaving BA.

Carol will be forced to sell her home as the redundancy money won’t cover her mortgage.

Erika said: “These are permanent pay cuts to what is a temporary problem. But this is the restructure BA has wanted for a long time”

Vicky has 15 years’ service: “I’m looking at losing 50 per cent of my take-home pay. I’m a single mother. I can’t afford to have half my pay taken away from me.”

And it’s not only cabin crew who are being hammered. John is an engineer on the maintenance of long-haul aircraft. He’s worried sick at the prospect of being made redundant.

“Let’s be realistic, no one is going to take on someone in their 50s and train them up when they can get a 20-something instead. I’ve been walking around checking an aircraft prior to departure but I can’t remember what I’ve been looking at, so I have to do it again.

“How can you be expected to work like that? This process is being driven by accountants who can’t see further than their noses.”

Driven out by naked company greed
BA bosses rely on the general public imagining that this is an unavoidable cost-cutting exercise by a company facing financial disaster because of the Coronavirus obliterating travel.

Not so! As Unite the union’s Howard Beckett put it, “Workers are being forced out by naked company greed.”

BA itself made £1.92billion profit last year alone and have £2.6billion in cash reserves and deposits.

BA’s parent company IAG is an even more gigantic industrial entity, which could afford to keep the entire workforce on for more than a year, on full pay, without even a penny in government subsidy.

IAG made £2.6billion profit in 2019 and bestrides assets of £10.7billion. They clearly have the cash and the confidence in their own commercial future as they pursue purchase of another airline, Air Europa, for €1billion.

Top dog Willie Walsh isn’t facing loss of his home, or removal of meal allowances, or a 50 per cent pay cut!

He was awarded £3.2million last year and pocketed £33million in salary, bonuses and pension payments in the years 2011-2019.

Subsidised sharks slash jobs
Typical of the bailouts for big business during the Coronavirus, the British government give BA £300million through the Corporation Finance Facility.

Walsh also grabbed the earliest opportunity to put nearly 23,000 BA staff on furlough, with the false claim it was “to protect jobs and ensure BA comes out the other side of this crisis in the best possible shape.”

The ‘New Normal’ which big business bosses and their hired politicians keep trotting out, ad nauseum, involves the slaughter of jobs, decimation of workers’ wages and conditions, and a good dose of Union busting and victimisation for those who dare defy their race to the bottom.

BA is not alone in this butchery, as businesses prepare mass redundancies as the life support machine of taxpayers’ subsidies is switched off at the end of the government’s Job Retention Scheme in October.

A new survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development this week reported one in every three companies plans redundancies the end of September.

This is on top of 140,000 job losses notified to the government by big companies in June alone. And it’s on top of drastic attacks on pay, already implemented, as revealed in the same CIPD survey.

For instance, 18 per cent of companies had issued pay cuts; 26 per cent have cut bonuses; and 33 per cent of firms surveyed have frozen or delayed pay rises.

The Bank of England are the optimists when it comes to forecasted unemployment figures, predicting 2.5 million by Christmas. Others expect 4 million on the scrapheap by then, including one in three young workers.

What to do against jobs and wages tsunami?
Faced with this tsunami of job losses and pay cuts the critical question is what the organised trade union movement does about it.

UNITE the Union are rightly threatening industrial action against the greed-driven assault by British Airways. They rightly condemn the privileged slots allocated to BA at Britain’s airports.

But bigger and broader solutions need to be advocated by the trade union movement.

Instead of propping up profit through state handouts to private profiteers, as we witnessed during the pandemic, surely the time is rotten ripe to demand democratic public ownership of aviation – as part of a wider struggle for an integrated, eco-friendly, public transport system?

Workers in all sectors of transport and aviation – through their elected unions – should be at the heart of drafting alternative plans which protect and expand jobs, but also carry out urgent measures to reverse the environmental disaster facing humanity, whether at home or abroad. Of course, some air travel is unavoidable, particularly long-distance flights.

But a modernised, electrified railway network could replace some of the more environmentally damaging shorter flights – whilst protecting the jobs of workers in aviation, if necessary by redeployment – with the agreement of their unions and no loss of pay or conditions.

This would be especially possible through massive state investment in an integrated network of public transport that is fare-free to use, thereby increasing people’s travel, boosting sectors like tourism, and ending the pitiful social isolation suffered by many on the lowest wages and incomes.

A Green Socialist Recovery Plan
We need a Socialist Recovery Plan, not more of the same old abnormal capitalist practices of maximising private profit by slashing wages and chucking thousands onto the scrapheap of unemployment.

The capitalist class and their ‘business-friendly’ governments also understand the basic concept described by socialists as far back as Karl Marx over 150 years ago: the reserve army of labour – permanently created by production for private profit – conveniently provides the exploiters with a weapon to drive down the wages of those who remain in work.

The corporate thuggery of companies like British Airways – and similar attacks currently being pursued by Centrica bosses – throws up the stark choices confronting working class people and their organisations.

We either confront these attacks with collective industrial action and alternative plans of production based on the needs, skills and experiences of workers themselves, or face the worst devastation since the 1930s.

A Socialist Recovery Plan needs to be based fundamentally on democratic public ownership of key sectors like transport, construction, energy and banking.

So as to create at least 150,000 new green jobs in Scotland alone, through building and retrofitting houses; producing clean green energy; and construction of a 21st century public transport network that helps tackle pollution and poverty head-on.

The vast areas of work which needs to be done to improve society should be shared out through measures like a 4-day week for 5-days’ pay, and a 6-hour day on 8-hours’ pay.

The naked greed of British Airways symbolises all that is rotten about the old abnormal capitalist ways of running society before the Coronavirus crisis, which indeed globally helped create the killer pandemic in the first place.

It is the task of socialists and trade unionists to challenge that abnormal, inhumane system of operating with a radically different vision; a totally different normal.

A future in which the economy is owned and run by society for society; for the benefits of people and the planet we live on, not the short-term profits of the greedy few, who would like to seize the Coronavirus crisis as an opportunity to intensify exploitation and turbocharge their profit margins.

Taking BA and the whole of aviation into democratic public ownership would be an important component of the future we urgently need to fight for.

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