After months of fruitless negotiation, four mass meetings, one court injunction, a barrage of attacks from the
press and the political establishment and unrelenting bullying from management the walk out from British Airways cabin crew has arrived.
It is a testament to the resilience of cabin crew that despite this gruelling trek to get to this point the mood was buoyant. In near total darkness cabin crew assembled in Bedfont football club ground at 6AM to begin picketing duty.
There are four picket points in total. One at Hatton Cross tube station, one at the Newman Road roundabout near the fire station, one near Heathrow police station and one on the South West Access roundabout.
Despite media reports to the contrary the strike appears to be solid. On a number of picket lines empty staff buses drive about forlornly with only the occasional lonely manager to keep the bus driver company. Reports from workers inside terminal 5 relayed back to reps on the pickets say only one plane has actually taken off so far. Whether there are actually any passengers or crew on them is an open question. At the last cabin crew strike in the late 90s desperate management resorted to sending up empty planes as a PR stunt. In scenes reminiscent of airplane graveyards in Arizona, from the Hatton Cross picket, we can see rows and rows of BA airplanes sitting on the tarmac.
From the pickets an endless stream of cars, busses and trucks honk their horns in support of the strike prompting excited cheers from cabin crew in return. The local trade union movement has also been doing their bit to get behind the strikes. At the picket line near the fire station, ambulance workers came across to give pickets cups of tea and coffee.
The pickets themselves are lively and the response of strikers to Socialist Party members visiting to offer their support has been welcoming. Every picket is festooned with bright red Unite and BASSA flags. Strikers are carrying placards stating “We Offered A Pay Cut” to answer media spin that cabin crew are greedy.The only off note in the proceedings was when a police van pulled up to a picket and demanded that the number of pickets be reduced. This is yet another sign of the state interfering to try to stop effective industrial action.
Many pickets we spoke to are in a confident mood. The decision of transport unions around the world to offer solidarity has given union members a massive boost. One rep did comment on the irony that solidarity action can be organised across the globe but, under the anti trade union laws, is illegal in their own country.
All in all it was an excellent start to the day. The scene is now set for the solidarity demonstration at 10:30.