WCA activists will be at Heathrow and Gatwick this weekend supporting the BA cabin crew strike.
For more details see the Facebook event here or the details at the bottom of this bulletin.
WHY CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIVISTS SUPPORT THE BA WORKERS
Workers’ Climate Action bulletin for the British Airways strike, 20-22 March
Some might think that climate change activists would be the last people to support the BA strike. In fact, Workers’ Climate Action (WCA) is working hard to mobilise solidarity for your struggle.
WCA is a network of activists in the labour movement and the environmental movement seeking to create links between the two in order to transform both. We think the root of workers being exploited and the degradation of the environment is one and the same – capitalism’s endless drive for profit, to which all rational human needs, whether workers’ standard of living or everyone’s need for a safe, sustainable environment, are subordinated.
It’s capitalism which has produced both catastrophic climate change and two and half million unemployed people in Britain – a number to which the BA bosses want to add 1,700 ex-BA workers!
You’re right to strike
All the talk about loyalty to BA and saving the company is hypocritical cover for the fact that Walsh gets paid more than any other airline CEO, and yet is demanding you lose your job or take a pay cut.
He is acting like a true member of his class, the capitalist class which over the last two years has tried to make the working class pay for the crisis it created – by saddling us with job losses, wage cuts, cuts in services and repossessions. The only way to stop them is to fight back through industrial action, relying on our strength in the workplace and on the streets. If we show weakness and willingness to compromise – on job losses, pay cuts, a two-tier workforce or anything else – they will sense that weakness and push harder. If we show our strength and fight, we can win. Both common sense and history show that.
At the moment, working-class confidence to struggle is low in Britain – but look back not that far, to the 1970s and 80s, and we have a great history of struggle. And it’s not just history: this crisis has seen inspiring battles such as the workplace occupations to stop job cuts by Visteon car components and Vestas wind turbine workers. Some workers, like the lecturers who took all out strike action at Tower Hamlets College, have stopped the bosses in their tracks. There are major strike ballots on the railways and London Underground.
We know the score with Walsh and co, and as we’ve seen the courts are on the bosses’ side. And if anyone needed any more proof that the New Labour government is a bosses’ government, look at Brown and Adonis’ interventions in this dispute! The bosses are relying on ruthless, intimidatory tactics and their rich, powerful friends; nothing will stop them except strong, determined strike action, brought under the control of rank-and-file BA workers to prevent a deal being done over your heads.
Workers have the power
At the same time, it’s workers that have the power to halt dangerous climate change, protect the environment and create a sustainable society. The workplace and industry are the source of the majority of carbon emissions. Under capitalism workplaces are under the control of a tiny minority of bosses and managers. Generally speaking, we have to work on whatever they want – regardless of its social and environmental consequences.
But when workers get organised we can change this – in the first place by demanding better pay and conditions, and more rights for the working class as a whole, but beyond that, when we’re strong enough, fighting to change the way things are run. When our movement is strong and militant enough we can overthrow this whole system, replacing it by a society of democracy and workers’ control, in which wealth is owned collectively and used for environmental sustainability and social needs, providing comfort, leisure and a decent life for everyone.
Even short of that, however, there are many good examples of workers taking control. In the 1970s, building workers in New South Wales, in Australia, who had become organised by fighting on basic issues like wages, breaks and toilets at work, launched ‘Green Bans’ to block environmentally and socially damaging building projects. Their union, the BLF, became the centre of a powerful of alliance of unions, environmental activists and community groups fighting the construction capitalists who were wrecking huge swathes of Australia. In Britain at about the same time, Lucas Aerospace ‘defence production’ workers came up with plans to save their jobs not by defending the arms industry in alliance with their bosses, but by converting to production of things like public transport and electricity-generating tidal barrages.
Does cutting emissions mean cutting jobs?
Some in the climate movement want to work only with workers in ‘green industries’ – eg the Vestas workers – not workers in industries like aviation or power generation. Our attitude, as the campaign that actually helped initiate the Vestas struggle, is different. We are part of the workers’ movement and support all workers’ struggles, regardless of what industry they are in.
One example: the 1984-5 miners’ strike was not, or should not have been, about defending coal power. It was about workers defending their union, their communities and their democratic rights from the assaults of the Thatcher government. A workers-run society might well have phased out coal, but it would have done so in an entirely different way, for different reasons and with different objectives. The first priority had to be for the miners to win their strike.
In fact it is workers in environmentally damaging industries who have the power to actually tackle the problem by changing the way their industry works, or for conversion of the industry to produce/do something different – as in the examples from the 70s given above.
Once they have built up enough confidence and workplace organisation, workers can develop plans to transform their workplaces and industries. What that would mean in terms of aviation is a discussion that needs to take place in our movement. At the moment the debate is unfortunately polarised as ‘the environment vs jobs’, with the Unite leaders championing the bosses’ plans for a Third Runway at Heathrow. The union bosses do this not as part of, but as an alternative to defending workers – they will often ‘defend jobs’ in alliance with the bosses, even if this is deeply environmentally damaging, but not if it means taking the bosses on
We need to start injecting alternatives into the debate: starting with workers’ plans for ‘greening’ the aviation and power industries, but also demands like expanded, cheap, publicly-owned public transport (particularly rail), a mass, public program of insulation, a shorter working week without loss of pay, longer holidays and other ways of cutting carbon emissions – funded at the bosses’ expense, not ours.
If Walsh won’t pay, nationalise BA!
The BA bosses say they cannot afford decent jobs, pay and conditions for BA workers, because the company is hundreds of millions in the red. One answer, that apparently favoured by the leaders of Unite, is: here are alternative cuts. Our answer is: if BA cannot afford to minimally treat its workers like human beings, it should be taken over by the government and run as a public service. (Apart from anything else, BA was publicly owned until Thatcher sold if off.) They can sack Walsh and his overpaid, bullying gang into the bargain, and put BA workers in control. That was the demand raised by the Vestas workers and by many other workers fighting job cuts around the world.
BA bosses wants to move towards the low-cost airline model, becoming a ruthless private company based on low-paid, casualised and if possible non-union labour, where the interests of workers are (even more) viciously subordinated to bosses’ bonuses and shareholders’ dividends. That’s what the ‘New Fleet’ is all about. We need to pull in the other direction. A publicly-owned, democratically-controlled airline could also engage in the debate about climate change in a way that a privately-owned one will not.
Agree? Disagree? Get in touch!
We want to make as many links as possible with BA workers and union activists. Whatever your role in the dispute, get in touch to discuss with us and help us make more effective solidarity. If you have stories or information you want people to know we can print it in our next bulletin anonymously.
Ring or text 07985 201 350
We can also be found at the “Grow Heathrow” community space in Sipson. Please join us there to eat, drink and organise! All strikers and supporters welcome.
Grow Heathrow, Vineries Close, Sipson Lane, Sipson, UB7 0JG
“Rocking the Foundations”
We will be showing a film about the Australian Builders Labourers Federation, who in the 70s took militant action for their own rights, local communities and the environment.
@ Grow Heathrow, 7.30pm, Sat 27 March
Trade unions representing aviation workers in 123 countries have declared solidarity with the strike. This includes solidarity action by members of the Teamsters union in the US and by Air France cabin crew – who will be taking three days solidarity strike action from March 28.
This inspiring solidarity shows up Walsh’s nonsense about uniting to protect a British brand for what it is.
Gatwick baggage-handlers fight back
The Interserve workers at Gatwick are paid £5.80 an hour for carting around the bags of first-class passengers. Over the last year they organised themselves and vote 100% for strikes over pay.
Their first two days of strike action have been 100% solidarity. When they next take action WCA will be down on the picket line and organising our own action to support their struggle.