By Sacha Ismail
Labour movement activists need to mobilise the maximum possible solidarity with the BA workers as a matter of urgency. We urge all those who can to take part in Saturday’s Workers’ Climate Action protest in support of the strike.
Workers’ Climate Action called a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice this morning; Socialist Workers Party activists also turned up (claiming, in typical fashion, that the protest had been called by their “Right to Work” front). The busload of BA workers who arrived seemed quite nervous about their strike “being hijacked by Socialist Worker”, by which they obviously meant socialist groups in general.
It may or may not be that the SWP has done something out of order; in any case, this response is not entirely surprising from workers with very few if any organised socialists in their ranks. But it seems that Unite officials are actively telling reps and activists to steer clear of the activist left and indeed any association of their dispute with broader struggles. “This strike is just about our dispute”, one worker told us this morning. As the new government prepares for deep cuts, fresh privatisations and an assault on the living standards of the entire working class, such an attitude is short-sighted.
A WCA activist reports on the action:
“It was good that we were able to mobilise a presence at the court and WCA’s presence in particular attracted some media interest as a number of journalist asked questions about why climate activists were supporting aviation workers, which allowed us to make some good basic arugments. The numbers were bolstered by an SWP contingent; they disingenuously claimed the their “Right to Work” campaign had called the demo but on the whole their presence was welcome. I’ve attached some photos of the action.
Unite’s “Brutish Airways” battelbus circled a few times then deposited its contingent of BA workers and union officials. There was some unpleasant tension between the solidarity activists and the Unite officials (the workers themselves seemed happy to follow their officials’ lead) which was a repetition of the very unhelpful, sectionalist and hostile attitude to solidarity that we encountered when we visited picket lines and strike HQ out at Heathrow. We should have a discussion about how to break through this; I can’t think of any easy answers.
The most troubling thing about the whole affair was the speech Derek Simpson (ex-Amicus leader, now outgoing joint GS of Unite) gave to the media when he came out after the court victory. Choosing Simpson, widely perceived as more moderate/conservative than the ex-TGWU “militants” McCluskey and Woodley (who are hardly Jim Larkin and Farrell Dobbs themselves), to be the public face following the result was obviously a conscious decision and Simpson’s speech was entirely capitulatory. Rather than building on the momentum of the victory, it included such gems as “the national leadership of Unite will do everything it can to avoid industrial action”, and “let me assure you: there will be no strike this week.”
Without any direct “in” to Unite’s internal structures I’m not sure what we can do to influence this debate but, while not unexpected, unpredictable or unexplainable, it is a little depressing.”