Flight of Fancy

There have been a lot of dark mutterings about the projected British Airways strike and its affect on the death of the company. A look at the comments sections of MSM bloggers and it does not take long to find that the public are not enamoured of the national carrier.

The prognosis is not good: faced with 12 days of strikes at one of the busiest times of the year, they will lose very large sums of money and a lot of goodwill - that is if they had any goodwill before, which judging by the comments of passengers, they do not. There seems little chance of a bailout, since the politicians, apart from a few lefties, are not up for it. But there may be a sting in that tale.

But this post is not really about BA, it is about strikes, particularly strikes like this, which seem to me to be the last gasp of a dying breed; the formerly publicly owned corporations which still operate unrealistic working terms and conditions. Some of my readers may not remember the seventies and early eighties, at least in political terms. Though not in the forefront of political journalism, I did interview one powerful trades union leader who had crippled the country with weeks of strikes and he was actually very nice. It gave me some insight into they way they think, and to be honest, it was anachronistic then, so God knows what you call it now. Unions still think they are the Tolpuddle Martyrs. 

BA is an airline with a poor customer record, their staff are paid double what their competitors get, and the company has long enjoyed restrictive practices and monopolies that no other airlines get. And don't forget, they have done their best to destroy competition by any means they can. In the case of BA the baddies are on both sides of the dividing line - management and unions.

There is a sort of very nasty time-bomb ticking at the bottom of this dispute and that is that Charlie Whelan, the "Political Director" at Unite, is also very, very close to Gordon Brown, having been his chief spin doctor and exterminator, and who was copied into the famous Damien McBride ratfucking emails, and who only resigned from Number Ten after being caught leaking information that damaged Peter Mandelson. Unite is also keeping the Party afloat financially. Without Unite, Labour would be insolvent.

Whelan is probably as nasty as you can get in a political apparatchik, and it would not surprise me at all to see the Labour Government applying pressure on BA to settle the dispute or, in the nightmare scenario of BA going bust, the taxpayer picking up the bill for bailing out yet another useless British corporation.


Dave said...

I joined USDAW (the shop workers union) for a brief time back in the 70s when I worked for Tesco. Quite frankly we needed protenction from the bully boy tactics of our bosses.
I was invited to join a union when I worked at a meat processing factory a year or so before that. The company was in deep trouble and we were fighting hard to stay afloat. one day the union rep came around touting for members and was asking for grievances and complaints so that he could get everyone out on strike.
Utter madness, especially when compared to how the German unions worked hand in hand with the bosses to improve productivity and standard of living.
Thirty years on and one only has to look at the British motor industry and compare it with the German industry to see how well the unions did in protecting our jobs.
Good post WW.

Ruth@VS said...

In my former life working in Human Resources, I regularly came across situations where a group of employees had been protected from the reality of working life through unionised workplaces or old, paternalistic employers or simple stagnation. My job was to change this, make the enterprise profitable and sustainable because in all these cases change was only considered when the company was on its last legs.

It is almost impossible to change the warped mindset of people in these situations, who have lost touch with the real workplace. Sadly, the only way to change it in reality involved redundancies, big job changes and/or outsourcing to another provider, which often resulted in people leaving. Going bust is sometimes the only option to get the clean sheet you need to reform and redesign moribund companies such as BA and indeed the Royal Mail.

As an aside, the one thing I realised early on in my HR career is that no-one is indispensable, and no-one has a right to a job. I include myself in that and while I was never made redundant, what I did for a living made me focus on keeping my skills sharp and keeping in touch with the real world of pay and conditions outside my own industry. Unions don't do this - as George Bernard Shaw described them, they are "trade union capitalists", focussed on getting as much for their members as they can, even if it is to the detriment of the wider workplace/society and ultimately against their own long-term interests.

Sorry for the rant!