British Airways cabin crew facing the grim prospect of taking part in a highly unpopular 12-day strike over Christmas have begun questioning the tactics of their union leaders.
The planned stoppage is more drastic than anything they expected when they voted to take action against what they saw as high-handed behaviour by BA's chief executive Willie Walsh and his management team.
Lawyers for British Airways were in the High Court yesterday trying to secure an order to postpone the strike on the grounds that many of the 13,000 union members invited to take part in a strike ballot were ex-employees who had taken redundancy. A decision is expected this afternoon.
Union leaders waited until they had secured a 92% majority for industrial action before announcing when and for how long the strike would be held. Many of those who voted expected to be out for three days at a time, starting in January, rather than for 12 days over Christmas.
The first signs of misgivings among loyal union members showed up yesterday on an internet chat room accessible only to members of the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardessess Association (Bassa), a section of the trade union Unite.
One wrote: “I understand the need to act now and show our resolve asap, but I and many others I have spoken to today really believe the Christmas dates are not doing us any favours for the cause. I am seriously thinking January would have been better.
“The public backlash is already enormous and, like it or not, Walsh will play on that (but) many crew will listen to what's on TV and start thinking the same. This will be my third time on strike and I am always with the union, but I have a horrible feeling they may have got this one wrong. I will strike regardless, of course.”
The strike is due to begin on Tuesday and continue until 2 January, making it the longest in aviation history. Union leaders defend the timing and length on the grounds that if it had been held in January, the BA management would have toughed it out without negotiating. They also feared that if they called a three-day strike — which, because of BA's roster system, would have meant some staff were striking while others were on rest days — management would have penalised those taking part.
Yesterday the former Amicus boss Derek Simpson who is now joint general secretary of Unite, hinted that the union's central leadership have little control over what the cabin crews decide. Speaking on GMTV he described the planned 12-day stoppage as “the decision of the negotiating team”.