Sunday, 23 May 2010

A Question About Unions

I've been thinking about this BA/Unite strike and the seemingly suicidal nature of Unite's actions.

There are 3 ways out of this strike situation:-

  1. BA grind Unite down to the point where their members are getting broke from it, quit striking and don't try it again.
  2. Unite and the staff keep fighting on. More and more passengers stop flying BA, the money gets tougher, the union get more entrenched and they end up in a situation where the airline goes out of business.
  3. BA give into Unite. The staff get what they want, it costs the airline a lot more money, they have to raise their prices, profits suffer, the management get fired and replaced with a tougher management and it all starts again.
None of these options are in the interest of BA staff in Unite. In every case, they either lose now, or lose soon.

The thing is, I can't see much that's in the interest of Unite either. If BA collapsed after a strike, it would be completely asset stripped. No-one is going to want to hire a 50 year old air hostess on BA pay with a trade union attitude. So, Unite would be shut out as a union.

So... why? And the only answer I can come up with is that being a trade unionist often leads to success in the Labour Party, and so getting people out on strike shows some leadership. It's a favoured action by the left. Either that, or they're just plain stupid.


  1. I don't think you can really discount the 'they're just plain stupid' option...

  2. "plain stupid" Shouldn't it be 'plane stupid'?

  3. Maybe there is a deeper question we are all avoiding:

    1) If the staff are working as hard as ever
    2) And the airline is producing more than ever
    3) Wages are not rising in proportion
    4) Profits are not rising in proportion
    5) Who then is getting all that extra production ?

    Its an enigma. Might this be the cause

    The Free State - And Why Wages Never Rise

  4. JuliaM,

    The theory I've had for a while is that really stupid rarely get to lead large organisations. To get to the top you have to get past a lot of other people who want the job. That means having some intellect, guile or wit. Iain Duncan Smith is an exception to this rule.

    This strike doesn't compare to the miner's strike where Scargill's actions were mostly rational. Facing huge cuts to the mining industry, he thought he could hold the country to ransom. If Thatcher hadn't be so well-prepared and resolute, he might have won.

  5. Mass stupidity on either side.

    However clever Willie Walsh may be, his cards were marked from the day BA were privatised (long before he took over):

    1. The company was saddled with a huge great public sector style final salary pension scheme.

    2. The company got a massive invisible subsidy, being about half the landing slots at UK airports, which at peak were worth about £5 billion.

    So for twenty years, BA has been using all the super-profits from its free slots to bail out its pension fund, which is still hugely in minus - in economic terms, the pension fund owns about three-quarters of the business; and with the downturn, the value of the slots has been eroded to next-to-nothing.

    So expecting Wee Willie to sort this out is like expecting Rommel to turn the tide of WW2 in 1944 (I claim the Godwin's prize).

  6. MW,

    Sounds right.

    I also suspect that the strike is the result of the culture of the airline being state-owned and then part of a cartel still pervades. Competition came along in 1992, and it then took years for the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair to grow. Some people in that situation often can't deal with how the world around them has changed.