BA winning battle for sympathy as strike continues

When a union starts moaning about management's 'macho' style, you know they're losing the PR war.

by
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The BA strike is into its third, final and potentially most disruptive day, but Unite (the union behind the striking cabin-crews) seems to have got precisely nowhere:  it’s no nearer to getting a better deal, generating public sympathy, or proving to management that its members’ services are indispensable. Indeed, Unite boss Tony Woodley is getting so little change out of BA boss Willie Walsh that he’s been reduced to complaining about how mean he is, and appealing directly to chairman Martin Broughton instead (who’s apparently having none of it). With another strike due to start on Saturday, the union has five days to come to its senses…

Admittedly it’s a little hard, as outsiders, to know exactly how effective these strikes have been, given the various claims and counter-claims on both sides. Unite said that 1,900 of the 2,200 rostered cabin crew refused to work this weekend, but BA claimed virtually all of its Gatwick staff and more than half of its Heathrow staff showed up to break the strike (in fact, it suggested it was able to send some of its freshly-trained volunteers home). Equally, Unite disputes BA’s claims that it managed to fly about two-thirds of its scheduled passengers.

But whatever the truth of the matter – and we wouldn’t be surprised if both sides are massaging the figures – it’s clear that Unite is losing the PR battle. Its actions continue to be denounced in the press and in Parliament, and the disruption is clearly going down badly with the general public. Nor is it any closer to getting a more lucrative deal: Walsh insists that the longer the strike goes on (and the more money BA loses as a result) the less cash will ultimately be on the table. And if BA has continued to put hundreds of planes in the air, it doesn't exactly prove the strikers' services are irreplaceable...

Even Unite boss Tony Woodley is sounding a lot less bullish now, admitting today that the strike was ‘in no one's interest’. Criticising the ‘macho’ management style of Walsh (as opposed to the caring, sharing style favoured by the unions, presumably?), he called on Broughton to intervene. But it sounds like he’s going to get short shrift from the chairman, who told the FT last night that Walsh was ‘doing a great job’.

Unite’s only hope appears to be that if they hold their nerve, Walsh will eventually panic at the scale of the losses and fold like a cheap suit. But since this is a man who once said: ‘a reasonable man gets nowhere in negotiations’ (during his time at Aer Lingus), we can’t really see it. Walsh was brought in to BA with a reputation as a hard-nosed cost-cutter, and this confrontation has been coming for a long time. Maybe he is playing hardball, but it’s not easy to see any other way of pushing through the changes BA desperately needs. And since he’s got public opinion on his side, why should he back down now?


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