Brown sucked into BA strike row after Adonis shows no love for Unite

BA braces itself for disruption - but the PM criticises the union's 'deplorable and unjustified' strike plan.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A boost for BA's attempt to play hardball with the unions over cost-cutting: now the Government has been forced to get involved, despite its close links to Unite (BA's antagonist-in-chief). On the one hand Labour won't want to alienate one of its biggest donors and supporters before the Election. But then it doesn't look good if said supporter is causing huge disruption to passengers and doing massive damage to one of the UK's most prestigious companies in the run-up to polling day...

BA is set to announce today that up to 30% of its schedule will be cut during this strike, which is due to run for three days from March 20 and four more days from March 31 (the announcement on Friday caused BA to pull its latest offer, much to Unite's chagrin). And its cause got rather a boost yesterday when Lord Adonis came out against the union. 'I absolutely deplore the strike,' the Transport Minister told the BBC. 'It is not only the damage it’s going to do to passengers and the inconvenience it’s going to cause - which is quite disproportionate to the issues at stake - but also the threat it poses to the future of one of our great companies in this country.' Hear, hear.

The problem is, Unite has in recent years been one of the Labour Party's biggest supporters, donating no less than £11m since 2007. Its chief spin-doctor Charlie Whelan is now back at Gordon Brown's side, helping to run the General Election campaign. And Unite's Jack Dromey (aka Mr Harriet Harman) has just been parachuted into a safe Labour seat. So although Brown himself, to his credit, called the strike 'deplorable' and 'unjustified' this morning, we can well believe the story in today's Guardian - that the PM rang Unite boss Tony Woodley personally over the weekend in a bid to make this embarrassing situation go away.

All this matters, because the Government (perhaps alone) has the clout to talk Unite out of this ill-conceived and damaging strike. So its public criticism increases BA boss Willie Walsh's chances of pushing through the changes he was hired to make, and turning BA into a more cost-effective operation. He's well and truly in the driver's seat now.


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