BA flies to the Brink

British Airways

I earnestly hope that we are not about to witness the crashing disappearance of what only a few years ago was one of Britain’s relatively few major world class businesses. It is said that those whom the Gods seek to destroy they first make mad, and the intention of BA cabin staff to launch a strike over the busy Christmas period would seem to be a clear sign of insanity.

There are several reasons for this:

  • The airline business has taken  a hammer blow from the recession, with bad debts left, right and centre and increasing hostility from those trying to save the planet from extinction.
  • BA itself has very large debts, which a strike can clearly only exacerbate,  possibly to the point where the business cannot recover. And it is not as if there is a massive shortage of competitors waiting to pick the bones and especially to grab the landing slots at Heathrow.
  • BA cabin staff are paid pretty well compared to major competitors, particularly the low-cost airlines which – despite the sneering attitude of the well-established and “traditional” airlines – seem to represent something of a new paradigm for the airline business. They are certainly the only ones that the plebs can now afford.
  • Pilots, engineers and others working for BA have accepted a new deal; only the cabin staff are pushing for more. In a period of major recession with unemployment rising but inflation very low one has to ask what the rationale is of pushing one’s own company to the brink? There is no massive rise in inflation for unions to insist on matching with payrises, which was the case in the 1970s.
  • The BA cabin crew apparently object to new “working practices”. Yes, sometimes in some cases management attempts to screw staff and/or clients to increase their bonuses (see banks, recent history), but management also has to “move with the times” if a company is to remain competitive. We CANNOT simply keep on doing something because it is COSY and/or we have got used to it and therefore think we have a RIGHT to it. They should read the history of Luddism ….
  • Integrity? It is the utmost selfishness and cynicism to choose one of the busiest periods of the year to strike. What happened after all to the idea of SERVICE? Is it ONLY in the public sector that workers and companies have some sort of obligation to the public? OK, where there is massive exploitation and/or unfairness, dangerous working practices or other reasonable griefs, one might be able to support such a strike, but for a few more measly pounds in the paypacket? In current circumstances?
  • Nobody is forced to fly BA and customer loyalty can be destroyed overnight, taking years to recover.

No, on the face of it, this is a return to the dark days of Red Robbo and the destruction of the British motor industry, even if lunatic industrial action was not alone to blame for that in a period of often rubbish management.

Is there ANY way to spin this positively? Well, should BA really go down, it could be the massive reality-check that Britain needs. It has been said elsewhere and before but is always worth repeating. There is no natural “law” that says anyone has a “right” to work or indeed to do anything. It would be nice if such a natural law existed, but it doesn’t.

We have grown used to having our own giant, world-leader in air transportation, but there is nothing that says it can’t die. You have only to look at other countries whose once-proud national airline has gone phutt. This applies at a deeper level. There is also no “law” that says we have a right to the freedom to pollute the planet, or indeed to enjoy democracy or indeed to ANYTHING. Everything worthwhile has to be earned.

I am also afraid that if BA cabin staff think that someone is going to be there to save their company if it comes to it then they are sorely in error. The British government may have decided to save (with OUR money) a bunch of greed and reckless bank managers, but in the case of BA? In the first place saving it with massive cash injections is going to run foul of EU law and in the second THERE IS NO MONEY. Of course, that piffling fact hasn’t ever so far stopped PM Brown from uselessly chucking money we haven’t got  at wasteful pet shibboleths, but all insane things eventually come to an end.  Britain’s credit rating is already in grave danger; bailing out a lunatic, self-destructing dinosaur is not likely to be an option.

No, it could be a bleak Christmas for BA, and not only for its customers. Let us hope we are not  watching a silly game of bluff and double bluff; the stakes are too high.

By Chris Snuggs

[News on the 17th that the UK High Court had deemed the strike illegal – common sense, Ed.]

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