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I have to say that I’ve not seen anything that even remotely suggests that the dispute is in any way personally-focussed on either Tony Woodley or Willie Walsh. They may be the faces that the two sides present to the media, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that they’re the sole combatants.
BA Chairman Martin Broughton has gone on record again today to publicly re-affirm that Willie has his and the main board’s unequivocal support. Mr Woodley has only really come to the fore in the media quite recently; until Christmas it was Len McCluskey who was at the sharp end.
Meanwhile Woodley’s counterpart, joint general secretary Derek Simpson, admitted in a TV interview that the 12-day walkout planned for Christmas 2009 was “probably over the top” – which additionally illustrates just how many people on the union side are involved, or at least commenting and influencing.
It would be nice to think that some noughty, Google-esque corporate cuddling could resolve the current impasse; the simple fact is that – as anyone with an understanding of highly-unionised companies, particularly former public-sector ones will know – those fluffy concepts are utterly, completely and wholly irrelevant.
Clarkson was nearly on-the-money with his assertion that “If the cabin crew win, the airline will go under and everyone will be out of a job. So, if they lose, they lose, and if they win, they still lose. Only, if they win, we all lose…”
What he misses is that, uniquely, the union leaders have absolutely nothing whatsoever to lose; nothing. They can preside over the failure of the company and the redundancy of their entire membership, and yet they will keep their own jobs. And, in the meantime, they can further their own union and/or political ambitions.
Casual observers can poke fun at the farcical press breifings and website posts that Unite and BASSA continue to issue; looking for all the world as if someone at the union has found a copy of ‘Comical Ali’s Guide to PR & Communications’.
More serious commentators will understand that there is a fundamental disconnect between the best and collective interests of British Airways’ cabin crew members and the far more selfish and personal goals of their union leadership.
That’s the real inhibitor to a negotiated resolution and, as it stands, as long as the company maintains its current high-standing amongst its customers, shareholders and vast majority of employees, and the union leadership apparently don’t give a damn as they strap on their own hang-gliders and lead their hapless, wingless members to the cliff-edge, then there is little incentive for anyone to go for a latte and discuss vegetarian cookery.