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The Two Hundred Million Pound Strike

The 2003 British Airways Walkout


Ed Blissett

This book describes and analyses the 2003 British Airways (BA) Customer Service Agents’ (CSA) 24-hour unofficial strike. It examines the lead up to the dispute, in which negotiations failed to reach an agreement over the launch of BA’s Automatic Time Recording and Integrated Airport Resource Management systems, before focusing on the dispute itself and its eventual resolution.

Central to the book is the question: why did a group of union members, the majority of whom were young women, become so incensed at an imposed change to their working practices that they took unofficial strike action? This they did in the knowledge that they could all have been legally dismissed.

In analysing the strike, the book explores why BA’s management imposed such a controversial change to working practices on the company’s busiest weekend of the year. A decision which, allegedly, cost the company two-hundred-million pounds, tarnished its reputation, and saw numerous senior managers lose their jobs.

How and why the CSAs’ three trade unions (the GMB Union, the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus) reacted in such different ways to the unofficial strike, and then behaved so differently in the subsequent negotiations, is also central to this study.

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I would like to thank Ed Heery and Bradon Ellem for reading chapters of this book and providing helpful comments which have contributed to its redrafting. Stephen Page also gave me considerable advice and support in undertaking my research, for which I am grateful.

I am deeply indebted to all the trade union reps, shop stewards and full-time officers, who generously gave up their time to be interviewed for this book. I am also very grateful to the BA managers who contributed to this study. The further help that many of these contributors gave in providing contact details of potential interviewees was also invaluable.

Finally, I would like to extend a special thanks to those contributors who in addition to granting me an interview also provided documentation and agreements relating to the dispute, which greatly assisted my research. I would like to credit them all individually, but as I promised to protect their identities, along with that of all other interviewees, I unfortunately cannot name them here.

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