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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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Chapter 2 The methodological approach


In deciding to undertake an investigation of the 2003 BA CSAs’ strike, I was aware that there had been no previous detailed study of the causes, prosecution and consequences of this highly significant and unusual dispute. As has been outlined in Chapter 1, this was owing in large part to the reticence of the key participants to discuss what had been an unlawful strike. It was therefore extremely important to adopt a methodological approach that would allow for an effective exploration of the dispute, specifically the gathering of information from the key participants, in order to provide a thorough description and rigorous analysis of the strike.

The nature of dispute meant that adopting a predominantly quantitative methodology was rejected at an early stage. There were two keys reasons for this decision. Firstly, the nature of this study, which was inquisitorial and focused on a single strike, did not lend itself in any way to a quantitative research approach (see Bryman, 2004; Bryman and Bell, 2007; Silverman, 2000). Secondly, the unlawful nature of the dispute meant that any attempt to use quantitative methods to collect primary data on the dispute, via for instance a widely disseminated questionnaire, would have been highly problematic. As a participant in the dispute, I knew that those union members who had taken part in the action had been warned by their full-time officers (including myself ) not to speak to anyone, or ←13 | 14→fill in any forms or questionnaires, concerning the strike. Therefore, any...

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