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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 3 Different theoretical approaches to the study of strikes


In this chapter the different theoretical approaches that various authors have adopted in their studies of official and unofficial strikes are considered. In order to reflect on the varied approaches that have been adopted in the study of strikes, the chapter is divided into three broad sections.

In the first section the broad sociological studies of strikes are considered (Allen, 1966, Batstone et al., 1978; Cohen, 2006; Crouch and Pizzorno, 1978; Cronin, 1979; Darlington and Lyddon, 2001; Dubin, 1954; Eldridge, 1968, 1973; Hyman, 1972, 1977; Franzosi, 1995; Frenkel and Coolican, 1980; Gall, 2003). All these works focus on how levels of strike activity act as a barometer of wider industrial conflict, employees’ collective confidence and workers’ mobilisation. The studies can be international (Offe and Wiesenthal, 1980; Pizzorno, 1978), national (Cohen, 2006; Franzosi, 1995; Frenkel and Coolican, 1980; Hyman, 1971, 1972, 1977), or centred on a specific workplaces (Batstone et al., 1977, 1978; Edwards and Scullion, 1982). While a number of these authors discuss quantitative strike data, their primary focus is on broader sociological questions surrounding levels of workplace conflict, along with why and how it is expressed through strike action.

The chapter’s second section examines national and international studies of strike activity. These studies examine in more detail than the sociological studies the variations in the frequency, length and the numbers involved in strike action (Durcan et al., 1983; Eldridge, 1968; Frenkel, ←21 | 22→1980; Kelly, 2015; Lyddon, 2015; Turkington, 1977; Ross and Hartman, 1960; Shorter...

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