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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 4 The causes of the 18 July 2003 strike


At the start of this book I described how surprised and concerned I was to be told that all the CSAs were about to walkout of Terminals 1 and 4 on 18 July 2003. However, within a few minutes of taking that phone call I realised that my misgivings over the scale and effectiveness of their strike was misplaced, and that the CSAs were clearly taking highly successful unofficial action.

As I sat in the car and listened to radio reports about the strike, I reflected that it was perhaps unsurprising that the simmering anger I had witnessed among the CSAs during the preceding years had finally boiled over. This antipathy related not only to ATR and iARM, but also to numerous other issues, where the CSA reps and members felt they were being poorly treated by the company. I thought that the company’s astonishing announcement that day, that it was to impose ATR on 20 July 2003, would have been for many members the final straw, triggering the 18 July strike.

In what follows, the various different issues that contributed to the July 2003 walkout are explored, along with an analysis of why the CSAs chose to take unofficial strike action rather than seeking an official strike ballot, a decision which, as all the CSAs were made aware by management, could have seen them being ‘fairly’ dismissed. The role of the CSA unofficial strikes in Terminal 1 in 1996 and 1997 in providing a blueprint...

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