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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 5 The 18–19 July 2003 unofficial strike


I remember coming into work, it must have just before 13.00, and signing in as usual at ‘Bogside’.1 Immediately I knew that there was something wrong. No-one had said anything then – but I could just sense it – something was up!

These were the words of a BA CSA who was working in Terminal 1 on 18 July 2003. Their recollection of an odd atmosphere was repeated by many other interviewees, who were also working in either Terminal 1 or Terminal 4 that afternoon. The reason for what another interviewee described as an ‘electric mood’ was the announcement, made that morning by BA management, that ATR was to be imposed on Sunday 20 July 2003.

In this chapter the events of 18 and 19 July, when over 400 BA CSAs took part in unofficial strike action, are described and evaluated. While interviewing participants for this book, it quickly became clear that there were numerous, at times very different, perspectives and interpretations of the tumultuous events that occurred on those two days. In order that these different views and explanations can be fully understood and considered, this chapter charts the events from the different viewpoints of BA managers, union officials and, firstly, the CSAs and their local union representatives.

On the evening of Thursday 17 July, a management source informed a senior GMB rep, Rep A, that the company were definitely going to impose ATR in the Customer Service areas, over the next few days. ←61...

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