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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 6 The 21–30 July 2003 negotiations


On the evening of Saturday 19 July, I finally responded to the numerous phone messages that BA managers had left me, and telephoned the BA Head of IR, David Lebrecht. In what was a less than cordial conversation in which he accused me, perfectly correctly, of deliberately failing to take his calls, I agreed to attend the ATR negotiations scheduled for Monday 21 July 2003.

In this chapter the details of the ten days and two nights of negotiations that took place between 21 and 30 July 2003 will be outlined and analysed. Time will be spent examining not only the negotiations, but also internal union and management meetings, informal group discussions and individual conversations that took place over this period. The reasons why serious fissures developed both inside and between the unions and amongst BA managers will also be discussed. Furthermore, the role played in the negotiations by Labour Government Ministers, ACAS and the TUC will be assessed.

As in the previous chapter, the ten days of negotiations are recorded in a chronological, day-by-day, format. This chapter though, unlike its predecessor, provides just the trade unions’ and management perspectives. This reflects the fact that the trade unions full-time officers, as well as their senior reps, were now all formally representing the CSAs in negotiations with the company. The chapter does though explicitly chart the different approaches to the negotiations taken by the two major CSA unions, the TGWU and the GMB.

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