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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 8 Summary, findings and conclusions


In the opening chapter of this book a series of research questions was posed whose purpose was to assist in gaining a better understanding of the 2003 strike. These questions firstly sought to ascertain more about the context in which the strike occurred. They were as follows: why did the collective negotiations between BA and the union reps fail to reach an agreement over the introduction of BA’s ATR and iARM systems? What were the reasons for the CSAs staging two other, unofficial, strikes in the preceding seven years? Why did BA impose such a controversial change to working practices, at less than two days’ notice?

Having raised these questions about the reasons that lay behind the strike, and the industrial relations context in which it occurred, the book moved on to address the central question: why were the BA CSAs so incensed at the imposition of ATR that they decided to take instantaneous unofficial strike action, rather than seeking an official strike ballot? The book then sought answers to a series of further questions, which were: how did the unions respond when their members, unlawfully, halted Britain’s largest airline for twenty-four hours? What were the reasons for the bitter divisions that existed inside, and between, the TGWU and the GMB? And why did BA radically alter their strategy of imposing ATR and iARM midway through the negotiations?

Finally, the book turned its focus to the fifteen years of negotiations that followed the 30 July 2003...

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