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The Two Hundred Million Pound Strike

The 2003 British Airways Walkout

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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.

Ed Blissett (PhD) is Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations at the University of Hertfordshire. Prior to taking up this post Ed was, for over twenty years, a lay activist and then a senior Regional and National officer for three of Britain’s largest trade unions. His roles included six years as the Regional and National Officer for British Airways (BA) and then four years as Regional Secretary of the GMB London Region. These positions saw him play a central part in local and national union negotiations with BA, which granted him extensive first-hand knowledge of the 2003 strike and all the negotiations that preceded and followed the unofficial walkout. His background as a senior union officer at BA also assisted him in gaining unprecedented access to the unions’ lay reps, full-time officers and the airline’s managers, who played central roles in the 2003 strike and the ensuing negotiations.