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Len McCluskey blows his cool and announces plans for British Airways cabin crew strikes

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If you were wondering how the discussions between the UNITE union and British Airways were going, given that British Airways pilots have (subject to a vote) secured a deal with the airline to minimise job cuts, the answer seems to be “could be better”.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of UNITE, released this letter last night that he has sent to Alex Cruz, British Airways Chief Executive.

I should say that none of the cabin crew I have spoken with have actually seen this ‘timetable’ to fire all staff on 7th August.  There IS a process for voluntary redundancy (staff must submit reasons by today for why they should be retained, voluntary redundancy and part-time working applications must be submitted by 3rd August, the result of the selection process for choosing those who remain is 7th August) but this is not the same as deciding to fire all staff unilaterally on 7th August.

See what you make of it …..

Len McCluskey BA

Dear Alex,

I am in receipt of your email dated 26 July and I am both staggered and offended by your arrogance.

In the opening paragraph you state “it has taken this long for you to realise and accept this”. This reference infers that I am only now understanding the financial difficulties that British Airways face. How dare you suggest such a thing. I have attempted for months to try to get you to understand the need to treat your workers with respect and dignity and this is the only way to get through this pandemic together. It is your staff, not you, that have for many years, built the good name of British Airways and contributed billions of pounds to its profitability year on year.

Your decision to adopt a scorched earth strategy with a ‘Fire and Rehire’ approach was always despicable. You and your management team have dragged the good name of British Airways through the mud. Have you ever asked yourself why so many MPs from all parties, at the highest level, have condemned British Airways or why newspaper and media outlets have been appalled at your actions? Perhaps you don’t understand that the British sense of ‘Fair Play’ runs deep in the psyche of the British people.

I am advised that no sooner are certain issues on process agreed then the company management renege on them, it beggars the question as to who is running the show – so much so that it is my intention to seek meetings with Antonio Vazquez Romero and IAG.

Also, please don’t insult me by asking ”how many of my members I have spoken to?” When you know full well that you have received thousands of heartfelt emails from your staff that you have ignored and or deleted without even reading. My shop stewards and reps speak to members constantly, dealing with the stress, anxiety and heart ache caused by your management style and strategy. Instead of criticising Unite reps, you should actually listen to them, instead of pretending to do so in order that you can tick some consultative process box and you might, at long last, realise that the only way to have a lasting peace and avoid months/years of industrial unrest is to work with us to achieve an acceptable way forward.

You have now published a timetable to Fire and Rehire thousands of your workforce on 7 August, we will work every hour between now and then, to convince you not to do so.

You can take this letter as our commitment to do that. However, you can also take this an intention to defend our members by moving towards industrial action with immediate effect.

Yours sincerely,


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Comments (126)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • AJA says:

    Oh dear. Seems Alex rattled Len’s cage. It seems daft to proceed to industrial action and I wonder when the union thinks that is supposed to happen? I would like to see Alex’s email he sent to Len.

  • Chris says:

    Depending on how many crew are willing to work to provide some degree of service; a strike likely works in BA’s favour when there is so little flying going on.

  • 351 says:

    This is just ridiculous. I mean let’s be honest they didn’t engage all this while to enable this to be the next step when there was any slim hope of recovery upon lockdown easing. It’s pathetic by Unite frankly. BA are bad fine, but Unite seem willing to down the airline itself which is bizarre then engaging properly with the airline. Such a “toys out of the pram” letter!

    • J says:

      It’s the sort of letter I imagine we’ve all drafted at some point, but most would read it again and delete with quiet embarrassment.

      • 351 says:

        I’m sure you would. This is not only further lack of professionalism from Unite but also shockingly xenophobic. Totally unacceptable. And guess what it’s 90 days (double minimum legal consultation time) and no fire and rehire. As Rob has written also, there is no “fire and rehire” of all staff. BA is in trouble there’s no doubt about that and yes whilst initially they seemed brutal, they have softened a lot and changed quite a lot of things, the fact it still doesn’t play well to BASSA is likely the main sticking point here but frankly heads need to be taken out of the sand!

        • Nick_C says:

          It’s a poor letter, but in what way is it xenophobic?

          • Rhys says:

            The suggestion that Alex Cruz doesn’t understand ‘British values’ because he’s Spanish:

            “Perhaps you don’t understand that the British sense of ‘Fair Play’ runs deep in the psyche of the British people.”

          • Nick_C says:

            “The suggestion that Alex Cruz doesn’t understand ‘British values’ because he’s Spanish:”

            But that’s not Xenophobia. Its not a fear or hatred of foreigners.

            It is quite possible that McCluskey believes that Cruz doesn’t understand British values because he is new to the UK and hasn’t taken the trouble to understand British culture. That would be an issue of competence.

            If McCluskey was xenophobic, why would he believe Vázquez Romero would deal with the matter more competently?

            I can see that the comment might be considered racist if McCluskey is making the suggestion purely on the grounds of Cruz’s nationality, but we don’t know what was in the mind of the person who drafted the letter. I think a suggestion of incompetence is more likely than racism.

            But of course some people like to throw around unwarranted accusations of racism or xenophobia at the drop of a hat.

          • Rhys says:

            Cruz isn’t new to the UK – he’s lived here on and off for the better part of two decades!

            Regardless of whether McCluskey intended to imply that somehow Cruz cannot understand ‘British values,’ the phrasing certainly seems to suggest that Cruz is less competent because he is Spanish. McCluskey could easily have made the point about ‘fair play’ values without characterising them as ‘British’ and placing Cruz in opposition – as if Britain has a monopoly on the concept!

            I’m not sure the same accusation could or would be levelled at a British-born CEO.

          • J says:

            @Nick_C: It implies that fair play is culturally reserved for the British and not seen in the Spanish. I could understand if he was talking about dunking digestives in milky tea or forming long queues to eat strawberries in SW19, but he isn’t. He’s basically saying, if you are Spanish, you are a cheat.

          • Nick_C says:

            I think the wording suggests that McCluskey believes Cruz is less competent because he does not understand British culture and values.

            That is a criticism of Cruz personally; not all foreigners and not all Spaniards. McCluskey is suggesting that Cruz is incompetent, but seems to have confidence in (the Spanish foreigner) Vázquez Romero. This is not compatible with the suggestion that McCluskey is xenophobic. A suggestion that he wanted to raise the matter with Walsh could have been seen that way.

            No one is claiming that “Britain” has a monopoly on fair play, but it is seen as a characteristic of Britain and the British. Many foreigners recognise that Britain has a sense of fair play, and that is one of the things that attracts them to the UK.

  • Froggitt says:

    Who needs a Coronavirus when you’ve got Red Len?

  • jil says:

    Union thinks BA is afraid of a strike at this time?

    • Doug M says:

      Depends on whether you can make the strike effective or not.

      • Rob says:

        Given that Mixed Fleet won’t strike, given they are marginally better off in £ terms with the new deal, and there are enough MF to operate the current schedule, I’m guessing not!

        • Doug M says:

          Probably true. Strikes only work when you inflict real pain. Whether MF are better off seems to be determined by who you listen to. It’s hard to believe they can be worse off and retain staff for any length of time. Given the structure of pay in MF it must be very hard to determine the truth of any statement.

  • The Lord says:

    ‘I am both staggered and offended by your arrogance’ Has he looked in the mirror?

  • J says:

    “Perhaps you don’t understand that the British sense of ‘Fair Play’ runs deep in the psyche of the British people.” – the not so subtle xenophobia of that line is appalling.

    • Doug M says:

      Indeed. The gloves are off.

    • Anna says:

      Quite. A fraught time for Anglo-Spanish relations all round!

      • insider says:

        perhaps BA cancelled Len’s holiday trip down to Alicante and that was the final straw?

    • Lady London says:

      not fair at all, that remark.

      wondering if our Len had had a few before he wrote that.

  • Fernandez says:

    I do genuily wonder on which planet Len resides, he seems to have lost all sense of reality.

    • Dubious says:

      Well, he needs to show ‘his’ members and ‘shop staff’ that he’s doing something…
      I can believe this sort of unfriendly emails occur, but making them public seems a bit odd.

      Given his strength of feeling I don’t quite get why he hasn’t focused some of his frustration at the owners of the company/parent company, i.e. the Shareholders?

      • insider says:

        I think they have. Well at least they’ve had their #BAbetrayal protests outside the offices of some of the investors.

        Also I don’t think Akbar in Qatar will be too sympathetic to Len’s plight.

    • Spursdebs says:

      Planet snout in trough of the working people. Paid over £145k plus all the extra goodies he can get all paid from subs by people often on minimum wage.
      Wasn’t it red Len who moved the mandatory age he had to retire from Union as leader so he could squeeze himself a few more years of ££££ out of members?

      • Paul74 says:

        That’s not an unreasonable salary considering Unite has over a million members. Furthermore, the union has General Secretary elections so the members have had opportunities remove him if they’ve been unsatisfied.

      • dezbez says:

        It certainly does have a whiff of George Orwell about it. The very thing he rails against. Not forgetting (& without wanting to get too political), he was a big advocate of Brexit, which I have a feeling will not benefit the majority of his members in the long term.

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