13 March 2010

BA strike: The return of beer and sandwiches

With precision timing along comes an industrial dispute that Brown must navigate his way through.  It’s not just the BA strike and the timing that is the problem, but the reaction of more than a few voters.  The last thing Brown will want is for the union comrades to be hogging the headlines this side of the budget, in the run up to the dissolution and during the campaign itself.

Unite is not a well oiled machine.  It has two general secretaries with different agendas.  There are factions and unions within unions inside this great empire that don’t exactly rub along.  Then there is Len McCluskey, who is leading the negotiations with BA, and has ambitions to be general secretary one day.  In a nutshell, the organisational structure is rather a mess, not to mention the competing egos and rivalries that exist. 

Within this unhappy band of brothers also sit Jack Dromey (husband of Harriett Harman), deputy general secretary, and Charlie Whelan, political director, who is close to Brown and will have a key role in the election campaign.  No doubt they are working hard behind the scenes to resolve matters, but it is doubtful they will be able to achieve much, hence their muted response to this ‘little local difficulty’.

Now let’s tip into this unsavoury mix a few added ingredients; the incompetent BA management; the inability of the TUC to take any positive action to date; and Labour's dependency on Unite’s money.

Whichever way you look, Brown is left with a headache that will not go away.  What to do?

Step forward one Harold Wilson.  When the odd industrial dispute surfaced, the master tactician would invite his union comrades in for a late night chat. Over ‘beer and sandwiches’ a deal would be stitched up.

The union barons, these days, are accustomed to a higher standard of food and beverage, but Brown may have to deploy one of Wilson’s old tricks to get this dispute resolved.

Whether he does it privately or publically remains to be seen.  However, should it come to this and Brown succeeds, then he will have shown leadership and be able to take the credit.

At the end of the day, Gordon Brown has to ensure that this strike is called off.

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  1. [1] Unite is Labour's principal financial backer, having provided some £11m in the last five years.
    [2] Charlie Whelan, a Brown loyalist, is that union's political director.
    [3] Whelan was copied in on Damian MacBride's emails, and the Times called on Unite (16 April 2009) to "review its relationship" with Mr. Whelan.
    [4] He can be assumed to retain considerable influence in 10 Downing Street.
    [5] Unite is the union representing the British Airways cabin-crew.
    [6] The General Election is now assumed to be eight weeks away.

    Could it be that the strikes, by the BA cabin crews, have been deliberately timed by Unite to enable the Prime Minister miraculously to 'solve' them? This, orchestrated from within Unite, would provide the platform for Brown to call the election for May 6th as a bogus peacemaker and unifier.

  2. Careful. You will become as cynical as me.