“Has your flight been cancelled? Are you stuck somewhere trying to get back to the UK? Send us your comments and pictures” pleads the BBC News website. “Have your say: Do Unions have too much power?” Well, do they? They do, don't they? Look at them! With their flags and placards and everything. Who do they think they are? Here's another story about the American Teamsters, who support the BA strike. Did you know their leadership had links with organised crime 35 years ago?
Yesterday's Sun gave a column to union-busting BA chief executive Willie Walsh. He feels sorry for the customers. He respects the cabin crew a great deal but is angry about their decision. Here are some pictures of pickets, smiling. How dare they have any fun on a picket line, while they're ruining your holiday. Why not ring us or email us if your family's hard earned holiday has been wrecked? We'd value your impartial judgement. Len McCluskey and Bob Crow make speeches that are “throwbacks” and “anachronisms” more suited to the 1970s and 1980s. And thus the media coverage of the BA strike goes on and on.
But we're not in the 1980s. OK, there are similarities: all the music is shitty electro-pop and nobody has a job. But I'm pretty sure it's 2010. Perhaps union leaders still make speeches about striking to defend members' conditions because it's still relevant. For the mainstream media, strikes and union militancy are both “a thing of the past,” and no matter how many strikes there are they will still be “a thing of the past.” No-one does it these days. The cabin crew are just an exception. Oh, and so are those railway signallers. And those others ones, the civil servants. And when our own reporters walkout against the job cuts we will make, they will be an exceptional case too.
All this works against producing a picture of a general, albeit still small, upsurge of industrial activism among many different sections of the working class, for similar reasons. The only possible effect of a strike is that more “passengers face travel chaos.” In this narrative, a victory for the employers will not give a green light for others to behave the same way. A victory for the workers will not inspire others to take a stand. Painting a dispute as an isolated, self-contained event means it is just a nuisance, the workforce are selfish no matter what their actual grievances are, the management may be incompetent but are not malicious.
Anyone who wants an alternative view of the dispute, including more extensive interviews with the strikers themselves, can check out Air Strike, a blog run by Socialist Party supporters.