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BA cabin crew: the new London dockers?

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Philip Hammond's comparison between BA cabin staff contemplating strike action and the London dockers of the 1960s who attempted to resist employment and technological changes is not entirely inaccurate. Like BA cabin staff today the dockers of London and other British ports were low paid, insecurely employed, worked long hours and were only taken seriously by their employers - and noticed by governments, including Transport ministers, and the public - when they withdrew their labour. The dockers' strikes, like the BA disputes, were an expression of a fundamentally dysfunctional employment relationship, for which employers - and here again there is some parallel with today's airline industry - bore major responsibility.

More broadly, however, the comparison is based on a fundamental if perhaps wilful historical misunderstanding. Dockers were made redundant not by their own actions and attitudes, as Hammond claims, but by the vast forces of economic and industrial change embodied in containerised cargo transportation. Large forces are at work too, of course, in the BA dispute, with the key issue - not unlike the transformation of port transport - being the company's apparent bottom-line determination to ratchet down labour costs, whatever the damage to corporate reputation, workforce morale and consumer experience.

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author.


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