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A Dark Day for Democracy
British Airways Obtains an Injunction to Prevent Strike Action by Cabin Crew
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
“I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.” — Frederick Douglass

Today is Monday 17th May 2010. It is the twenty-first century. We can put a man on the moon, we have the internet which allows people to send a message from one side of the world to the other in the blink of an eye, and we can fit the entire literary history of humanity on a little shiny disk just a few inches in diameter. What we can’t seem to do – especially in Britain – is embrace true equality.

As long as there has been a Britain, there has been an elite few exercising power over the masses. There has been a class system that ensures this elite few and their future generations keep all of the best jobs and remain in a position of power. As little as a hundred years ago, British workers were not so much employed by their bosses as owned by them. They had no rights, they dared not complain even if the boss abused them in some way, and if you were crazy enough to hit your boss you could be executed.

Progress was made, and over time the ordinary, everyday man on the street slowly gained more rights and better treatment. The downtrodden masses were no longer quite so downtrodden. Some even dared hope that one day there would be true equality and no more glass ceilings. You couldn’t really blame them; things had never been better, the working classes were allowed education, they could own their own homes, speak out against their bosses, they could even go on strike.

Of course, this couldn’t last. The elite few looked down their noses at the revolting peasants and decided they had too many rights. They were demanding better conditions at work, minimum wages, for heaven’s sake, they even had the brass neck to go to university! Things were getting a little out of hand.

As a result, the average person in Britain has watched as their rights and opportunities have slowly been eroded over the last couple of decades. They have seen their freedom of speech limited, they have lost their privacy to the ridiculous number of security cameras all over the place, they have even lost the right to defend their property from intruders. Their education has been limited as university fees and loans have been raised to the point that they are almost prohibitive for the common people, ensuring that they stay in their place while the elite get the best education.

Today, it would appear that they have lost their right to strike if they feel aggrieved at their treatment by their employer. British Airways cabin crew were to begin the first of a series of strikes at midnight tonight as the dispute between the two factions rumbles on. However, a High Court judge has declared the strike illegal on a technicality and barred them from doing so. Said technicality concerns the way members were informed of the results of the strike ballot and means that their union, Unite, will have to appeal the decision.

Cabin crew who took part in the previous strike action have had their staff benefits such as travel perks removed out of sheer spite. The row over planned cost-cutting measures rumbles on. Britain has entered a time-warp and gone back about a hundred years to the bad old days when these things could happen, and the poor workers couldn’t do a thing about it.

As a spokesman for Unite said, this is “an affront to democracy in this country.” Their national officer, Steve Turner, said that “decent citizens” had been balloted, and now the results of that ballot had been overruled by the judiciary. This is a worrying precedent for the British worker.

Unite are hoping to be back in court tomorrow to appeal the decision. Of course, no one wants strike action if a satisfactory resolution can be reached, and no one disputes that the ongoing dispute is damaging British Airways, not just in terms of revenue, but also their reputation.

It’s sad to see such a great institution in such a state. However, it is frightening to think the judiciary are now stepping in to prevent employees standing up for themselves.



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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