Does anything in the following article sound unfamiliar or unlikely, at all, to anyone who’s lived in the UK for the last 13 years?
The emails, posted late on Friday evening, were chillingly concise and their content clear: “If any of you go into work tomorrow, your life won’t be worth living,” one read.
Hours earlier, as the news spread among British Airways cabin crew that last ditch talks between the airline and the hard-line union Unite had failed, a tirade of malicious text messages had been fired off to specifically targeted staff – those brave enough to have voiced contempt for the union militants – telling them they were “scrum” and “scabs” if they crossed the picket line to begin their shifts on Saturday.
“Suzy” wasn’t surprised when copies landed in her in-box and on her mobile phone.
At Christmas, utterly disillusioned with the militant faction in her union Unite, she and five like-minded colleagues set up an alternative group to the union in the sure knowledge that there were hundreds of staff who didn’t support Unite’s aggressive policies and its seeming determination to steer its members, lemming-like, into strike action.
By now she had thought she would be busily enrolling members to the Professional Cabin Crew Council and negotiating on their behalf in an altogether more moderate and measured fashion than that adopted by Unite.
Instead Suzy, a mother of three with 20 years experience as a cabin attendant for BA on long and short haul flights from Heathrow, is too scared to give her real name and too frightened to even reveal her identity on the PCCC’s official web site, never mind to conduct a recruiting drive.
”You have no idea how frightening it is to receive those sort of threats,” she says anxiously. ”Don’t get me wrong. There has been no physical violence threats – nothing like that.
“This isn’t about handbags at dawn in the powder room. But when you know the militants know where you live. Where your children are. Then you start to wonder exactly what they are capable of. Just how far they might go.”
“Suzy” wasn’t rostered to work today, but volunteered. At noon yesterday, two hours before her first flight, she was, she admitted, terrified.
”My stomach is churning. I don’t know what I’m going to face. I just know I am going to be aboard that plane, reassuring passengers, sorting out the seating, the food. Doing my job.”
Over the past three years, Suzy says, the hitherto contented work force has been subjected to a sustained yet subtle barrage of intimidation and coercion.
The message from Unite hardliners was always the same. You are either with us….or we will have you out. ”We all became worn down by it,” she says.
”There was this constant air of menace. At one stage a message was posted on the BA cabin crew internet forum that ”named and shamed” the pilots who had volunteered to retrain so that they could work as cabin crew during a strike.
Several were warned to be careful of the food cabin crew served when they returned to work. A lot of them were totally freaked out by that. This is a highly unionised business.
If you don’t do as the union says you are ostracised. And that isn’t easy in a job that so depends on team work – on-board and off the plane.
“Being abroad, sometimes for several days if you are waiting to work on a return flight, you are cooped up with your colleagues.
“It’s a brave man or woman who can withstand constantly being cold shouldered and ignored. And that’s if you are lucky.
“There are the bitchy remarks, the scathing comments. You are called a management dupe. If you make the slightest criticism you are marked out as “not one of us”. Unite seems to rule our lives. Not being in the union isn’t an option.
“OK, call me and others like me cowards. But I tried to step above the parapet by setting up the PCCC and now I’m too scared to be publicly linked with it.
“It’s particularly scary for newcomers who pick up on the tension immediately. Let’s say it is made known to them that, if they are wise they will do what the union tells them.”
Much of the intimidation, she says, is unspoken. “A lot of it is a meaningful look, a raised eyebrow.”
Inside Heathrow, she says, menace and unease are everywhere. When BA suggests a new service Unite generally instructs its members to ignore it.
“Ridiculous things,” Suzy says. “We were asked to distribute hot towels on short haul. Unite said no. We got on board and everyone was in a state.
“Do we give them out or not? Usually workers – quite rightly – fear not doing what the boss asks. But we are just as frightened not to do what the union asks.”
When the PCCC web site first appeared Unite militants set up another with a similar name – then flooded it with hard core porn. Although she is reluctant to reveal membership numbers, Suzy admits it is no more than 10 per cent of the 12,000 strong cabin crew.
It has been ”trying” she says, to even get the organisation off the ground. Because she and her fellow founder members have remained anonymous many among Unite believe the PCCC is nothing more than a management stooge.
”Unite is rich, it’s members pay £15 monthly. That’s a lot of money.”
Suzy and her colleagues say they are more than happy to work harder if crew numbers are reduced. 2We are just glad to have a job in this climate. And we already have more crew than the recommended CAA minimum.
“Becoming an air hostess was my dream as a little girl, 2 she says. “I’ve always been proud to wear the BA uniform. It means I work for the best.
“But yesterday I stopped at a filling station to buy petrol and, before walking in to pay, I put on my coat. I know the public has no sympathy for us.
“Who can blame them? And I couldn’t be sure what sort of reception I would get in a BA cabin crew uniform. How sad is that?”