BA talks ruined by Left-wing mob's invasion after union boss puts running commentary on TwitterBy Christopher Leake and Jason Lewis
Last updated at 6:52 AM on 23rd May 2010
Talks aimed at averting tomorrow’s strike by British Airways cabin crew were dramatically abandoned last night when far-Left activists invaded the meeting.
The extraordinary invasion by up to 200 hard-liners came after a union boss posted details from inside the meeting on the Twitter website.
Police were called after the angry mob entered the headquarters of the conciliation service Acas, on the 23rd floor of the Euston Tower in Central London, pushing open a door and shouting ‘Kill Willie, Get Willie’ at BA chief executive Willie Walsh.
A senior BA spokesman said: ‘This is why we cannot negotiate with this dysfunctional union.
'It is absolutely irresponsible and disgraceful that Mr Simpson should provide a running commentary of such sensitive negotiations when we are trying to keep our national flag-carrier in the air.
'By tweeting details of these talks, Derek Simpson is guilty of a breach of trust.
‘We have been trying to save the holidays of tens of thousands of our customers and secure the jobs of thousands of our staff.
'This ugly event has now put this all at risk. Due to the action of scores of demonstrators who stormed the talks, police have had to restore law and order at the Acas building and talks have come to a stop.’
BA said Mr Walsh was not injured during the extraordinary scenes.
They insisted the protest had nothing to do with the union, and a Unite spokesman said the union was ready to resume talks at any time.
Mr Walsh appeared shocked at the protest as he was surrounded by 30 men and women pointing and screaming at him before he left the building, escorted by police.
He called a colleague from the chaotic scene, saying: ‘The talks have been invaded by a rabble. We can’t carry on. I’m out of here.’
Mr Simpson, 64, tweeted several messages from inside the Acas meeting. One entry read: ‘Talks still ongoing . . . Still hard going and progress hard won.’
Another said: ‘Willie and Tony locking horns over accusations of unequal treatment of allegations of bullying.’
Mr Simpson added: ‘Willie claims he is misquoted on websites.’
About one hour before the Left-wing invasion, Mr Simpson tweeted: ‘Arguments over 8 sacked workers’ and: ‘Fear of more sackings to come.’
Some of the protesters are believed to have been attending a ‘Right to Work’ conference at the Friends Meeting House nearby before deciding to picket the talks.
One activist, a member of the civil service union PCS calling himself ‘Civil Unrest’, posted a message to Twitter saying: ‘Just occupied Acas reception. Willy [sic] Walsh from BA in here. Pass it on.’
He had previously tweeted messages from the conference, where BA strikers received a standing ovation. He wrote: ‘“Dave” from
BA strike gave the real story behind the Press attacks.’
It was not known if the Acas talks will resume today, but it appeared last night to be too late to stop the planned five-day walkout due to start tomorrow.
Despite the action, BA plans to fly 60,000 customers a day out of Heathrow. It claims it will take passengers on 290 of the 550 services it normally flies from the airport.
But the beleaguered airline – which announced record losses of £531million last week – is being forced to cancel 60 long-haul flights and 200 short-haul ones each day during the walkouts. Gatwick and London City airports are unaffected.
Mr Walsh has drafted in non-union cabin crew, ground staff and off-duty pilots in order to fly up to 70 per cent of passengers.
The strikes are likely to disrupt the flights of thousands of families planning half-term holidays next week, because aircraft will be stranded abroad after the first wave of industrial action. The action may also disrupt the flights of football fans flying to the World Cup in South Africa.
Before the Acas talks began yesterday afternoon, Mr Walsh had upped the stakes in the increasingly bitter 15-month dispute by challenging Mr Woodley and Mr Simpson to ‘show leadership’ and challenge the authority of strike leader Duncan Holley.
Left-winger Mr Holley has continued as branch secretary of the 12,000-strong British Airline Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) – part of Unite – despite being sacked by BA earlier this month for refusing to work for five days last Christmas. Mr Holley, a cabin steward, claimed he needed the time off to prepare for a strike ballot in January.
A senior BA source said last night: ‘Duncan Holley no longer has access to BA premises and is no longer an employee. Yet, he still claims to represent cabin crew.
‘Mr Woodley and Mr Simpson should show leadership and have the guts to override this renegade shop steward to secure a deal for their members.’
When 54-year-old Mr Holley was sacked, it was revealed he had worked only 20 hours as a cabin steward during the previous 18 months. The rest of the time, he had been allowed ‘facility time’ to work for the union.
Mr Woodley said BA was wrong to blame BASSA for the deadlock.
He said he had urged his members to reject BA’s latest offer on staffing and work practices because of the company’s ‘petty, vindictive attitude’.
The main sticking point between the two sides is BA’s decision to strip 2,000 cabin crew who went on strike last month of lucrative travel perks which allow them and their families to have free and cut-price flights. Unite wants the perk reinstated before it calls off the next wave of strikes.
Scotland Yard said last night that its officers were called to Euston Tower after reports of an ‘impromptu demonstration’.
A police spokesman said: ‘The incident occurred around 6pm. There were no arrests, but we left some officers at the scene.’