Page last updated at 00:04 GMT, Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Industrial unrest looms over 2010

By Martin Shankleman
Employment correspondent, BBC News

BA staff at work
BA staff are unhappy so many expect further action

All the ingredients are in place for a fresh bout of industrial unrest as we enter 2010.

A sharp squeeze in public spending looms, the private sector grapples with the recession, and there is a new mood of militancy in the trade union movement.

British Airways (BA) cabin crew and airline executives have observed a tense Christmas truce in their bitter dispute over jobs and working practises.

The 12 day strike planned over Christmas may have stopped by the High Court, but the underlying grievances still fester.

Both sides have retreated to their trenches, while preparing for a new outbreak of hostilities.

More misery

Leaders of the Unite union are understood to be combing through their membership lists of BA air stewards to ensure that their records are up to date.

Bob Crowe
The growing militancy of confidence of the trade union movement will increase in 2010
Bob Crowe, general secretary, RMT union

They are desperate to avoid the fiasco of their November ballot, by observing the letter of the law, and excluding any members about to leave the airline.

The expectation is that the union will get another strong mandate for strike action.

This might be timed to coincide with the half term holidays, meaning more misery for the travelling public.

Fight for justice

The railways are never far from labour trouble; the industry seems at times to be in a semi-permanent state of unrest.

Bob Crowe, the pugnacious leader of the RMT union forecasts 2010 will be a "year of action".

Signal workers will go out on strike in South Wales early in the New Year, a ballot of Network Rail maintenance staff is planned over proposed job losses, and the union is warning of confrontation with London Mayor Boris Johnson over cuts at London Underground.

"The growing militancy of confidence of the trade union movement will increase in 2010," Mr Crowe said recently in an ominous warning to employers.

"As far as the RMT is concerned, whoever wins the election it will be business as usual in the fight for workplace and social justice."

Mr Crowe accuses employers of using the threat of unemployment to bully workers to accept cuts in jobs, pay and working conditions.

But he predicts that concerted trade union opposition will halt these moves "dead in their tracks".

Community lifeline

The public sector is set to be the biggest single battleground for the labour movement.

Post sorting
The post strike pushed up the number of days lost in December

The dire state of the government's finances makes a squeeze on public spending inevitable. The only question is the scale.

Faced with a budget deficit of £178bn, the Labour government plans a pay cap of 1% in the public sector from 2011.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, propose a freeze on pay in 2011 for five million public sector workers.

Job losses and re-organisations seem inevitable as public sector bodies are forced to swallow tough cuts in government funding.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, says his union will stand up for its 1.4 million members and the essential jobs they perform.

"To people who are jumping on the attack-the-public-sector bandwagon, remember, every redundancy is a personal tragedy and a blot on our society" he says.

"The public sector is the lifeline to our communities to help them out of recession and should be supported."

More militant

The latest official figures reveal a sharp rise in industrial action in recent months.

Some 232,000 days were lost to strikes in September and October, more than the previous 9 months combined - when 195,000 days were lost.

The bitter autumn post strike explain the surge in part, but the figures also suggest a growing willingness on the part of the unions to confront management.

As the economy starts to move out of recession, labour leaders seem to becoming more militant.

Employers in both the private and public sectors, take note.

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