Britain's largest union, Unite, has raised the stakes in its bitter dispute with British Airways by announcing plans for a £700,000 compulsory levy on members to support striking cabin crew.
The industrial action has already caused six days of disruption to the airline and a third wave of walkouts next month looks likely, with the positions of union and management becoming more entrenched.
With rail strikes looming after Easter and a possible ballot about to be held on industrial action on the London Underground, the disruption to the transport system will become an issue in the general election campaign.
The irony of Unite using its financial muscle to bankroll the BA dispute will not be lost on the Tories, because the union is also Labour's largest donor.
Its decision to impose a mandatory 2 per cent levy on union subs in April to June, which would raise £700,000 to top up strike pay, was approved yesterday by Unite's general executive.
It follows the announcement by BA that cabin crew staff who joined the walk-outs would lose their travel perks. The airline says industrial action has already cost the company about £50m.
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary, said: "This is an unprecedented move and it shows Unite is absolutely determined to give our members all the support they deserve in winning this battle against the BA bullies.
"We continue to search for a decent settlement in this dispute, but cabin crew are not going to be driven back to work for lack of resources."
Emergency talks aimed at averting the threatened four-day walkout by rail workers from next Tuesday got under way yesterday at the conciliation service Acas. Ministers are hopeful that the strike, which is due to start on the same day that the Prime Minister is expected to call the election, can be resolved. They are not ruling out Gordon Brown moving the announcement to another day if the strike goes ahead.
Both Network Rail and the unions involved – the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association – insisted they were committed to negotiating a deal.
The planned strikes are over plans to cut 1,500 maintenance jobs and change working practices to enable more repairs to be carried out in the evenings and at weekends.
Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, said: "We go into the talks in a positive frame of mind and committed to reaching an agreement which protects safety-critical jobs, safe working practices and which delivers a secure future for both our members and the travelling public."
Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations and customer services, said only 20 per cent of services would run if the strike takes place.
The RMT is today expected to announce it will ballot members for permission to escalate its dispute with Tube bosses over job losses.
London Underground has refused to withdraw plans to cut 800 posts because of the soaring use of Oyster cards to travel the network. It insists no redundancies will be compulsory.
The union counters that the lost jobs will turn stations into "muggers' paradises" because of "dangerously low" staffing levels.
Meanwhile, local government workers will protest in London today over cuts to jobs and services and a pay freeze. A survey by The Independent last month discovered that town halls plan at least 20,000 redundancies.Reuse content