Brown urged to step in to prevent BA strike action

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown has come under renewed pressure to intervene in the looming strike by British Airways staff which is set to disrupt the travel plans of 90,000 passengers.

Ministers said they were pushing for a resolution to the dispute, urging the union in private talks, as well as publicly, to call off the strike amid fears it will damage Labour at the general election.

The Tories attempted to turn the potential strike into a political row as it launched a co-ordinated attack on Labour, arguing that Unite, the union representing cabin crew, had gained an "unprecedented grip" on the party.

The stand-off between BA management and Unite continued yesterday with both sides refusing to budge on their conditions for cutting a deal. While the Unite leadership demanded that BA reinstate an improved pay and conditions offer in return for reopening negotiations, the airline said it would not make the gesture unless strike action was ruled out.

A dossier published at a press conference held by Eric Pickles, the Tory chairman, specifically targeted the growing influence of Charlie Whelan, a former spokesman for Mr Brown and the union's political director who has been given a role in Labour's election campaign. Mr Whelan dismissed the document as a "pathetic Tory attack".

It highlighted donations from Unite to the Labour Party of £11m since Mr Brown became Prime Minister in 2007, adding that 167 Labour MPs and candidates belonged to the union. Members of the Cabinet, including Mr Brown and his closest ally, Ed Balls, had received funding from Unite.

As part of a strategy to put Mr Brown's personal links with the union at the heart of the dispute, a poster was also unveiled depicting the Prime Minster with a bundle of union money and the slogan: "Cash Gordon."

A small number of cabin crew members used a secure online forum to question whether the strike should go ahead yesterday. "Unless we get concrete proof that we will not be sacked, we should call off the strike on Friday," said one. Another urged colleagues to accept the deal offered by BA. "It is not far from [our demands] except for the losing of the crew member and we don't have to take the pay cut."