Simon Calder: A suicidally misjudged blunder

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Even before the Hon Mrs Justice Cox gave British Airways the injunction the airline needed to prevent (or merely postpone?) a cabin crew strike, it was clear the union had made a breathtaking strategic blunder that played straight into the airline's hands.

The cabin crew union could have damaged BA's finances without incurring too much of the travelling public's wrath by calling a strike for the second week in January, allowing families to enjoy their Yuletide gatherings and far-flung adventures, but hitting the business travellers on whom BA depends for so much of its revenue.

But instead of a clinical strike aimed at driving corporate clients into the waiting arms of Virgin Atlantic, easyJet and foreign rivals, the unions went for the nuclear option: a 12-day strike over Christmas and New Year. The union's intent can be summed up in eight words: "to destroy the dreams of one million travellers". That could prove to be the shortest suicide note in trade union history.

Perhaps union officials derived their strategy from the war-game scenario known as MAD: "mutually assured destruction", a theory of deterrence that was big in the Eighties. As was the NUM, the National Union of Mineworkers.

A number of BA cabin crew have contacted me to explain why they feel victimised by the airline's management: they are professionals, providing excellent service, and are finding their benefits eroded.

But the real victims of the threatened strike are the "Heathrow million". These passengers chose to support BA – and pay its salary bill – by stumping up hundreds of thousands of pounds many months before the strike ballot was announced, in return for the promise of a distant dream at the end of the year. After playing their unwitting parts as pawns in the poisonous dispute between the airline and its cabin crew, and spending four days as unwilling stand-by passengers, they may adopt the Abba doctrine – "anybody but British Airways" – the next time they have an important journey. And future students of industrial relations will be amazed that a big trade union could have misjudged the public mood so badly.

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