You know a company has screwed up when Norman Tebbit expresses sympathy for the union in a bitter dispute. That's what happened today in the acrimonious battle between British Airways and Unite.
Tebbit was the architect of Margaret Thatcher's most far-reaching controls on Britain's trade unions. (I was studying Tebbit's 1982 union legislation the night I heard that Tebbit and his wife had been injured in the 1984 IRA Brighton bombing.) Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live's Breakfast show today, Tebbit disagreed with BA's attempt to get the courts to ban the latest strike on a technicality. He doubted that BA's famous 1980s chairman Lord King would have enraged the cabin crew in the way Willie Walsh has.
He was speaking after the Court of Appeal overturned Monday's High Court injunction halting the strike.
The High Court judgment appeared to threaten the very idea of trade unions. The judge agreed to an injunction because the union allegedly didn't do enough to tell its members there were 11 spoilt ballot papers. This was insanity. I voted in the 2010 general election. No one has told me how many election ballot papers were spoilt. It simply doesn't matter. The same principle should apply to strike ballots.
The Thatcher union reforms were a popular attempt to make prevent unions from bullying their members to go on strike. Those reforms worked well in this dispute. Over 80% of BA cabin crew voted fairly and democratically in favour of strike action. I think the BA cabin crew have made a terrible mistake. I'm less likely to fly BA as a result of their contempt for the travelling public. But it's not the courts' role to save workers and management from their own stupidity.