British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday condemned a planned strike by British Airways (BA) cabin crew, putting himself on a collision course with his main union backers weeks before an election.
Brown, who is battling to maintain Labour’s 13-year-grip on power in an election expected on May 6, said the seven-day strike was “unjustified and deplorable” and should be cancelled.
The Unite union that has called the strike is the largest financial backer of Brown’s Labour party and its political director, Charlie Whelan, was once Brown’s spokesman.
“It’s the wrong time, it’s unjustified, it’s deplorable, we should not have a strike. It’s not in the company’s interest, it’s not in the workers’ interest and it’s certainly not in the national interest,” Brown told BBC Radio.
“I hope that this strike will be called off,” he said in an interview on the Woman’s Hour program.
Most BA cabin crew plan a three-day strike starting on Saturday, followed by a four-day walkout from March 27, jeopardizing Easter holiday plans for travelers.
BA on Monday said it aimed to fly about 45,000 customers a day during the first stoppage, roughly 60 percent of those booked to fly on those days, with short haul services at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports likely to be worst hit.
It also said the majority of flights spanning the second strike period would remain in the schedule and that it would provide an update after the first strike period had ended.
BA has trained other staff to fill in as cabin crew during the strike, and has said it will hire 22 fully-crewed planes from charter companies to help run flights from Heathrow.
Unite last week said it was £10 million (US$15 million) away from reaching a settlement with BA — half the amount analysts say BA would lose per day if the strikes go ahead.
The opposition Conservatives, their opinion poll lead shrinking in recent surveys, accused Brown of hypocrisy. Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis, however, said that attempts to politicize the dispute would make it harder to resolve.
“This is an industrial dispute, not a political dispute,” Adonis told the upper House of Lords. Adonis said on Sunday that the strike threatened BA’s existence.