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British Airways Conducts Intimate Strike Negotiations With 75 Million in Twitterville

Social media has been a catalyst for censorship battles, shifting political elections, class action lawsuits, customer service resolutions, protests on the streets of Tehran and various and sundry public debates on a variety of topics. Inappropriate tweeting has been witnessed at this year's State of the Union address. Celebrities have been known to share their sexapades in tweets. So, it should come as no surprise when a major airlines' strike negotiations should also be aired in the court of public opinion in that little town known as Twitterville.

Willie WalshWillie WalshOn May 23, talks between British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh and Unite's jointTony WoodleyTony Woodley general secretary Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley (Simpson's fellow general secretary) were underway once again, sequestered  behind closed doors as most union strike negotiations are usually conducted. From all early reports, the back-and-forth appeared to be progressing civilly between the three officials. That was until one of the men, unbeknownst to the others decided to invite 75 million people into the room.

Derek SimpsonDerek SimpsonMr. Simpson in an attempt to amp up the volume, took it upon himself to send out a series of "tweets" as to the progress of the discussions, as they were happening in real-time - the first of which commentied on how the civil discussions were escalatiing slightly.



Simpson then followed up that tweet with a series of critiques of Willie Walsh and other critical negotiation points.

Derek Simpson - follow-up tweetsDerek Simpson - follow-up tweets
When Walsh realized what Simpson was up to, Simpson seized the opportunity to demonstrate how Walsh is OK when he uses the media for his own purposes, but not OK when he's exposed through social media channels.


According to a Telegraph.co.uk report, several hours later, Simpson had a change of heart and indicated that he was ready to apologize to Walsh for his "twittering." But this appears to have come to late for the BA chief executive who showed no inclination towards conciliation when he appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr show yesterday morning.

“I was shocked and angry, it is fair to say I was angry when I found out that Derek was doing that," he said.

“He was sitting opposite me and he did have his Blackberry out, I thought he was responding to an email or a text message but when I found out that he was actually sending his version of events to the wider audience that really did undermine my confidence in their desire to resolve the issue.”

He added: “That really does undermine the discussions that took place and I think it raises questions about how this trade union operates."


So once again Twitterville has had front row seats on a news-breaking story that under normal circumstances might have never seen the light of day. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up for debate (or in this case, negotiations). Perhaps if both parities were honest with each other, there would have been no need for 75 million uninvited guests to take a seat at this negotiating table. If this Pandora's box was never opened, it could have restrained tempers from flying the "not so friendly skies." In retrospect, it might have been wise to hold those tweets a little bit closer to the vest.

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Ron Callari
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