memo to british airways: slavery was outlawed in the 19th century. do try to keep up.

Cash-strapped British Airways has come up with a sure-fire cost-cutting plan: slavery.
British Airways has asked its 40,000 staff to work without pay for up to a month as the ailing airline seeks to cut costs.

The group, which made a record £401 million loss in 2008 amid surging fuel prices and a collapse in premium-fare passengers, is seeking to reduce costs dramatically and has already offered staff unpaid leave or a reduction in hours.

Willie Walsh, BA's chief executive, has now gone a step further by asking staff to volunteer for between one and four weeks of unpaid work in what he says is a "fight for survival."

Mr Walsh, who said last week that he would work for free in July, has set a deadline of June 24 for employees to volunteer for unpaid work. He said that the salary deductions would be spread over three to six months wherever possible.

BA denied that those staff who volunteered for unpaid work would be given preference if the airline imposes a further round of redundancies.

This is outrageous. But even more outrageous, is that the no-pay strategy is not as unusual as we might think. At least one southern Ontario factory is doing this right now - and frightened workers are still showing up, weeks after their paycheques have stopped doing so.

Don't be fooled by CEO Walsh's own unpaid work. Presumably he can afford to coast on investments, savings or discretionary cash a bit better than the average worker. How many of us could survive with no income for any length of time?

There are also more insidious forms of this type of slavery. The worker who must come in early to set up, or stay late to prep for the next day - off the clock. Layoffs that leave survivors doing three times the work for the same level of compensation. The subtle - and overt - pressure to never use a sick day or vacation time, lest your job disappear in your absence.

Further on, we have people working two and three part-time jobs because housing costs have so outstripped pay levels. And even for those currently well employed, the constant stress of not knowing if your job is next.

If you have to stop paying workers to run your business, your business isn't working.

If you need massive infusions of tax dollars to prop up the entire system, your system isn't working.

The answer is right under our noses, but people are too addicted to profit and the sacred idea of private ownership to see it. Capitalism is collapsing. We need a better way.

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