Unions began their 48 hour strike in the London Underground on Tuesday night disrupting the routes of millions of travellers and leaving the roads and railways in chaos. Negotiations have been halted as both sides are unable to meet to an agreement. The strike is to prevent the cut of 950 jobs through closing ticket offices which would save the city an estimated 50 million pounds a year, equivalent to $81 million US dollars.
It is estimated that only three percent of transactions involve ticket offices so many believe the system is outdated and having fewer people working there would cut unnecessary costs to the city. Union leader of RMT, Bob Crow, disagrees. Crow asserts the current situation in London of crowded lines and backed up traffic is an example of how the job cuts would affect the safety of staff and passengers of the London Underground.
Roughly three and a half million trips are made every day on the London Underground’s 11 lines of which 70 percent is now at a standstill. Many stations are closed and the ones that remain open are operating at reduced schedules with extremely long queue delays.
In effort to ease the congestion in and around stations, the city has reportedly added an additional 100 buses and is encouraging citizens to bike or walk whenever possible. Traffic has come to a halt in some areas as vehicles and cyclists are multiplied and the spaces are not built to accommodate the sudden increase in numbers.
The recent upheaval in the daily life of Londoners has politicians as well as the city’s transportation authority, Transport for London, speaking out against the strike calling it “completely unnecessary.” Mayor of London, Boris Johnson accuses union leaders of performing “stunts” and spreading “myths” to sway support and justify their actions. Johnson along with other officials is pushing to have tighter regulations on strikes that affect public transport stating “there are plenty of other capital cities around the world that actually have a total ban on strikes by their mass transit workers.”
Crow invited Johnson to do the only “honourable” thing and meet with the unions for negotiations which are currently at a halt. It is undetermined where the public sits as both sides claim to have the majority of public support. Business groups claim the strike will cost tens of millions of pounds, many of which will be affected are firms that do not have the option to allow employees to work from home such a small businesses. The CBI claims only a third of union members support the strike which raises the question on why leaders decided to proceed with it. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron spoke out against Crow saying “his shameful plans will bring misery to millions of hardworking families in London.”
Both sides have been criticized for failing to come up with negotiations. Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Mary Creagh, explains “nobody wants strikes and both sides should now get back around the negotiating table and sort this out as a matter of urgency.” Political leaders, Transport for London and union leaders need to find common ground but neither side will budge. Johnson calls the union’s strike “muscle-flexing” nonsense and says it is undermined by the fact that 450 workers have applied for voluntary redundancy already. Crow on the other hand, claims the strike has been “very effective” in his efforts to secure the London Underground’s jobs at stake.
The strike is due to end Thursday night and a second strike is planned for next Tuesday evening at 9 p.m. which will also last 48 hours, a continued halt in negotiations and interrupted traffic flow.
By Lian Morrison