5 Feb 2014

Tube strike talks set for Friday – but chaos continues

It might not have been at a standstill – but a strike by London Underground staff brings chaos and misery to millions struggling to reach work in the face of shut or very reduced services.

Talks aimed at resolving the London Underground dispute will be held on Friday, but a crippling strike will continue until Thursday evening.

Tube services will again be disrupted because of a walkout by members of the RMT and TSSA unions in protest at the closure of ticket offices.

The 48-hour walkout will end at 9pm on Thursday, with another strike planned for next week unless the deadlock is broken.

The unions have been calling on London Mayor Boris Johnson to meet them to discuss the controversial closures, with the loss of 950 jobs.

There were massive queues at bus stops and roads became gridlocked as people took to their cars to beat the strike. Journalist Symeon Brown filmed a mass of would-be travellers packing Stratford station, which had to be evacuated due to overcrowding (see video above).

The 48-hour action, which began on Tuesday evening, was called to protest against plans by Transport for London (TfL) to close all ticket offices, with the loss of jobs.

Of the twelve underground lines, only the Northern and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) were functioning normally. Three lines (Bakerloo, Circle, Waterloo and City) were completely shut and limited services were running on other lines, often with no service through central London. Overground services were also working as normal.

London Underground described the strike as “completely unnecessary” and said: “Many thousands of LU and TfL staff are working hard to keep customers informed and ensure we keep London moving and open for business today.”

But RMT union leader Bob Crow said the strike was “solid with widespread and major disruption”, dismissing TfL press releases as “publicity stunts”. In a message to union members on the RMT website Mr Crow wrote: “the London Underground network has effectively been closed down.”

A crowd of passengers at Waterloo station

The union also published images online that it said demonstrated “lethal overcrowding” at Waterloo on Wednesday morning, accusing London Underground managers of ripping up the safety rule book and exposing passengers to “serious crushing and trampling risk”.

Both Mr Crow and TSSA union leader Manuel Cortes have accused the London mayor of refusing to meet them.

War of words

Both Mr Crow and TSSA union leader Manuel Cortes have accused London mayor Boris Johnson of refusing to meet them.

On Channel 4 News on Tuesday, Mr Johnson clashed with Bob Crow.

The mayor said he was happy to talk but would not do so “with a gun pointed at his head”. He went on to say that when he promised that ticket offices would not close “I-phones had not been invented”, adding: “When technology moves on, and you’ve got contactless payment systems, and only 3 per cent of ticket offices being used in most cases, you’ve got to move on.”

Conceding that there was no threat of compulsory redundancies, Bob Crow said he wanted to discuss ticket office closures on a station-by-station basis, but London Underground were determined to close them all. He declined to call off the strike and said that his union had been at the conciliation service ACAS for the last six days and “no movement has been made whatsoever.”

Travellers using pay-as-you-go tickets (rather than pre-paid Travelcards), found themselves out of pocket as they improvised new ways to work.

However some were more understanding. @EwanMetcalf took time to tweet a photo of a list of the tube unions’ demands, prompting a response from a non-Londoner that tube staff are the “most helpful people I meet in the capital”.