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London Subways Shut Down in Mass Strike 'for Workplace Justice'

Tens of thousands of workers walk off the job in biggest Tube strike since 2002

London Underground workers walked off the job en masse on Wednesday in a 24-hour strike over pay and working conditions. (Photo: CGP Grey/flickr/cc)

Transit workers in London have staged what is said to be the largest walkout on the city's "Tube" system since 2002, with tens of thousands of workers launching a strike on Wednesday that forced a 24-hour shutdown of the entire London Underground (LU) network.

Union leaders saluted the workers who walked off the job to demand increased pay and better working conditions after LU managers announced that trains would start running 24-hour services starting September 12. Labor leaders say the LU "failed to meaningfully negotiate or consult with the recognized trades unions for months," according to a statement on the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) website.

TSSA lists the workers' reasons for taking action:

  • Safety concerns about Night Tube: LU is seeking to introduce Night Tube without meaningful consultation on key aspects of Health & Safety, putting both staff and passengers at risk.
  • Ticket office closures and staff cuts: these continue and LU has not complied with previous agreements.  
  • Payments for night-working: LU has offered only one-off non-pensionable payments in return for staff implementing and delivering Night Tube and increased night working - for the rest of their working lives in LU.  
  • Significant changes to working practices: LU is disregarding existing agreements and working arrangements, and seeking to make changes without meaningful negotiation.

Mick Cash, secretary general of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union, another one of the groups involved in the negotiations, said on Thursday, "RMT congratulates the 20,000 members of all four tube unions who have stood united, solid and determined today and who have shown the world that ‎you can stand and fight for workplace justice if you are organized and strong. They are a credit to the entire trade union movement."

Also involved in the negotiations are Aslef and Unite.

According to the Guardian, LU Managers presented a "final" offer to the unions on Thursday, "including an average 2% rise this year, at least retail prices index (RPI) inflation for each of the next two years and 2,000 for drivers on the new service," but that bid was rejected.

Cash said, "Despite strenuous efforts by union negotiators to press London Underground to address the issues of fairness, safety, work/life balance and equality at the heart of this dispute, they have come up with nothing in the talks."

Comments by labor leaders suggested that further action by workers is not out of the question. Negotiations are set to continue in September.

Finn Brennan, LU organizer for Aslef, said on Thursday:

The responsibility for this strike and the disruption that it will cause rests squarely with London Underground management.

They squandered the window of opportunity to resolve this dispute by refusing to move their position in the slightest for three months and then demanding that all four trade unions accept an offer in one afternoon.

We will be ready to return to the negotiating table on Friday morning to ensure that further action can be avoided.

Wednesday's walkout coincided with a separate 48-hour strike by workers of First Great Western, a train company which operates between Central London and outer suburbs.

The shutdowns sent swarms of commuters into the streets to find alternative routes home, from overcrowded buses to the last bike-share rental. The Guardian reports:

Commuters face a hellish trip into work after a 24-hour walkout, which started last night, forced the whole of the London Underground [LU] network to close for the first time since 2002.

Vintage buses have been dusted off, but the extra bus services are packed, and Boris bikes are in short supply.

Business groups said the strike will cost the capital’s economy tens of millions of pounds.

On Twitter, reactions are being charted under the hashtag #TubeStrikes.

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