THE LONDON Underground network was thrown into chaos by the second joint union strike against the planned cutting of 800 jobs – mainly ticket office staff. The 24-hour strike began at 18.30 on Sunday evening and lasted through until Monday evening.
Tube bosses claimed they had 40 per cent of trains running – a claim challenged by the unions RMT and TSSA who said the figure was nearer to 30 per cent – but with most stations closed and information confused few people could get on whatever trains were running.
Services on the entire Circle line were suspended. Services on seven other lines were part suspended, with special services on three other Tube lines.
At the same time many services on London Overground were part suspended due to faulty trains and signalling problems.
The strikers received solidarity messages from many other unions, including the TUC, Unite, PCS, FBU, Usdaw, NUT, NASUWT and NUJ.
But Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson, who has consistently refused to meet the unions and was absent at the Tory party conference during the strike, used the disruption caused by the strike to demand even more draconian anti-union laws to prevent strikes in vital services.
He told delegates to the Tory conference: “I want to speak directly to the three million people who use the London Underground network every day, and the first and most important thing is how deeply I regret the inconvenience you are suffering as a result of this strike.
"And I say to the leaders of the unions that this gesture is nakedly and blatantly political; that it has nothing to do with health and safety or improving the terms and conditions of work of your members."
RMT general secretary Bob Crow responded: "The cuts to ticket offices and safety-critical station staffing levels that RMT members are fighting to prevent in the action today are the same cuts that Boris Johnson opposed before he was elected London mayor.
"To attack RMT and TSSA members standing up for Tube safety is hypocrisy of the highest order on the part of the mayor.
"The anger of the mayor's Tube staff at his repeated attacks on them is shown in the rock solid support for today's action and the fact that hundreds of staff have turned back at the picket lines. The mayor's assault has hardened attitudes and reinforced the determination to stop these cuts."
Days before the strike the RMT released pictures of worn-away brake blocks on trains that with finance-driven maintenance changes would be forced into service, a move that the union says demonstrate that financial cuts are ripping to shreds safety and maintenance schedules with lethal consequences for passengers and staff alike.
London Underground have begun trialing a new schedule which will double the period between brake inspections on tube trains from 14 to 28 days – the pictures that RMT released are of brake blocks after 14 days of wear on the tracks and show in the most graphic detail that if the current schedule is extended the brakes will be grinding metal on metal creating the perfect conditions for a major disaster.
Boris Johnson is seeking to ban strikes unless the ballot produces a majority in excess of 50 per cent of all who are entitled to vote – a move that would give a field day to lawyers in disputes over who is entitled to vote. And he has the backing of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Bob Crow replied: "The CBI and Boris want to tighten the noose of the anti-union laws around the neck of working people.
"The vast majority of Boris's crew would not be in power had this distorted and bastardised version of democracy been applied to London Assembly members."
London Underground boss Howard Collins claimed that even after the cuts “every station will remain staffed at all times”. Bob Crow said this was “nonsense” because many stations already run unstaffed on a regular basis.
TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty said: “To use one of Boris’s own phrases – that is a pyramid of piffle.
"We would not have written to the mayor over six months ago asking him to talk to us over his plans to axe 800 ticket office jobs on the Tube if we were playing political games.
"He is a part-time mayor, part-time columnist and part-time game show host and he is not particularly good in any of those roles. Now he is turning a legal strike into a political game show.
"This is not a strike against central government. It is a strike against Boris’s plans to cut over 7,000 hours a week from ticket offices at all 274 stations at LU, purely a local government dispute."
Lianna Etkind from the campaign Transport for All pointed out that the cuts would make it much harder for disabled and older people to use the Tube network.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber also attacked Johnson’s call for more anti-union laws, saying: “The UK has some of the toughest legal restrictions on the right to strike in the advanced world. Already the courts regularly strike down democratic ballots that clearly show majority support for action.
“The CBI proposals are a fundamental attack on basic rights at work that are recognised in every human rights charter, and will be dismissed by any Government with a commitment to civil liberties.”