Monday, October 04, 2010

London Transport strike causes chaos

London's Mayor Boris Johnson has condemned unions for bringing London to a halt calling it "irresponsible" and "politically motivated". He spoke as the Conservative Party conference began in Birmingham and where he is to lobby for a change in the rules concerning strike ballots. In what will be seen as contentious by unions, he is to propose that a strike should not be legal unless at least 50% of the membership has voted for industrial action.

Commuters on the streets of London certainly felt the effects of today's strike with around 90 stations from 274 on London's Underground network closed and less than half of trains running with most lines disrupted. The Central and Circle lines were completely shut down and most others were only running partial services.

Where skeleton services were running, hundreds were queueing to get into some stations. There were also large queues at taxi ranks and at bus stops across the capital despite 100 extra buses being laid on by Transport for London. The roads were also packed with many routes extremely slow. Trafficmaster services showed delays on most major routes into town and local traffic reports listed a series of traffic jams. The congestion charge remained in place, adding to the woes of those who decided to take their car into the capital.

Members of the RMT and TSSA unions walked out at 18:30 BST on Sunday over plans to cut 800 ticket office jobs. They claim that proposed job cuts will turn the tube into a death-trap and affect safety on the Underground.

Boris Johnson called the action nothing less than being "politically motivated" instigated by a "die-hard militant union membership". He accused the unions of using London's commuters as pawns. With the advent of automated ticket machines and the use of Oyster cards, "we need to make some sensible and moderate changes to the ticket offices" the mayor said.

Union leaders dismissed his claims and said that ticket office staff were still needed but in different roles. But speaking on the BBC, Gerry Doherty [above left], the TSSA general secretary, was unable to provide statistics or detail saying it was not up to his union to carry out a study. "We are acting on what our members have told us," he told Vanessa Feltz on her morning show on BBC London. "We are not trying to make a political point," Doherty insisted. "My union hasn't been involved in industrial instruction since the 1926 General Strike," he added, "Calling my union a militant union is like the pot calling the kettle black".

Meanwhile, RMT General Secretary Bob Crow [above right] has accused the mayor of going back on his word. "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," he said. "To attack RMT and TSSA members standing up for tube safety is hypocrisy of the highest order on the part of the Mayor," Crow exclaimed. "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."

But the vociferous statements from union leaders were of little consolation for commuters struggling to work on Monday morning. Countless numbers of the travelling public condemned the strike, calling radio stations to voice their anger. "They should be lucky to have a job at all," one caller told Vanessa Feltz. Social networking sites were also filled with comments. Martina Capodanno complained on her Twitter feed that it had taken "FOUR DAMN HOURS TO GET TO THE OFFICE!" Some praised Boris Johnson's bicycle hire scheme. "I love Boris's Bikes. Beats the Tube Strike easily - even in the light drizzle," Paul Brennan tweeted.

Londoners face further disruption in the coming weeks as more strikes are planned. Industrial action is scheduled for 2nd and 28th November, though talks between the unions and London Underground are continuing [Sky News / BBC / BBC Travel Info]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

No comments: