‘End London’s strike misery,’ Government, unions and transport chiefs told

·6 min read
Tube strike at Stratford station this morning (Jeremy Selwyn)
Tube strike at Stratford station this morning (Jeremy Selwyn)

Union barons and transport chiefs on Friday faced demands to end the “triple misery” of Tube, bus and rail strikes as passsengers suffered the fifth major walkout on the London Underground this year.

The 24-hour walkout by 10,000 RMT members brought the Tube to a virtual shutdown while travellers, primarily in west London, faced further problems when about 50 bus routes were hit by strike action by drivers belonging to the Unite union over pay.

It came ahead of another national rail strike tomorrow — the 12th day of woe for travellers in 2022.

Londoners battled into work in seemingly larger numbers than on previous Tube strike days, with many cycling or relying on buses and trains, including the Elizabeth line. Huge queues for taxis were reported at King’s Cross.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps vowed to introduce sweeping legal reforms to “bring dinosaur industrial relations into the 21st century”.

But business leaders said the Government must get round the negotiating table with Transport for London, the unions and the Underground as it was “controlling the purse strings” and dictating many of the terms that lay behind the rail and Tube disputes.

In key developments:

  • Business leaders said the strikes were harming the post-pandemic economic recovery.

  • There were concerns at the damage to the tourist industry during the peak summer holiday season.

  • Mayor Sadiq Khan said Londoners were “caught in the crossfire” and accused the Government of “provoking” the unions.

  • RMT leaders warned that more strikes could be announced if a settlement could not be reached.

Mr Shapps said the action was hitting millions of workers, including many on lower wages than rail staff, during a cost-of-living crisis. He told the Standard: “Union chiefs should stop inflicting triple misery on London with rail, Tube and bus strikes. Their actions are recklessly damaging the capital’s economy, businesses and reputation.”

He also stressed: “The British public, having spent £16 billion supporting the railways through Covid, are fed up with extremist union bosses calling their members out on strike. That’s why I’m preparing 16 changes to union legislation to bring dinosaur industrial relations into the 21st century.”

 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

Today’s Tube strikes follow RMT walk-outs on March 1 and 3 and June 6 and 21. They are not about pay but the perceived threat to pensions — the Government has ordered TfL to reduce the £400 million annual cost of the scheme — and the impact of the axing of 600 station staff posts.

The rail strikes, the seventh of which on Saturday will affect about a dozen firms, including London Overground and Elizabeth line services, are about union demands that pay keeps pace with inflation.

Nick Dent, director of customer operations at TfL, told the Standard: “We are running a very limited service in parts of the Underground. Unfortunately the advice for customers today is not to travel on the Tube.

“We do have other TfL services running — the Elizabeth line is up and running, the DLR is running and there are Overground services. But some of the bus services are disrupted by separate Unite action.”

Asked whether it was time to end the strikes, Mr Dent said: “Nobody wins out of industrial action. We know how devastating these strikes are for London at such an important time in its recovery.

“We are talking with the trade unions regularly. What we would ask them today is to work with us meaningfully and to stop disrupting London with this unnecessary action.”

Adam Tyndall, transport director at BusinessLDN, said: “We have businesses across the capital who are staring at a winter of unprecedented cost pressures. The train companies and TfL are negotiating with the unions but the Government is a significant third party that needs to get into the room as well.

“Everyone needs to put aside their differences and work in the best interests of Londoners and the UK economy.”

He said the pandemic had taught white collar firms how to operate remotely. “The people who get hit hardest these days are those who can least afford it,” he said.

“It’s the people who have got to get to work or don’t get paid. It’s the half of London who can’t work from home. It’s small businesses who have been hardest hit by the pandemic — hospitality, leisure and retail in central London. It’s the key workers who have got to get to work to keep society functioning.”

Ruth Duston, who runs 13 central London business improvement districts, said the impact on the economy would be worse than the 25 per cent reduction in footfall seen during the three days of rail strikes in June.

She said businesses were “frustrated” by the failure to end the strikes to prevent them harming efforts to restore the pandemic-hit economy.

“We want to see an end to it,” she said. “I think Government really need to step in. This is not sustainable in the long term. Something needs to change. The Government needs to sit down and have some sensible talks with TfL and the GLA on how we can find a way to solve this.

“What we need is some fresh thinking, some new ideas - taking on board these new emerging trends of working. Park politics to one side, this is about how London needs to continue to operate.”

She said the strike was “short sited” as it would prevent many families from coming into central London during the school holidays.

“We are in the middle of the school holidays. I’m sure the Tube would have been very busy. Domestic tourism is doing very well at the moment and international tourism is starting to come back. This isn’t just about people coming into work. It’s about all the visitor attractions and that retail and leisure offer.”

TfL loses about £5m a day in fares when the Tube suffers a network-wide strike, though Fridays tend to be less busy than midweek. It is relying on reserves due to the failure to reach agreement with the Government on the terms of a final £900m bailout and a £3.6bn long-term capital funding deal.

Mr Khan said: “Unfortunately, because of the RMT strike, Londoners and businesses are caught in the crossfire when, actually, the concerns the trade union has is about the conditions the Government is attaching to any funding deal with TfL.

“What I’d say to the RMT is work with me, work with us, to lobby the Government to make sure there aren’t draconian strings attached to the funding deal, which we only need because of the pandemic.

“What the Government is doing is using the pandemic as an opportunity to almost provoke trade unions into taking industrial action.”

No further strike dates have been announced but Daniel Randall, an RMT rep on a picket line at Oxford Circus, said: “It’s going to last as long as it needs to until we get a settlement we find satisfactory.”