Union boss Mick Lynch apologised for disruption to the Tube caused by strike action but warned it would not be the last if the dispute over jobs and pensions cannot be resolved, with negotiations for a new pay deal looming next year.
Mr Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), defended the strikes as he stood at the picket lines outside Bollo Lane, near Acton Town underground station, on Friday morning.
The union fears that Transport for London’s (TfL) negotiations with the Government on a long-term funding deal, required due to a drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic, will result in cuts to services and workers’ pensions.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Lynch said: “We’re very sorry that people are inconvenienced. We are hoping that people have sympathy for us.
“We’re ordinary men and women that want to do our jobs and provide a service, but when you’re being cut to pieces by an employer, and by the Government, you’ve got to make a stand.
“We can’t stand by and watch our conditions be chopped up. So we’ve got to show them that we’re deadly serious about the future of the services across all of TfL, but also across our members’ conditions, because we don’t know what they’re discussing.”
Mr Lynch said the union had been shut out of talks between the Government, the Treasury, and Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office and so the strike showed they were “deadly” serious about protecting their members.
He said: “They want to decimate the pensions and change it into an entirely different, cheaper scheme, which will make all our members poorer in retirement and probably pay more while they are working.
“They’ve got to get us around the table so we can talk about their issues, but at the minute there’s been a big stalemate.
“That stalemate starts between the two authorities, which are the Government and the Mayor. It’s very difficult for us to know what’s going on.
“That’s not a way to run a major global city. We’ve got to have a settlement that allows the people of London to get a decent transport system and the workers on that system to be assured of their future.”
He warned further walkouts were “likely” if no solution could be reached to secure the workers’ pensions and signalled that the prospect of negotiations in the new year on a new pay deal could see a “really difficult period”.
“The issues that are involved in London Underground may get more serious and right across TfL, because they haven’t got any funding from the Government, it’s going to be difficult, ” Mr Lynch said.
“The Government has cut £4 billion off the railway, the mainline railways lost £2 billion, and TfL lost £2 billion. So that’s going to affect every worker but it will also affect the services that Londoners can expect going forward.
“So we could either have austerity or we could have properly funded public services.”
In response to Mr Lynch’s claims, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he and the RMT union were “on the same side here, nobody wants the Government to be attaching unreasonable conditions to our deal”.
Mr Khan told the PA news agency: “The way the Government is behaving, it’s almost like they’re deliberately provoking strikes across the country, not just in the transport sector but in other sectors, as a precursor for legislation to curtail the rights of trade unions to go on strike.
“I’m keen to make sure we get the best possible deal for TfL because we won’t get a national recovery without a London recovery.
“We simply will not get a London recovery unless TfL fires on all cylinders. What we don’t want are unreasonable draconian strings attached by the Government.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport accused union leaders are “opting to inflict misery” by disrupting travel.
The spokesman said: “It’s clear strikes are not the powerful tool they once were and union chiefs are no longer able to bring the country to a standstill as, unlike them, the world has changed and people simply work from home.
“All these strikes are doing is hurting those people the unions claim to represent, many of whom will again be out of pocket and forced to miss a day’s work.”
When approached by the PA Media news agency about Mr Lynch’s claim the union was shut out of the current negotiations about workers’ pension, a TfL spokesman said: “We remain in active discussions with the Government to ensure that the draft funding proposal that they have made is fair and deliverable and can prevent the managed decline of the capital’s transport network.
“We continue to work with the DfT on the wording of the draft proposal.
“Due to market sensitivities, TfL is unable to share details of the Department for Transport’s proposed funding deal.”
Andy Lord, TfL’s chief operating officer, said: ”I would like to apologise to our customers for the strike action being carried out by RMT and Unite, which will have a significant impact on the city’s transport network.
“I understand how frustrating these strikes are and I’d like to remind the RMT and Unite that it’s not too late to work with us, Arriva Rail London and RATP to find a resolution and avoid the huge disruption this action will cause to people’s journeys and to the economy.”