Tube Strikes: A Not-So-Rare Occurrence

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The strike on the London Underground, beginning last Wednesday, was the largest London has seen in 13 years.

Commuters were forced to find alternative ways of getting to and from work. 200 extra buses and additional river services helped alleviate some of the congestion, but the streets remained extremely crowded. Police were called when an overcrowded bus refused to move, and shoving and hassling appeared inevitable.

According to the RMT, TSSA, Unite and Aslef unions, the dispute with London Underground (LU) is about workers’ pay and conditions associated with the new Night Tube working.

The RMT says the typical salary for a Tube driver is £50,000 a year, but unions are dissatisfied due to the poor health and disruption of life overnight working can possibly cause union members.

LU offered staff a 2% average pay rise plus a £2,000 one-off payment for drivers on the five lines affected by a planned weekend night-time service, which include Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines.

Union members rejected the pay offer from LU. Some claimed that working overnight shifts on their own was dangerous, and others declared the opening of the Night Tube to be premature.

Nevertheless, the LU says it is hiring 137 more train operators to work on the Night Tube, which would result in existing workers doing “a few extra nights per year within the existing working week.”

Tube strikes are not uncommon in London. London’s first tube strike occurred in 1919, and there have been many since. Between May 2000 and January 2011, there were 36 instances of strike.

Strikes take a toll on London’s economy. During a strike, the daily cost to London’s economy is £48 million. The 20 strike days between December 2005-2009 cost London’s economy £1 billion.

Those on strike put the blame on LU for missing its opportunity to improve conditions for workers. No matter who is at fault, strikes hurt London, and history shows it to be very unlikely that this strike will be the last.

The unions have sent their message to LU in a show of power. It is a message that has been changed slightly over the years, but nonetheless basically repeated throughout history: unions accuse LU of unfair pay and hours, and LU denies accusations.

Unions and LU alike refuse to stand down, and neither side seems truly satisfied with compromise—with such a situation, another strike is bound to occur in the not-so-distant future.

If you commute to work using the Tube, I advise you to plan an alternative route if you have not done so already—if strikes continue to occur as they have historically, you could be needing it quite frequently.

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