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9 January 2017

Why are London Underground staff on strike anyway?

Without the tube, the capital was in chaos. 

By Julia Rampen

Monday got off to a chaotic start in London, after tube staff walked out on Sunday evening for a 24 hour strike. 

Commuters shared videos of streets overwhelmed with crowds, including the busy railway stations of Liverpool Street and Clapham Junction. 

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But why is this chaos happening anyway?

The Rail Maritime & Transport Workers Union (RMT) has released a leaflet explaining its side of the story.

Reasons for striking include:

  • 838 job cuts which the RMT says leave stations under-staffed and unsafe
  • A reliance on staff working overtime
  • A 25 per cent cut to the starting pay rate for station staff

Here’s the reason it’s confusing – the main change the RMT are protesting has already happened, when Transport for London closed ticket offices in 2016.

Not only that, but TfL agrees that the cuts went too far. London Undeground’s chief operating officer Steve Griffiths said: “It is clear that some more staff for stations are needed.” He says more staff are being recruited.

Meanwhile, the ultimate TfL boss, London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, is facing his first major transport challenge since his election in 2016. 

In a series of tweets over the weekend, he urged the strikers to call it off.

He declared: “This historic dispute has nothing to do with the millions of Londoners this strike is punishing. It must be called off.”

But according to Martin Hoscik of Mayor Watch, this was Khan’s first leadership test and “he flunked it”. 

He points out that plans to close ticket offices can be traced back as far as the last Labour mayor, Ken Livingstone. 

Hoscik argues that by not simply telling TfL staff to accept the deal on the table, Khan has emboldened the unions to demand more.