Stop the ‘needless’ Tube strike agony, workers told as London grinds to standstill

Tube unions were on Thursday condemned for causing travel chaos in London with yet another strike — as their leaders warned of further walkouts.

The Underground was brought to a virtual standstill by the RMT as its 10,000 members continued a dispute over pensions and job cuts, despite 11th-hour assurances from the Mayor.

It was the sixth Tube strike this year, resulting in an estimated £12 million blow to the economy and leaving thousands crowding onto buses or stuck in traffic.

Parts of the London Overground were also closed but the Elizabeth line was running a full service. Passengers were warned of knock-on chaos on Friday morning. Minister for London Paul Scully said the strikes were “needless, disruptive and hitting London’s small businesses the hardest”.

He called on the RMT to reach a “realistic deal” with Transport for London, which is required to find £100 million a year savings from its pension scheme as a condition of the £6 billion in government bailouts it received during the pandemic. TfL is also required to break even by next April and sees the reduction in 600 station posts as a way to cut costs.

People struggling to board a bus at Victoria station (Jeremy Selwyn)
People struggling to board a bus at Victoria station (Jeremy Selwyn)

Mr Scully said: “The disruption that is caused by strikes affects all the small businesses and lowest paid-workers most. Those who can least afford to, lose time and money at work.”

The RMT said it had “no alternative” but to continue with the strike — despite pausing its action on the national railways in a separate dispute — after TfL refused to suspend the jobs threat until the end of the year and give assurances on pensions.

John Leach, RMT assistant general secretary, blamed the Government and Mayor Sadiq Khan for putting TfL pensions on the table during the bailout negotiations. He said he doubted assurances made by Mr Khan on Wednesday that he would not agree to pension changes that were detrimental to staff.

Cyclists beating the strike as they cross the Embankment (Jeremy Selwyn)
Cyclists beating the strike as they cross the Embankment (Jeremy Selwyn)

The RMT is again balloting its members and Mr Leach said more strikes were “definitely” likely. He told the Standard: “If these pensions are attacked and jobs are cut and people’s contracts and conditions of employment are put in jeopardy and made worse, we will keep going.

“[We are not seeking] a lottery win. This is about having a reasonable, decent pension when you retire. We are not allowing them to take that off us.

“The Tube staff in London keep this city moving every single day. They are very determined, professional people and they are using that same grit to defend themselves.”

But Nick Dent, director of customer operations at London Underground, said the RMT “were asking for conditions to call this off that frankly no organisation could give”.

Asked if he would describe the strike as needless, Mr Dent said: “I would. It’s unnecessary. This is the sixth strike the RMT have taken now. We are urging them to call this off.”

Waterloo Station this morning (Jeremy Selwyn)
Waterloo Station this morning (Jeremy Selwyn)

Simon French, chief economist at brokers Panmure Gordon, said today’s action would only knock around £12 million off London’s economic output. However the impact is much smaller than pre-pandemic, when far fewer people were able to work from home.

Sadiq Khan urged the RMT “to get around the table with TfL” to resolve concerns unions have.

He told Times Radio: “Our city is trying to get back on its feet after the pandemic. The theatres, the live music, the bars, the restaurants, who would have lost out on revenue today.

“Nobody wants Londoners caught in the crossfire because of the government's conditions on this deal.”

Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said: “I am at a loss as to why the mayor cannot get a grip of the unions and sort this out. We’ve now had more strike days under this mayor than his predecessors. Enough is enough.”

At London Bridge station passengers were frantically seeking ways to get to work.

Martin Lewin, 51, who works in property management, said: “If the mayor says they will protect their pensions they need to get back to work. The strike is needless and it’s hurting the wrong people.”

Michael Georgiou, 32, a shop worker, said: “I’m just fed up wit my it. If the mayor is offering them an olive branch they should take it.”

Maisie Hedges, 21, a student, said: “I know people are struggling with the cost of living and the transport workers deserve decent money but they shouldn’t be holding the rest of us to ransom.”

Bogdan Todorov, 28, who works in construction, said: “The people on strike are being selfish.”

Mr Khan said the bailouts had imposed “onerous conditions” on TfL. “I will not support any unfair changes to pensions that attack the terms and conditions of transport workers,” he said.

Richard Burge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce, said: “Strikes are a lose-lose situation and will land a double blow to London’s economy by causing financial losses to businesses and eroding London’s reputation as a reliable, functioning global centre for business.”

Adam Tyndall, of BusinessLDN, said: “Businesses have no confidence this latest strike will be the last.”

Nick Rogers, GLA Conservatives transport spokesperson, said: “Londoners are facing yet another disruptive strike under Sadiq Khan’s watch, despite his broken promise of zero strikes. Militant unions are striking because they know Sadiq Khan is too weak to stand up to them and deliver much needed reforms to the bloated pension scheme.”

Sian Berry, Green transport spokeswoman, said: “It was very encouraging to see the rail strikes suspended and I was hoping for a similar step forward with the London Underground dispute, so it is worrying to see such disagreement still being expressed.”

Norman Baker, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said the strikes would drive more people into cars. “It’s very unfortunate to see Londoners and others inconvenienced in this way,” he said. “While the right to strike is well-established, it has to be used with care and caution.”