Tube strike disrupts British capital

London commuters struggled to get to work on Monday as workers on the British capital’s underground rail network held their second strike in a month in a dispute over planned job cuts.

Most underground lines were suspended or partly suspended because of a walkout by up to 10 000 tube staff that began late on Sunday, after a strike ballot critics say was not valid due to low participation.

The 140-year-old network carries more than one billion passengers a year.

It was the second of four planned 24-hour walkouts in protest at job losses at ticket offices. The rail network says many ticket offices are barely used since more passengers were buying tickets via the Internet or at self-service machines.

“There’s no need for ticket offices. A lot of people are losing their jobs these days … We used to have bus conductors years ago. How is this any different?” said university administrator Roger Law (54) as he waited for a bus in the rain.

Britain could face an increase in industrial unrest as deep spending cuts planned by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to curb a record peacetime budget deficit bite.

Speaking at the Conservatives’ annual conference in Birmingham, London Mayor Boris Johnson called the underground stoppage “blatantly political”, and said 3 000 people should not be able “to hold a city to ransom”.

He was referring to the number of Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union members who voted in the strike ballot. About 1 200 members of the white collar TSSA union also voted on whether to walk out.

Change ballot law?
Johnson urged the government to consider a law requiring a minimum 50% participation in a strike ballot.

The Confederation of British Industry business lobby group also called for Britain’s industrial relations laws to be updated, saying unions should give more notice of strikes and workers should be able to hear both sides of the argument.

The RMT said about 40 to 45% of their members voted, a turnout the union said was more than that required of local council and parliamentary votes.

“Boris Johnson is trying to bend and distort democracy in order to load the dice against working people,” said RMT general secretary Bob Crow, urging managers to hold “proper talks” with the unions.

No progress was made in talks between management and unions last month and the unions have refused to resume negotiations as long as a proposal to cut 800 jobs remains on the table.

“We will not withdraw our proposals, but we will listen to any specific safety concerns,” said Mike Brown, London Underground managing director.

Transport for London (TfL), the capital’s main transport authority, said all of London’s key stations were operating, and a “good” service was operating on some lines. Many commuters took buses and taxis instead, clogging central London roads.

The unions plan two more 24-hour walkouts, on Novemner 2 and Novrmber 28, if the dispute is not resolved and a ban on overtime remains in place.

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