London Tube staff strike hits millions

February 06, 2014 - 7:33:36 am
LONDON: Millions of Lond-oners were caught up in commuting chaos yesterday, as Underground workers began the first in a series of strikes that Prime Minister David Cameron branded as “shameful”. 

As tempers frayed on packed buses and the capital’s streets swarmed with commuters walking, running and cycling to work through gale-force winds, Mayor Boris Johnson and powerful union leader Bob Crow traded recriminations over the latest walkout.

London’s Underground rail drivers plan to stay out for two days this week and another two next week, in a row over job cuts and modernisation. The action has brought new calls to curtail the rights of unions to strike in key infrastructure areas. Some three million people use the Tube system most days. Only a lucky few could cram themselves on the handful of trains that were running yesterday.

Cameron said on his official Twitter feed that the strike was “shameful, bringing misery to millions of Londoners”. Speaking later in parliament, he added: “I unreservedly condemn this strike. There is absolutely no justification for a strike. We need a modernised tube line working for the millions of Londoners who use it every day.”

Police were out in force at major rail stations to keep order in the long lines that began building up at bus stops shortly after dawn. Even so, there were reports of jostling as tempers frayed. Thousands of workers took to the roads on bikes. Boat services along the River Thames were running extra trips. The more athletic used the strike as a chance to run to work from the suburbs.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) unions called the strike to protest against job losses and plans to close manned ticket offices as part of the modernisation of the 151-year-old network. A second 48-hour strike is planned for February 11 to February. 14.

RMT leader Crow said the strike was “rock solid” and had reduced the network to a skeleton service. The TSSA said service had been reduced by 70 percent.