ITF affiliates the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) began the first of two 48-hour strikes on Tuesday evening, in protest against the planned closure of all ticket offices and around 1000 job losses across the underground network in London, UK.
Unions say that, despite their efforts to meet with London mayor Boris Johnson, he refuses to discuss their concerns over the impact of his planned cuts. Both unions and community groups have expressed alarm at the potential impact of the cuts, describing unmanned tube stations as a ‘mugger’s paradise’. Before his election in 2008, the mayor said every ticket office should remain open to ensure passenger safety – and the unions want him to abide by this statement.
An independent survey carried out by the RMT has revealed that 65% of tube users think lawful industrial action as a last resort is “justified”. Almost 9 in 10 felt that the mayor should talk with the unions without preconditions if that prevented strike action.
The ITF sent an international delegation to the picket line at Elephant and Castle tube station on Wednesday, with union members from ten countries in attendance. Striking TSSA and RMT members also received international messages of support from the Korean Federation of Public Services and Transportation Workers’ Unions (KPTU), whose railway worker members have been fighting the privatisation and restructuring of their network. In the letter, KPTU president Lee Sang Moo drew parallels with their own struggle, saying: ‘we know it takes great courage to mobilise for and take strike action. We are greatly inspired by your willingness to make this stand in the face of injustice’.
Steve Cotton, ITF acting general secretary, said: “We stand firm behind the legitimate and lawful actions of our brothers and sisters in the RMT and TSSA during the strike period. Workers out on strike are losing wages in the fight for our public transport – a strike which could have been avoided if the mayor had engaged with union as requested. We hope that the dispute is resolved before next week’s planned action – but if it’s not, we’ll be back out on the picket line in solidarity again”.