London commuters struggle to get to work amid subway strike; mayor calls tougher labor laws

By Robert Barr, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

London subway strike hits commuters

LONDON — By foot, bike and devious new routes, London commuters scrambled to get to work Monday during a one-day strike by the city’s subway workers. At least it wasn’t raining very hard.

Thousands of maintenance workers, drivers and station employees walked off the job Sunday evening for 24 hours to protest 800 planned job cuts, mostly among station staff. It was the second such disruption since September.

Transport for London, which runs the Underground — known as the Tube — says there will be no compulsory layoffs.

More than 3.5 million people use the Tube daily.

Officials claimed that they were able to run 30 percent of normal services, although some lines were shut down and some stations were closed.

Commuters who normally commute by the Tube coped by switching to buses, bikes or just walking; or some found their way to work by improvising new routes on trains and other transport. The weather helped, as heavy weekend rains gave way to drizzle Monday morning. But many of central London’s narrow roads struggled to cope with the increased demand, and traffic all but came to a standstill in the central business district Monday morning.

“It is very annoying,” said banker Ben Gilbert, 34, whose normal 35-minute travel time stretched to an hour on Monday. “Everyone knows the strikes cause absolute chaos. They shouldn’t really be allowed to do it.”

But Chris Brown, 55, an IT support worker, expressed some support for the strikers.

“I am completely split down the middle. It is an inconvenience, but I do sympathize with what they are trying to achieve.”

Referring to the government’s plans for sharp cuts in spending, Brown said “more strikes will come” if cuts lead to job losses.

Among those expressing outrage over the Sunday-Monday action was London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Johnson said the strike was “a nakedly political act” timed to coincide with the annual conference of the Conservative Party, which leads the coalition government.

“It has nothing whatever to do with health and safety — nor have the union leaderships raised any such fears in the course of the negotiations,” Johnson wrote.

The Conservative mayor said London’s automated fare system — the Oyster card — had reduced the need for ticket office staff. Some stations are now selling fewer than 10 tickets an hour, Johnson said.

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT union, said strikers were fighting against “the same cuts that Johnson opposed before he was elected London mayor.”

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