The oldest subway in the world was almost completely paralyzed on Thursday, with most lines at a standstill and some in greatly reduced service.
Millions of people saw their journeys severely disrupted on Thursday 10 November by another near-total strike on the London Underground, at a time when social movements are intensifying in Britain and Europe in the face of inflation.
The oldest subway in the world was almost completely paralyzed, with most lines completely shut down and a few in greatly reduced service. Only the very young Elizabeth Line, inaugurated in May and partially automated, was operating almost normally. The London Underground normally carries up to 5 million passengers a day, but has been rocked by several strikes in recent months. If some Londoners had opted for remote work, the practice of which has spread widely since the Covid-19 pandemic, many had fallen back on the bicycle, the car, but also the overcrowded buses.
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In the north-east of the capital, at Blackhorse Road station on the Victoria line, Daniel Osei, 26, who works at a school in the Fulham district, supports the strike in principle but believes he “there were a lot of people” since spring. “It doesn’t seem to have that much of an impact on the government” and the budget it allocates to TfL (Transport for London) “only on users”, he notes. Pema Monaghan, a 28-year-old writer, says she supports the strikers even though her journeys for the day will be complicated. “They are defending their working conditions and their wages. We are all worried about our wages” given inflation of more than 10% in Britain, she testifies.
“The strike adds 90 minutes to my commute”
Further west of the city, at Kentish Town station on the Northern line, Nicco Hogg, 36, and transport manager, found himself in the middle of a never-ending journey: “the strike adds 90 minutes to my journey” which will take about three hours to reach his workplace. “I took the car, the train and now I have to step on the pedals”he lists with his bike in hand.
The national union RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport), which called for the strike, is particularly opposed to the axing of 600 jobs at tube stations and to a project by TfL to change its funding of agents’ pensions, according to a press release. Burdened by the pandemic, TfL entered into a funding agreement with the government at the end of August, which, however, does not meet its needs. “These attacks (of employee status) are deeply unfair and completely unnecessary”believes the union, which claims to have made proposals to suspend the strike which were rejected by TfL.
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According to Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, which also called for the strike, ‘TfL is unnecessarily attacking our members’ pensions and wages, which Unite simply cannot accept’she said in a statement. “No proposal has been made to change the pension system or the conditions”assured Glynn Barton, a TfL official, in a statement on Tuesday following the failure of negotiations with the unions.
A wage increase of between 14 and 18% for dock workers
This strike also comes at a time when Britain is experiencing a proliferation of social movements in a context of record inflation. On Wednesday, nurses voted in an unprecedented nationwide strike to demand better wages, and about 100,000 civil servants voted to strike on Thursday, a move that could affect border control staff, driver’s license examiners and drivers alike. Next week, a strike is planned at Heathrow Airport, while the train drivers’ union Aslef has planned another strike on November 26, among other things. Dock workers in Liverpool, meanwhile, won a pay rise of between 14 and 18% on Thursday, said the union, which announced the end of the walkout that started in September.
The same demands excite other European countries, also crossed by social movements, such as Paris, where the metro was also greatly disrupted on Thursday by a strike called by all the unions demanding wage increases.