The first Tube strike last week was widely viewed as a trial of strength between Boris Johnson, head of Transport for London (a position his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, never took) and Bob Crow, head of the RMT union. The dispute, which pitted the RMT and the TSSA union against TFL, is ostensibly over ticket offices and proposals to reduce staff and close offices because (as Boris claims) everyone uses their Oyster card and no one buys tickets any more.
The strike was surprisingly effective. Of course, TFL talked in glowing terms about running 40% of all trains (the main drivers union, ASLEF, is not involved in the dispute and worked normally) and claimed to have beaten the strike. Unfortunately, it’s all very well running trains but not much use if stations are closed and people can’t get on or off the trains.
Mrs Stodge wasn’t able to get off her train at Monument and had to travel all the way to Embankment in order to get back to the City. Her normal 45-minute journey took over two hours and the closure of key London stations such as Holborn would have been every bit as disruptive as stopping the trains at all so in these terms Bob Crow probably won Round 1 of this battle.
The London-based media, led by City AM and the Evening Standard, have been vitriolic in their condemnation of the RMT and especially Bob Crow, whose opinions seem to hark back to a different time but he does represent a strand of opinion which has grown and hardened with the coming of the Coalition and the likelihood of spending cuts. It’s quite possible that even if this dispute is resolved, Crow and the RMT will be back during the winter or early spring. My view was that any RMT or ASLEF prolonged strike would swiftly collapse but in a more adversarial atmosphere and with the sceptre of redundancies, I suspect future industrial action will or would be more solid.
The next planned strike is in three weeks time at the start of the Conservative Party Conference and it remains to be seen whether a fudged solution can be cobbled together to prevent a Round 2 but Crow and the RMT undoubtedly won Round 1.