London officials are learning a hard lesson today as a strike in the London Underground has forced millions of commuters to endure a grueling slog through a virtual wall of disgruntled tube employees. The planned 48-hour strike began yesterday evening at 9:00pm and will continue into Thursday evening.
The strike comes in response to a planned reduction in staff and ticket stations over a 2-year period. The cutbacks planned by Transport for London were met with understandable scrutiny when they were announced earlier in the year. Last month, in fact, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers made known their plans for two 48-hour strikes to be carried out in February. Why it took until the strike paralyzed Londoners' commutes before the union's irritation was addressed, is anyone's guess.
Whatever the reason, city dwellers in the U.K. are now forced to confront the issue head on. Authorities in London are scrambling to offer alternatives to the tube while the strike is in progress. For example, three generations of London's iconic double decker buses have been brought out of retirement to help handle the extra load.
Meanwhile, politicians are trying to appease the striking tube workers in an attempt to avoid a second strike planned for next week, February 11, though it would appear most of them are more concerned with making it harder for unions to declare strikes as opposed to coming to a consensus on the issue at hand. At the moment, the most popular course of action seems to be requiring unions to get a larger number of votes from all union members before a strike can be declared.
As one official put it: "It's right that we look at issues like ballot thresholds and minimum service agreements in order to protect passengers on vital public transport networks."
In response, the head of the RMT union, criticized politicians like prime minister David Cameron for "playing politics" at the expense of their public's well-being. "David Cameron should be telling the mayor stick to his election promise to Londoners not to close ticket offices," Crow said told the Guardian, before adding, "Playing politics with a dispute that is simply about jobs, safety and services gets us nowhere at a time when talks are the only way forwards."
As one could imagine, initial discussions between the RMT and London politicians have not been promising.
For their part, the RMT seems to be playing things just right. First, they're making passionate, but not melodramatic, pleas for public sympathy, leaving signs like this one that use a touch of dry humor while reminding commuters of the invaluable services workers in the Underground provide. Second, the duration of their strike is a brilliant move. By crowding the tube for 48 hours, union employees are able to make their presence - and their cause - known without alienating passengers by ruining their commutes for an indefinite amount of time. This puts pressure on the powers that be to make the right decision.
Only time will tell if Cameron and his crew can step up to that task.