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Strike May Shut Down London Underground

June 28, 2004|From Bloomberg News

A 24-hour strike scheduled to begin Tuesday on the London Underground may shut down the 141-year-old commuter train network and force the 3 million daily passengers to make alternative travel plans.

Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers employed by London Underground Ltd. and Metronet, a company hired to maintain the train system, will walk out at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday London time and return to work at 6:29 p.m. Wednesday.

The union rejected a 3.25% annual pay raise offer, saying it wanted a substantial increase above the inflation rate.

A one-day strike in October 2002 closed the Tube, leaving commuters to drive, walk, ride buses or cancel trips. The disruption cost businesses $118 million, according to London First, a business group.

"Nothing will be resolved by strike action except disruption to Londoners," Tim O'Toole, managing director of London Underground, said in a statement on the company's website.

The union on Thursday called off a nationwide train strike scheduled for this week after Network Rail Ltd., owner of Britain's tracks and stations, made a new offer with improved pension benefits. But the Tube strike will go on as planned, the union said.

"They're holding a grudge against the wrong people," said Tom Jelloph, who works at Diageo in west London and rides the Tube to work. "It's not the passengers' fault they aren't getting the pay they want, and it's not the passengers who can do anything about it."

London Mayor Ken Livingstone, whose government controls the Tube, said London Underground had agreed to the union's requests to raise pay, reduce the workweek to 35 hours by 2006 and keep the pension program open to all employees.

The strike is "completely and utterly unnecessary," Livingstone said last week.

Union General Secretary Bob Crow on Friday said that he was "shocked and saddened" by the comments of Livingstone, a Labor Party member whom the union backed in a June 10 mayoral election.

"The mayor should know that the way to settle disputes is not to attempt to break strikes but to negotiate," Crow said in a statement on the union's website.

Metronet, the other strike target, has a 30-year contract to maintain and upgrade parts of the Tube.

The London Underground opened in 1863 as the world's first below-surface railway. It has 275 stations, 253 miles of track and 12,000 employees.

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