Cappuccino crisis almost sent London down Tube

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London Underground services came within a whisker of a shutdown by maintenance workers keen to protect their inalienable right to a cappuccino break.

The tastes of the British worker seem to have moved on since the 1960s. In those days, the working man would defend the right to a tea break. And tea meant tea. Not coffee, fruit juice or fizzy water.

Now the quaint habit of tea-drinking is increasingly associated with the more senior shop-floor operatives. As part of a productivity deal in 1993, the 600 workers at London Underground's Acton works relinquished their twice-a-day 20-minute tea break.

Tube management agreed that in return they would install machines for the free dispensation of hot beverages. And the workforce took not to the tea but to milk-based beverages: some to hot chocolate, but most to cappuccino. Tube management had been paying between 4p and 5p per cup, but their caterers complained that milk-based drinks were costing them 18p to produce. Keen to save money, management withdrew thecappuccino and hot chocolate.

Within days the plant was threatened with a strike, with union members itching to walk out unless the "cappuccino option" was reinstated. Officials from the RMT transport union were called to the plant last week and told members would strike unless the "status quo" was re-established. Tube managers caved in and cappuccino is now back on tap.

Jimmy Knapp, the tea- drinking general secretary of the RMT, said: "Cappuccino might not be everyone's cup of tea, but a deal is a deal. I've no doubt that board members have a good selection of teas and coffees at board meetings and my members deserve nothing less."

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