Politics keeps Tube dispute going

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The fourth all-out strike on London Underground goes ahead today, amid union claims that the dispute was being prolonged for political reasons and that passengers were being used as "cannon fodder".

As cyclists from the Reclaim the Streets protest group promised to bring added chaos by converging on Trafalgar Square in support of the striking drivers, the dispute dissolved into recrimination.

Lew Adams, leader of Aslet, the train drivers' union, and Jimmy Knapp, of the RMT rail union, said only political interference could explain why weekend optimism of a settlement had come to nothing. Mr Adams said last week they had proposed an annual pay increase 1 per cent below the rate of inflation for the next three years to secure a reduction in hours to 35 a week to tackle stress levels.

London Underground negotiators seemed pleased and thanked them. But optimism turned to "doom and gloom" this week. Asked if he thought the Government had interfered, Mr Adams said: "You don't have to be a political analyst to see that a government that is in political difficulties would like some diversion to take away from their record of the last 17 years."

The problem of drivers suffering stress from working underground and facing suicides and bomb scares was being ignored. The unions condemned management "audacity" in refusing to negotiate when chairman Peter Ford had received a 20.4-per-cent bonus of pounds 31,544 this year and Dennis Tunnicliffe, the managing director, a 22-per-cent bonus of pounds 24,079 for improved productivity.

A London Underground spokeswoman dismissed claims of political interference: they had proposed four different options to resolve the dispute, including a 2.4-per-cent pay increase, with a 12-minutes a-day reduction in hours. But the unions had accepted none of the proposals. London Underground believed the way forward was arbitration through the Wages Board.

Improvements in performance performance had been impressive but with more people using the Underground they needed more staff. However, the unions' proposals would add about 25 per cent to the wages bill and were unworkable.

A spokeswoman for Reclaim the Streets said the Trafalgar Square demonstration would"show Tube workers that they are valued by a lot of people".