Militant union leaders dealt a damaging blow yesterday to Ken Livingstone's campaign to be re-elected as mayor of London when they called a 24-hour Tube strike on polling day. The stoppage on 10 June by the RMT transport union coincides with European Parliament and London mayoral polls and will cripple a system used by three million people a day.
Miilitant union leaders dealt a damaging blow yesterday to Ken Livingstone's campaign to be re-elected as mayor of London when they called a 24-hour Tube strike on polling day. The stoppage on 10 June by the RMT transport union coincides with European Parliament and London mayoral polls and will cripple a system used by three million people a day.
It is understood that Bob Crow, the hard-left general secretary of the union, argued against the controversial date on the basis that it would be seen as "anti-democratic" and would undermine Mr Livingstone, one of the few left-wingers with any degree of power in Britain.
Mr Crow's advice was reportedly rejected by five votes to three after the RMT's national executive initially divided four-four on the issue.
There is little doubt the stoppage by several thousand signallers, maintenance and station staff will interfere with the electorate's ability to vote, but its significance is richly symbolic. Mr Crow said the 2,614 to 643 vote by RMT members was an "overwhelming mandate" for strike action but urged London Underground and private firms involved in maintaining the Tube to reopen negotiations urgently.
The union has rejected a 3 per cent pay rise and is seeking a "substantial" increase as well as a reduction in the working week.
Steve Norris, the Conservative candidate for London Mayor, argued that failure to stop the strike would be a damaging blow to Mr Livingstone's campaign. "Londoners who are frustrated and unable to travel that day will know where to put their crosses. This is a huge boost for our chances on 10 June . The RMT should drop the strike immediately."
Mr Livingstone said that the stoppage on election day was "unnecessary and unacceptable" and that the RMT should return to negotiations. The Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate Simon Hughes accused Mr Crow of "holding London and democracy to ransom". He added: "This sort of industrial action does nobody in London any good. It is bad for Londoners, bad for London Underground and bad for the image of unions."
Meanwhile, further talks will be held today and tomorrow between the RMT and Network Rail in an attempt to avert strikes on the mainline railways in a separate dispute over pay, pensions and travel concessions.
* Union leaders yesterday accepted a peace deal aimed at ending the renewed firefighters' dispute. The executive of the Fire Brigades Union said the wording of a new agreement covering so-called "stand down time" - where employees are allowed to sleep on night shifts - was acceptable. A row over working blew up last month leading to the suspension of firefighters in Greater Manchester and a spate of unofficial action.