Boris vs Bob: the battle that's brought London to a standstill

Tube strike cripples the capital as Mayor stands firm in dispute with union
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The Independent Online

Millions of Londoners face a nightmarish commute and firms face mass absences today in an increasingly personal industrial dispute between the hardline London Underground leader, Bob Crow, and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, that threatens to bring the capital to a halt.

After last-ditch talks failed to find a breakthrough, Tube workers began a 48-hour strike over pay and jobs last night, intended to paralyse the city's main form of transport until the end of the week.

Mr Johnson urged Londoners to adopt the Blitz spirit and laid on 7,000 extra buses, river services, cycle racks and taxi-shares for three million passengers hit by the stoppage, timed to cause maximum disruption in the evening rush-hour. Last night Transport for London, which is under Mr Johnson's control, warned commuters that Tube services were unlikely to get back to normal until Friday morning.

The business group London First estimated that the strike would cost £100m. Judging by previous RMT strikes which have led to repeated 48-hour stoppages, it could cause further disruption in coming weeks.

Both sides appeared to be digging in yesterday as emergency talks were held at the conciliation service Acas. The Conservative Mayor accused the RMT leadership of being "demented". The RMT accused Mr Johnson of failing to meet it face to face since his election more than a year ago, and damned "public school yah-boo" politics.

At the centre of the dispute is TfL's plan to cut what it says would be up to 1,000 "back-office" jobs during the integration of staff from the collapsed maintenance firm Metronet, which was set up under a doomed public-private partnership opposed by the RMT.

The RMT, which represents drivers, station, maintenance and administration staff, accused TfL of "trying to tear up no-redundancy agreements" and warned that up to 4,000 of the Tube's 22,000 jobs were at risk.

TfL originally offered a five-year pay deal, rather than the usual annual negotiation. After union complaints, it came back with a two-year deal offering an above-inflation 1 per cent in the first year and 0.5 per cent above the Retail Price Index in the second. The union claimed the deal could lead to pay cuts if the RPI fell below zero.

A spokesman for TfL said that talks had been progressing well until Monday afternoon when the RMT demanded the reinstatement of two sacked Tube drivers as a condition for averting the strike, arguing that they had been victimised. Of the RMT's 10,000 members, 2,810 voted for a strike and 488 voted against. Other Tube unions, Aslef, TSSA and Unite, are currently considering the offer.

"It is utterly demented of the RMT leadership to proceed with this strike when two thirds of their members did not vote for it and when real progress had been made in the negotiations," Mr Johnson complained.

"I urge the RMT leadership to get back to the negotiating table. If they continue with this capricious and cynical action, they should be in no doubt that we at Transport for London will not be beaten, and nor will the travelling public. We will do everything in our power to keep this city on the move."

Mr Crow, RMT's general secretary, said: "The RMT have made it clear that we are available for talks but the silence from the Mayor and his senior managers suggests that they prefer confrontation and disruption.

"We are telling them today that the time has come to get out of the bunker and start talking to the staff who have been pushed into this strike by the management's outrageous demands on pay cuts and job losses."

Responding to Mr Johnson's "demented" jibe, an RMT spokesman went on: "There's no point chucking abuse around. Boris Johnson should face up to his responsibility. It's ludicrous that the Mayor of London, who went around in his election boasting about his ability to stand up to the RMT, has not had a single meeting with the Tube's biggest union. Instead of this public school yah-boo he should start getting to grips with the massive financial crisis facing the Tube."

Under his "keep moving" plan, the Mayor is laying on 7,000 extra buses today on 700 routes, setting up 1,900 temporary cycle racks, increasing capacity on Thames ferries from 1,500 to 8,000 an hour, and running a free ferry shuttle service from London Bridge to Tower Bridge. Overground trains will operate as normal and accept Oyster cards. The Docklands Light Railway will run as normal.

Brent Council warned football fans not to expect to park within two miles of Wembley for tonight's England match against Andorra. The Football Association had considered playing the match behind closed doors because of fears that congestion would prevent ambulances and fire engines reaching the ground in the event of an emergency.

Head to head: The Mayor and the militant

Boris Johnson

Age: 44

Middle Name: Boris (Full name: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson)

Family: Wealthy. His father, Stanley Johnson, was a Conservative MEP and mother is the painter Charlotte Fawcett, daughter of a knighted barrister.

Education: European School of Brussels; Ashdown House School; Eton College; Balliol College, Oxford (classics)

Achievements: Chat show panellist, Mayor of London

Silliest comment: He wrote that the Queen liked the Commonwealth, because it "supplied her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies".

What he says about Bob: "It's demented of the RMT leadership to proceed with the strike when two thirds of their members did not vote for it."

Bob Crow

Age: 47

Middle Name: None

Family: Humble. Father, George Crow, was a casual docker and stonemason.

Education: He left Hainault High School at the age of 16.

Achievements: Becoming a member of the "Awkward Squad" of union leaders, calling regular Tube strikes.

Silliest comment: On Millwall Football Club violence: "Some of their fans have got that reputation. But then they've got other fans. Max Bygraves. Des O'Connor. It's a fun-loving club..."

What he says about Boris: "The RMT have made it clear that we are available for talks but the silence from the Mayor and his senior managers suggests that they prefer confrontation and disruption."

Battle lines What TfL wants... and what the RMT wants

* Make up to 1,000 back office staff from the collapsed Metronet maintenance firm compulsorily redundant, where they cannot be redeployed.

* Impose two-year pay deal, of 1 per cent in first year and 0.5 per cent above RPI in second year.

* Not to reinstate Victoria Line driver Carl Campbell, who was sacked for opening the doors on a Tube train on the wrong side and another, anonymous, driver who was sacked over theft allegations which will be heard in court next week.

* No compulsory redundancies.

* No below-inflation pay deals (claims that pay cuts could be made if RPI drops below zero in second year; TfL says workers would receive 0.5% pay rise if deflation.)

* Re-instatement of the two drivers. RMT says both have been victimised, saying that the Tube should have updated Victoria Line, as with other lines, so that doors cannot be opened on the sides of the rails and that the other driver had been unfairly treated.