London's New Year festivities at risk from Tube strike

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The Independent Online

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was preparing to lay on extra buses throughout the weekend to cope with the impact of the industrial action, including more services linking the main railway stations.

Leaders of the RMT rail union predicted its members would obey the strike call, but London Underground sources said some employees would cross picket lines and some Tube services would run. Both sides said they were ready to talk until the last minute to avoid the walkout, but by last night management and the RMT had failed to agree on the preconditions for negotiations.

One of the organisers of tomorrow's parade said: "We are calling on Londoners to make a point of getting in to see the parade, come what may. This is a world-class event in a world-class city. Why can't we have a transit system that works? London is in danger of becoming a laughing stock. The International Olympic Committee will be watching.

"This dispute has been bubbling for months, and with hours to go until the strike no one is talking. What a ridiculous situation."

Mr Livingstone had planned to keep Tube trains running all night, with the service free from 11.45pm tonight until 4.30am tomorrow. The RMT has also called a 24-hour strike starting at 6.30pm on 8 January.

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT, repeated his offer yesterday to suspend the strike if management suspended the imposition of new rosters. Management offered to meet at the conciliation service Acas but refused to suspend the introduction of new working arrangements. Unless there is a last-minute breakthrough, up to 4,000 station staff will walk out at noon today, returning to work at noon tomorrow.

The dispute centres on a deal struck a year ago which gave employees a 35-hour week. Mr Crow said the union agreed that 200 employees would change their jobs as part of the deal, but claims management wants to "displace" more than 800. Union officials argue that management plans would undermine safety for employees and passengers.

Management sources contended that some union representatives had refused to co-operate with "safety validation" processes and that the union was fully aware that the number of people who would have to switch jobs was between 200 and 300. "This dispute is completely unnecessary. Many RMT members are not keen to lose a day's pay over it and we are hoping to run Tube services where it is safe to do so."

Mike Brown, the chief operating officer of the Tube system, insisted the RMT's safety fears were unfounded. He said he was not asking the RMT to suspend the strike. "I just want them round the table. We remain available for the next 24 hours, right up to the 11th hour before this strike, to talk to the RMT."