Commuters and other travellers in London are facing disruption after two unions representing Tube workers voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.
The first of what could be a series of one-day actions by the drivers' union, Aslef, and by RMT, which represents 6,000 other Tube workers, will be held next Friday, 25 August, causing severe disruption just as people are heading off for the three-day August Bank Holiday.
And travellers face another two days of possible disruption as RMT announced that there would be two further 24-hour strikes, starting at 7.30 pm on Thursday 31 August and Sunday 3 September. In both cases, relatively few trains are likely to be disrupted on those days as the effect will be concentrated on the following day.
However, London Transport which will be meeting union representatives today in an effort to head off the strikes, remains optimistic: "We will be talking about hours and conditions, which seems to be the sticking point with the unions, and we are hopeful of finding some middle ground," a spokesman said.
London Underground was angry that the unions' executives had given a date for the first action while talks were continuing. "To name a strike day before the working party had had an opportunity to fulfil its potential is a retrograde step," said the spokesman.
If the Tube drivers, who belong to Aslef, do go ahead with their action, they will force a virtual shutdown of the network as all but about 10 per cent of the system's 2,200 drivers belong to the union.
While the RMT alone could cause some disruption, if London Underground reaches an agreement with Aslef most trains will probably keep running. Last autumn, an attempted one-day strike by the RMT ended in fiasco with around three-quarters of the trains being operated.
In their second strike vote of the summer, the drivers voted by a majority of about 3 to 1 in favour of action. They had already voted to stage a series of one-day strikes in July, August and September after rejecting a 2.75 per cent pay offer earlier this summer.
When the offer was raised to 3 per cent, London Underground management successfully brought a High Court action preventing Aslef from holding any strikes on the grounds that the wording of the first ballot was no longer relevant in the light of the the increased offer.
Aslef was forced to call off three planned one-day strikes and had to re-ballot members.
The RMT endorsed the strike with a 3 to 1 majority, a very similar outcome to the vote taken earlier in the summer.
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