Tube strike: Who is to blame?

Work Experience Programme Student Josephine Gisanrin unearths the complexities of industrial action


The London underground service has once again been brought to a standstill. It’s the second time in the space of a month following a 24 hour walkout in July. This is because Transport for London and trade unions failed to reach an agreement over the terms and conditions of the introduction of the night tube service, which is due to commence on 12th September. Many commuters disagree with the unions, with some going to the extent of comparing the last strike to an ”apocalypse”, but it’s important that we also look at the role played by the London Underground (LU) in this whole dilemma.


One of the main unions, ASLEF, has clearly stated the strike is not in opposition to the introduction of the tube running 24 hour a day, but because London Underground has been “completely inflexible” over the terms and conditions of the planned new service. The unions argue that they have not been given guarantees on the number of weekend night shifts drivers and other workers will be required to work. Finn Brennan, the ASLEF London district organiser, said drivers’ main concern is the “lack of firm commitments on work-life balance for train drivers”. Looking at the strike situation from this perspective, it’s possible to say that the unions have a point. They want to be certain of how the 24 hour service will affect their working hours.


Just like ASLEF, the RMT has rejected plans to introduce a 24-hour service in September. The RMT has argued that it’s concerned how the proposed service would impact the network and it is likely that weekday commuters would have to pay a heavy price in terms of quality in the long run. The RMT’s General Secretary went to the extent of calling the plan a “shambles” which members of the union, as well as commuters, will have to “cough up” a fortune for.


The TSSA has also rejected the plan on similar grounds as the RMT and ASLEF, arguing that “there are a number of stations where there will be one member of staff on duty during the middle of the night”.


Mayor of London Boris Johnson has defended the night tube service, suggesting the claims made by the unions are false. Johnson made it clear on BBC’s Today programme that tube workers will not be “compelled to work more than they want to”, will instead be given a choice on whether they want to work night shifts or not.


The unions’ arguments are clear, as is London Underground’s. What isn’t clear is whether any resolution or compromise can be reached. It could be argued that the only possible way to reach a resolution will be to postpone the plan for a 24-hour tube service, as the unions have requested. After all, the unions’ greviences have some validity as it’s likely some stations will be understaffed. But as mentioned earlier, the Mayor of London has stated that the unions have misconstrued the nature of the new service and that the LU has enough resources, including staff, to ensure that the service runs smoothly. Therefore, it might be true to say that this whole situation is a case of bad communication between the parties involved. It is likely that by postponing the night tube service, London Underground and unions can hold further discussions clearly outlining the terms of the new service in order reach concrete agreement. This measure will also reduce the likelihood of any further travel disruption, ensuring that one of the busiest cities in Europe can keep moving.


Josephine is currently participating in the Lambeth Schools Work Experience Programme, which has been established by The Whitehouse Consultancy to provide opportunities in public affairs to sixth form students from diverse backgrounds.