Why is the London Underground so busy?

A strike by underground train drivers in London joins several industrial disputes in the rail sector. The government wants to tighten the right to strike.

The mood is heated in the double-decker bus typical of London. An elderly lady with a stoic-looking beagle on a leash vehemently demands that the bus driver open the door. He refuses because the bus is not at a stop. When the driver announces a route change, the passengers groan and type wildly on their smartphones. Because of a strike that affected the entire London underground network on Thursday, the run on the buses was even bigger than usual. In addition, taxi companies and the online taxi service Uber, which increased prices due to increased demand, also benefited. from the failure of the «tube». The 24-hour strike began on Wednesday evening. London Underground (LU), the municipal operating company of the London Underground, said that restrictions were to be expected until Friday morning.

Fight for the weekend

Four transport unions had called for subway workers to go on strike. Because this time it was the drivers and not the workers at the bus stops who led the work stoppage, as was previously the case, the strike was described as the worst in ten years. The work dispute is about the introduction of 24-hour operation on weekends from September. The unions on Monday turned down an upgraded offer from the LU that included a 2% wage increase that year and an additional £ 2,000 annual bonus. Subway riders typically make just under £ 50,000 a year. Since this is more than the median wage itself for Inner London (a good £ 34,500), there was also harsh criticism in Internet forums - sometimes with calls for driverless underground trains.

At the same time, a 48-hour strike began on Wednesday evening on the private railway company First Great Western, which connects London with the west of England and Wales. About a month ago there were considerations of a nationwide strike at the state rail network company National Rail. The labor dispute was settled after a collective agreement. In public transport, the degree of organization of the trade unions is still high and the potential for threats is high. Coincidentally or not, the threat of strike coincided with the announcement by the Conservative government that it was tightening the right to strike. The new economy minister Sajid Javid has already outlined changes in the right to strike: participation in a strike vote must then be more than 50%, and in the public sector at least 40% of all union members must agree. The strike of the underground workers would also have come about under these new rules.

Improvement too sooner

Despite this accumulation, the number of strikes in Great Britain is not above average when compared internationally. Between 2005 and 2013, an average of 23 working days were lost per 1,000 employees; in France it was 139 days, in Switzerland one day. According to the UK Bureau of Statistics, the number of working days lost is currently low from a historical perspective. In the twelve months up to April this year there were 704,000 working days, in the corresponding period up to April 1980 more than 32 million days. The lowest value was reported in April 2011 with 143,000 days.