Large swathes of London’s sprawling transport network shut down Monday night after maintenance workers walked off the job, arousing commuter anger and drawing warnings the strike will inconvenience millions of Britons.
Around 2,300 members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers left their jobs at 6 p.m. to begin a 72-hour strike, in a dispute stemming from the collapse of their employer, maintenance consortium Metronet.
Many commuters were caught en route home when the strike took effect, forcing them to take overcrowded buses and taxis. London Underground urged passengers to walk if possible.
“The buses were horrendous,” said commuter Caroline Hoyle, 24. “Every one was jammed full of people. Two passed without letting me on.”
London Mayor Ken Livingstone said the union was disrupting the lives of millions of Londoners for no reason.
“This strike is one of the most purposeless ever called,” he said. “All of the issues raised have been settled.”
Metronet’s workers maintain tracks, trains and signals on some of the subway system’s busiest routes, and have demanded assurances that their jobs would be protected under the arrangements being made to try to rescue the company, which has been unable to pay its debts.
London Underground said that two-thirds of London’s subway system, known as “The Tube,” would be inoperative for three days in a strike.
Transport for London officials advised passengers to check before traveling back to work Tuesday morning and was posting information at subway stations across the capital.
“The disruption across the network was severe last night and unfortunately we expect a similar impact on today’s (Tuesday’s) services,” Transport for London said.
Metronet’s management said it had given the union’s members written guarantees that their jobs were safe. But the RMT Union countered that it had not received any guarantees from Metronet that there would be no job losses, forced transfers or pension cuts. It warned of another 72-hour strike next week unless the dispute was resolved to its satisfaction.
The strike drew angry complaints from commuters.
Warren Johnson, 30, a property developer, had been at a meeting in Surrey and was trying to get to Notting Hill. “Just because Metronet has gone bust I don’t see why we should have to pay the price,” he said.
Lulu Magagula, 29, who works as an executive assistant near Victoria, said: “I left work early to get the last train to Stratford but I still missed it.”
“The management needs to take care of its employees as it inconveniences companies as well,” Magagula said. “Tomorrow I’ll have to wake up early and try to get a bus”.
Analysts estimated that the strike would cost London’s economy millions of dollars a day while business and opposition groups warned that the impact on tourism and industry would be huge.
The Tube carries an average of more than 3 million passengers a day over 254 miles of track.