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The London Underground strike in Tweets

London’s underground is midway through five days of transport disruption, after discussions between the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union and the London Underground (LU) collapsed.

After strike action in February, the RMT again took strike action from 9pm (BST) 28th May over two days and will do the same from 5th May for three days.

The RMT expected a station-by-station review over the London Underground’s plans to close all ticket offices by 2015, to see if there is merit in keeping some ticket offices open. The proposed plans would lead to the loss of 953 frontline jobs. Yet, the LU did not conduct a review of the closures, leading to the current impasse.

The RMT has been circulating the following advert in its campaign to stop these changes, which the London Underground argues is vital to the modernisation of the underground system. They also used Storify to document its members during strike action.

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The LU plans to transform ticket offices into ‘customer service’ centres, which means it is automating the sale of tickets to machines. According to Transport for London (TfL), fewer than 3% of tube journeys start with passengers visiting a ticket office.

Furthermore, TfL says six major central London stations will have special customer points to help tourists and that every station will be staffed while the tube is running, with workers moved out of ticket offices into station booking areas.

While media focus remains on the general disruption to commuters, the original reason – the loss of over 900 workers’ jobs has been somewhat overlooked. This included UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who labelled the strike as ‘unacceptable’.

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Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, when running as a candidate in 2008, opposed ticket office closures, and even signed a petition in 2010 for the same cause. He broke this pledge in late 2013 to back London Underground’s modernization plan.

Johnson also suggested that a new Tory government would curb the right of London Underground workers to strike. The Mayor introduced the comparison to New York, where some public service workers cannot strike, adding that “The number of people participating in the ballot should be 50%.” The ballot turnout for the current strike was 47%, with the RMT union stating that 1,000 staff had backed the action 3-1.

The RMT denied that the strike was a result of internal politics, with elections on the horizon to replace the late Bob Crow as general secretary of the Union.

The proposed changes to the underground includes 24-hour service on certain lines over the weekend from 2015, Wi-fi coverage across all below-ground stations, and disabled access at a further 27 stations.

There are also plans to introduce contactless bank card payment to make it easier to pay for tickets, although this makes the future of the Oyster card unclear. Some have argued that if the Oyster card is eventually phased out, then those without contactless bank cards will be forced to pay the full ticket price, while tourists will be vulnerable to international exchange rates.

These changes all come under the context of the fact that the UK government is cutting £80m from the TfL over next two years. These cuts, a part of the coalition government’s austerity measures, will delay spending on improved infrastructure and value (i.e. closed ticket offices) for money. In January, passengers saw a 4.2% increase on average in fares across the Tube, buses and trams. London’s metro fares are among the costliest in the world, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The response to the strike was strong on UK social media with #tubestrike and #TubeStrikeMakesMe both trending. Reactions of London commuters varied from blunt disdain for strike action, to more considered responses and supportive tweets.

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There were wider comments on economic inequality in the UK, celebrity spotting and typically British misanthrophy.

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By Viral Shah

Picture credit: London Underground and Westminster by Doug88888

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