Tube strike kicks off week of walkouts

BA and Southern rail staff to down tools in series of disputes threatening to spread out of London and south-east

Post office

A Tube strike that has closed almost all London Underground stations in the centre of the capital and caused chaos for commuters is just the start of a spate of industrial action planned for this week.

London has been hit by a dispute over ticket office closures and more than 800 job losses, which saw the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) unions call a 24-hour walkout starting at 6pm yesterday.

Although eight out of 11 tube lines are running some services, the BBC reports, these are concentrated in outer boroughs and there are virtually no services or stations operating in the central Zone 1 area.

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For more information on the strikes and alternative transport options, click here.

However, the travel woes will continue tomorrow, when RMT workers on the Southern rail network begin their latest series of walkouts over driver-only trains.

Trains will be cancelled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday on Southern services from Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Hampshire, including the busy Gatwick route.

The chaos is also expected to hit air passengers, with British Airways cabin crew staging a two-day strike starting tomorrow over lower pay deals for newer staff on "mixed fleet" contracts, says The Guardian.

Heathrow will be worst affected with 48 flights grounded, says the Daily Telegraph, but British Airways says it will ensure all customers get to their destination, including offering spaces on alternative flights.

Action is set to spread beyond London and the south-east in the coming months, too, with union bosses warning a strike is "inevitable" on Aviva's northern railway franchise, which covers Leeds and Manchester.

The company has introduced new trains that are expected to see the removal of guards on some routes - the root cause of the ongoing trouble at Southern, reports the Guardian.

Post Office workers are also involved in a long-running dispute over job losses and went on strike before Christmas.

Conservative MPs claim the disputes, despite relating to different issues, are being "coordinated" to inflict "maximum pain" upon the public and bring pressure on the government, says the Telegraph.

Former government minister Nick Herbert said: "If the campaign continues, we will have to look at new measures to ensure that services which people rely on cannot be disrupted in the future."

BA cabin crew to strike for 48 hours from 10 January

04 January

British Airways cabin crew are to go on strike for 48 hours from 10 January in a row over "poverty pay" at the airline.

Staff had initially intended to down tools over Christmas over the dispute, but suspended the action after talks with Acas while considering a revised pay deal from the airline.

However, Unite union said its members had rejected the proposal by seven to one and will walk out next week.

BA said it plans "to ensure that all our customers travel to their destinations" and will publish contingency plans on Friday. However, some flights will be cancelled, says The Guardian.

The dispute centres on the airline's salaries for cabin crew in the "mixed fleet" division, which was set up in 2010 on lower pay and conditions than the rest of the airline. Unite says the average cabin crew pay including allowances is £16,000 per year, while BA says all staff get at least £21,000 including bonuses.

Some 2,500 of the 4,000 mixed fleet staff affected by the pay deal are Unite members.

Unite accused BA of "needlessly seeking conflict", saying the airline was blocking meaningful talks and seeking to undo the progress made in the Acas talks.

National officer Oliver Richardson said: "British Airways is needlessly provoking strike action by refusing to extend the mandate of the strike ballot and allow meaningful talks to take place.

"Instead of listening to why its mixed fleet cabin crew rejected the offer negotiated at Acas, British Airways has sought instead to try and bully a workforce of young men and women who are trying to eke out a living on poverty pay."

BA said: "Our proposal for our mixed fleet cabin crew reflects pay awards given by other companies in the UK and will ensure their reward levels remain in line with cabin crew at our airline competitors. It is also consistent with pay deals agreed with Unite for other British Airways colleagues."

BA cabin crew cancel Christmas strike

23 December

Unions have suspended strike action by British Airways cabin crew that was due to take place on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, says the BBC.

Unite said its dispute centres on 4,500 workers employed since 2010 on so-called "mixed fleet" contracts who are paid less than other staff.

Talks at conciliation service Acas have led to a revised offer which will be put to a ballot of unite members – but the union has stopped short of recommending the deal.

If it is rejected further strikes could be called in the new year.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "It will be for our members now to decide if British Airways has done enough to meet their concerns."

The deal to suspend BA strikes comes after a pay deal reached between baggage handler Swissport and unions averted another strike this week that would have affected 18 UK airports.

But with 3,000 Post Office workers, Post Office drivers and staff on the Southern railway line all still taking action, this remains one of the worst weeks for industrial relations in years.

Unions have been accused of coordinating strikes to inflict damage on the government – a charge they deny.

Elsewhere a strike that had been called for Christmas Eve by the two unions among tube staff in London has been cancelled. But a further round of walkouts have been announced for the new year.

The cancelled strike, which would have taken place tomorrow, had been called in response to a Central Line driver being sacked for running a red signal.

The latest January action, taking place for 24 hours starting on 8 January, is part of a long-running dispute over job losses that are coming as a result of plan to close ticket offices, says the Metro.

'Christmas of discontent' as Post Office, Southern and BA workers strike

19 December

Britain is facing a "Christmas of discontent", says the BBC, as Post Office workers kick off a wave of postal, rail and airline strike actions this week.

The phrase is a play on the infamous "winter of discontent" in 1978/1979 that spread across nationalised industries and caused "the collapse of the Labour government and the election of Margaret Thatcher".

Unions have less power now – and industries have been mostly privatised, limiting the impact of strike action. But the coordinated actions this week are expected to have a major impact on the public.

Who is walking out?

Around 4,000 workers at the Post Office – a mix of counter staff and cash handlers – are on strike for a total of five days from today in protest over job losses and the closure of branches and its generous final salary pension scheme.

The Post Office has reduced its annual losses from £120m to £26m – and bosses say the cutbacks are needed to prevent the taxpayer having to prop up the business indefinitely. Union leaders say the Post Office is being driven to "extinction".

Bosses add the strike action only affects the 300 "crown" post offices that are not franchise-owned, out of 11,600 across the country.

Since the privatisation of Royal Mail, the Post Office has been a separate entity, so strikes do not directly affect Christmas post deliveries. However, the Daily Telegraph says 1,000 "wildcat" Royal Mail workers could refuse to cross picket lines.

Elsewhere, misery for Southern commuters continues as members of the RMT union strike for two more days, bringing the line to an absolute standstill today and tomorrow.

The RMT and Aslef unions are contesting cost-cutting plans to remove conductors from trains, which they say compromises passenger safety.

Already around half of the trains on the Southern line between London and Gatwick are conductor-less "with the unions' full agreement" says the Sunday Times. Around one in four UK trains do not use a conductor.

BA cabin crew and Swissport baggage handlers at 18 UK airports are also set to strike in separate pay disputes during the Christmas period, with talks set to take place at the conciliation service Acas this week.

Are the strikes 'politically-motivated'?

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC trade union body, said all the strikes are separate and this reflects general discontent at stagnant pay and a squeeze on terms and conditions for low-paid workers.

Professor Roger Seifurt from the University of Wolverhampton agreed, suggesting Britain is entering "a period of quite bitter and prolonged disputes".

Others accuse unions of "politically-motivated" action and coordinating walkouts in an attempt to bring down the Conservative government.

These theories have been fuelled by a Sunday Times report that RMT boss Sean Hoyle was caught on video telling a meeting of hard-left activists that "rule No 1" for his union is to "strive to replace the capitalist system with a socialist order".

He told a meeting of left-wing activists last month: "If we all spit together we can drown the bastards."

In response, some senior Tory MPs and former ministers are calling for new legislation to prevent strike action in key industries – but Downing Street has distanced itself from such calls, says The Guardian.

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