At 6:30pm this evening, London will descend into chaos as the City deals with yet another Tube strike. This time, Transport for London and the RMT trade union are squabbling over the introduction of the Night Tube — services running throughout Fridays and Saturday nights on a few lines. The union isn’t happy about the disruption it will cause to its members’ lives, while TfL feels it has done it utmost to offer a fair deal.
Mick Cash, Bob Crow’s replacement as general secretary of the RMT, said on the Today programme that the strike was about putting ‘more and more work onto less and less people’ but insisted he wasn’t against the Night Tube in principle:
‘No, we’re against imposing change and impacting on the work/life balance of our members and the impact it’s going to have on the people of London.’
Before suggesting the service might not be ‘good news’ for Londoners:
‘Well, that’s an interesting point about whether or not the impact of the Night Tube is going to have a benefit to get a few thousand home on a Friday and Saturday night … I’m not sure.’
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of the London, rebutted Cash’s suggestion that the benefits are questionable and argued that the Night Tube ‘will be a fantastic thing for London’:
‘These are not party animals. They’re not just people going home late at night after a night out. They are the working people of London: 50 per cent of the people already using the night bus are working people. This is a big step forward for people who need to use a 24-hour system.’
‘It is crazy when you have the technology not to put in a 24-hour service in a 24-hour city. It will grow the economy by about half a billion pounds, £360 million, plus, it’s overwhelmingly supported by the people of this city and it’s the right way forward.’
Boris is right: if you went up to an ordinary Londoner and asked if they thought 24-hour Tubes are a good thing, the vast majority would say yes straight away. Would they feel upset for workers? Some would, but TfL point out that staff will keep their two days off a week, as well as 43 days of leave drivers receive each year and 52 days for station staff. It’s not an unreasonable move either: New York and Copenhagen already have 24 hour a day underground train services, while the Mayor of Paris is currently lobbying for similar services in her City.
The divide we are seeing here is one that will become increasingly fought over in the next few years: people vs. technology. As TfL has the ability to implement Tubes at night, they will naturally pursue implementing them — but there is an inevitable human cost. Lives will be disrupted and services will be improved. The unions are standing up for the best possible deal for their members, but even Cash and the RMT must realise they can’t fight the tide of change forever. If the strike tonight goes ahead, it will be another nail in the unions’ coffin.