Millions of London commuters are bracing for public transit chaos next week, as strikes are expected to shut down the city’s underground Tube system for several days.
The planned walkouts will be so widespread that the authorities are warning people to travel on the London Underground only if their journeys are “essential.”
Members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, or R.M.T., announced the action over disputes concerning pay and working conditions.
Here’s what to know.
What is expected to shut down?
Pretty much the entire London Underground will provide “little to no service” for much of next week.
Train service will end early on Sunday, almost completely stop between Monday and Thursday and start later on Friday, Jan. 12, according to Transport for London, which runs the city’s public transport system.
Tube staff members, including drivers and workers responsible for network control, signaling and station operations, will strike starting this Friday through Thursday, Jan. 11, according to the R.M.T. union.
The shutdown will cripple the primary lifeblood for commuters in the city. The sprawling Underground network of more than 270 stations, covering about 250 miles, sees up to 4 million journeys a day, according to the transit agency.
So how can people get around?
Other types of transport are set to operate normally — though they may be slammed with unusually large crowds.
Commuters can use the London Overground, which runs through most London boroughs and other parts of greater London; the Docklands Light Railway, which serves the city’s east and southeast; and trams that connect parts of the city’s south.
Also running will be the recently opened east-west Elizabeth Line, which links to part of the Underground network and Heathrow Airport.
But with the pressure of additional commuters who would otherwise be taking the Underground, transport authorities have warned people to brace for crowds.
On the roads, buses will be operating per usual next week. (Bus drivers have held their own strikes over pay.) Travelers have also been encouraged to use various bike-sharing systems across the city, or to walk.
Mind the (pay) gap.
The strikes are part of longstanding tensions between the transit agency and the thousands of workers who keep trains and railways running across Britain’s hubs, and who have voiced their discontent over pay after inflation spiked last year.
Previous strikes caused disruptions last year, with the union accusing the transportation authorities of letting funding gaps affect workers’ salaries.
In their latest negotiations, the transit agency offered staffers a 5 percent pay increase, which some workers in a separate union accepted.
But R.M.T. members rejected it, arguing that the raise was below the inflation rate, and that the offer did not address other worker demands.
The walkouts follow a ‘winter of discontent.’
Britain is no stranger to labor action, but a flood of disputes across industries in 2022 propelled strikes last winter to a new national level of concern. As inflation soared to double digits, train drivers planned walkouts, as did nurses, postal workers and teachers.
Those walkouts, commentators pointed out, echoed a “winter of discontent” from 1978 to 1979 when strike action paralyzed the country.
Last winter’s strikes, which converged and disrupted daily life across Britain for several months, eased somewhat last year as agreements were brokered. The government agreed to a deal that would give one million health care workers, including nurses and paramedics, a pay raise. Waste collectors, postal workers and bus drivers have also reached new deals.
But some agreements have yet to be settled.
Junior doctors in England, for example, staged a walkout on Wednesday over wages and work conditions, prompting appointments and surgeries to be canceled.