London: It’s often referred to as the “lifeline” of London and quite rightly so. The London Underground rail network -- or the “Tube”, in popular parlance – is faced with the threat of a strike next month by 40,000 workers of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) network of the city. This could bring the entire railway system in and around London to a grinding halt, potentially affecting more than two million commuters. The Underground, which gets London moving like no other, is likely to be the worst-affected because of the sheer number of passengers it handles and the way it has the city covered with its all-encompassing route network.

This will be the city’s first major rail shutdown in 20 years. As the RMT union leaders stay locked in a battle with the government and train companies over the issue of employee pension guarantees, London’s Underground, as well as its overground rail system, are currently staring at an unprecedented labour dispute. The RMT union started holding a ballot among its member-workers since last Wednesday. The result of the ballot, involving 40,000 workers, will be out on July 16 and according to statements issued by RMT union office-bearers to a section of the British media, they are quite confident that the strike will go ahead as planned. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “If it takes the first national rail strike in a generation to defend our members’ pensions, then so be it.”

There’s probably not a single neighbourhood in this fabulous city that is not covered by at least one of the Underground routes.

This planned outage over a labour dispute could not probably have come at a worse time with tourist numbers from all over the world to the United Kingdom, and London in particular, set to swell during the peak summer months. Not to mention, of course, the plight of the regular commuters for whom the “Tube” in particular is a part of everyday life.

Hannah Anderson, a banking executive from Harrow who happens to use the Underground for her daily commute to Westminster, for instance, is worried about the impending strike. “I can’t imagine life without the Tube, not even on my days off from work. This strike, should it happen as threatened, will mean me shelling out more cash on an app cab or spending more time on a bus ride – with both these alternative modes of transport likely to be hard to get in the event of a rail strike,” Anderson told Gulf News at Charing Cross on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group told a section of the local media in London: It would be premature in the extreme for RMT to begin hugely disruptive industrial action when conversations about how to address the pension deficit are still going on.”

Another commuter, Jason Chapman, who visits his ailing mother daily at Wellington Hospital in St John’s Wood, uses the Tube and the overground trains to commute from Southall. “It’s truly the ‘lifeline’ for me right now – in more senses than one! Hope and pray that this labour dispute is sorted out soon,” Chapman told Gulf News at the Paddington station on Thursday.

Right now, Londoners are keeping their fingers crossed, hoping that this impending rail strike doesn’t add to their woes as the threat of a sweltering summer looms large with the mercury soaring all across Europe.