Saturday, June 25, 2022

Union splits erupt over rail strikes as Frontbench MPs challenge Sir Keir Starmer to join picket line

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The union leader has warned the shadow cabinet that he faces sacking if he joins the protests by striking workers

Sir Keir Starmer emailed his shadow cabinet team saying they face sacking if they take part in protests outside stations on the morning of the biggest rail strike in 30 years.

Fresh divisions erupted within Labor on Tuesday as Frontbench MPs defied the party leadership’s warning not to join the picket line in support of striking railway workers.

On Tuesday, shadow Treasury Secretary Pat McFadden insisted to colleagues that picketing would not solve the dispute between the RMT union and rail operators.

The Conservatives have tried to use the row to claim that Labor is on the side of striking workers who have thrown millions of commuters into chaos, with Sir Keir anxious not to give the government any more ammunition for its attacks.

However, Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner broke ranks on Tuesday to signal her support for the strikes, saying workers were left with “no choice”.

Several frontbenchers have rebelled against the leadership. Kate Osborne, Parliamentary Private Secretary to Northern Ireland Minister Peter Kyle, joins the picket line.

She said: “I am a trade unionist, I will always stand with the workers.”

Asked if she would face disciplinary action, Mr McFadden told Sky News: “It’s a matter for the whips and for Keir Starmer.”

Union leader Navendu Mishra, who also joined a picket line, said: “As a proud unionist, I stand with all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs and to ensure the safety of passengers.”

Another Labor PPS, Paula Barker, was on the same picket line. She tweeted: “Proud to join colleagues in supporting workers on the picket line in London Victoria this morning.

“These workers keep our country moving safely 365 days a year. The least they deserve is to be paid well and feel secure in their job.”

Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar also ignored Sir Keir’s plea, tweeting on Tuesday morning that he was in “solidarity with those on the picket line”.

He added: “The workers don’t want strikes. The unions don’t want strikes. The public does not want strikes. They demand better.”

Asked what his message was to Labor MPs joining the protests, Mr McFadden said LBC News: “I would say to them that this will not be solved in the end.

“It will be solved by a deal that gets the railroads running again and that should be the political focus.”

It is understood Labor will decide whether to take disciplinary action against those joining the picket line after the strikes end on Saturday.

A Labor spokesman said: “Unlike Government, our focus is firmly on the public. The Tories are responsible and they have failed to fix the problem. The responsibility for this week’s chaos rests firmly with them.

“Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps must reverse their refusal to even meet with Network Rail and the RMT to find an urgent solution.”

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