A senior Labour MP has warned colleagues that joining picket lines in support of striking workers will not resolve the dispute on the railways.
Shadow Treasury chief secretary Pat McFadden said he understands why the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union is pressing for a pay rise due to the rising cost of living, but that he wants to see a negotiated settlement.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is considering possible disciplinary action after he reportedly ordered frontbenchers not to join picket lines outside stations as the country faces the biggest rail strike in a generation.
It will be resolved by a deal that gets the railways running again, and that’s where the political focus should be
Shadow Treasury chief secretary Pat McFadden
The Conservatives have sought to use the row to claim Labour is on the side of the striking workers who have caused chaos for millions of commuters, and the Opposition leader will be reluctant to give the Government any more ammunition for that attack.
Asked what his message to Labour MPs who do join the protests would be, Mr McFadden told LBC News: “I would say to them, in the end that’s not how this will be resolved.
“It will be resolved by a deal that gets the railways running again, and that’s where the political focus should be.”
— Kate Osborne MP (@KateOsborneMP) June 21, 2022
Kate Osborne, a parliamentary aide to shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle, joined striking workers in Bromley, south-east London, saying: “I’m a trade unionist, I will always stand on the side of the workers.”
Asked if she would face disciplinary action, Mr McFadden told Sky News: “That’s a matter for the whips and for Keir Starmer.”
You don’t lead by hiding. No one respects that. It’s time to decide whose side you are on. Workers or bad bosses? 2/2
— Sharon Graham (@UniteSharon) June 20, 2022
Labour whip Navendu Mishra also joined a picket line, saying: “As a proud trade unionist, I stand with all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs and keep passengers safe.”
This treacherous government has underfunded & mismanaged our public transport network for more than a decade.
As a proud trade unionist, I stand with all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs & keep passengers safe #RailStrikes pic.twitter.com/5Mpo8jtReR
— Navendu Mishra (@NavPMishra) June 21, 2022
It was understood Sir Keir was waiting until the end of the industrial action before instructing chief whip Alan Campbell to deal with disciplinary issues.
Labour did not say whether or not the MPs could lose their frontbench roles as a result, with a spokeswoman saying: “Unlike the Government, our focus is firmly on the public.”
The opposition party was cautious not to give credibility to the Government’s claims it is playing a role in the strikes, but is also coming under pressure from unions to stand up for workers’ rights.
— Ian Lavery MP (@IanLaveryMP) June 21, 2022
Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, told the PA news agency: “The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who sits in the Scottish Parliament, put distance between himself and Sir Keir’s position by heading to a picket line to show his “solidarity”.
“The workers don’t want strikes. The unions don’t want strikes. The public don’t want strikes,” he said.
— Diane Abbott MP (@HackneyAbbott) June 21, 2022
Instead of giving his unequivocal support to the workers, Sir Keir has sought to blame the Government for the walk-outs as he insists he did not want strikes to go ahead.
But deputy leader Angela Rayner gave clear backing to the industrial action, tweeting: “Workers have been left with no choice.
“No one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work.”
A number of Labour backbench MPs posted on social media from picket lines.
Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted a picture of her with striking workers in Seven Sisters in London, adding “(But don’t tell Keir Starmer)” to the caption.
Ian Lavery, the MP for Wansbeck and a former Labour Party chairman, joined a picket in Morpeth, Northumberland, tweeting: “Solidarity with the @RMTunion today and all days.”
I'm on my way to the picket line to show my support to @RMTunion
workers forced to take strike action against job losses and for fair pay.
We can't just keep accepting workers' wages and conditions being driven down so that the profits of the rich are driven up.
— Richard Burgon MP (@RichardBurgon) June 21, 2022
Former shadow cabinet minister Richard Burgon said: “We can’t just keep accepting workers’ wages and conditions being driven down so that the profits of the rich are driven up.”
Beth Winter, Labour MP for Cynon Valley, tweeted: “Complete solidarity with striking @RMTunion members today.
“The Trades Unions are the organised working class… the workers united will never be defeated.”
Birmingham Hall Green MP Tahir Ali said he would be joining pickets later on Tuesday and posted: “Solidarity to all those who are out taking action to protect jobs, ensure safety, and win better pay and conditions.”