Graham accuses Starmer of “hiding” as frontbenchers banned from picket lines

Elliot Chappell
© Twitter/@UniteSharon

Sharon Graham has accused Keir Starmer of “hiding” after it emerged that the Labour leader had banned frontbenchers from joining picket lines as members of the rail, maritime and transport workers’ union RMT prepare to go on strike.

PoliticsHome reported this evening that, in a message from the leader of the opposition’s office today, shadow cabinet members were told to “expect severe disruption this week as the result of industrial action by the RMT”.

“We have robust lines. We do not want to see these strikes to go ahead with the resulting disruption to the public. The government have failed to engage in any negotiations,” it stated.

“However, we also must show leadership and to that end, please be reminded that frontbenchers including [parliamentary private secretaries] should not be on picket lines. Please speak to all the members of your team to remind them of this and confirm with me that you have done so.”

The RMT is not affiliated to the Labour Party, but shadow ministers and MPs from the opposition party have joined picket lines with the union before. Ian Lavery and others joined RMT strike action in 2018, for example.

“The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions. To instruct Labour MPs not to be on picket lines with workers speaks volumes,” Graham said this evening.

“You don’t lead by hiding. No-one respects that. It’s time to decide whose side you are on. Workers or bad bosses.”

More than 40,000 RMT members from Network Rail and 13 train operators plan to walk out in the industrial action on June 21st, 23rd and 25th. Network Rail has said that half of all lines will be closed and that the services that do run will finish earlier, running between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

Kate Osborne MP – who is the parliamentary private secretary to Peter Kyle, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary – tweeted this evening: “Rail workers [at RMT] are fighting cuts to pay, job, pensions & conditionsCome what may, I will be on a picket line supporting workers tomorrow.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes also took to social media, saying that the message from the leader’s office was “ridiculous nonsense from the party which was created by trade unions”, adding: “Solidarity is what our movement is all about!”

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh has argued that it is “impossible to escape the conclusion” that government ministers would prefer to “provoke the dispute” with the railway union and “play political games rather than resolve it”.

Labour has insisted repeatedly that it does not want the industrial action to go ahead and has urged ministers to “get employers and the unions round the table” to address the “very serious issues” on pay and cuts to safety and maintenance staff.

Haigh accused Grant Shapps today of “boycotting” talks with the union, and said he had “tied the hands of those at the table” by failing to give train operating companies a mandate to negotiate. The Transport Secretary denied the allegation.

Wes Streeting said earlier this month that he would have voted to go on strike if he were a member of the RMT but apologised for the comments in a shadow cabinet meeting afterwards, according to reports in The Times.

Shapps confirmed today that the government will be introducing legislation to require railways to run a minimum number of services, including during strikes, to effectively undermine industrial action. Minimum service legislation formed part of the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto.

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