Starmer faces dissent as frontbenchers join RMT workers on picket lines

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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80% of train services were axed during the 24-hour RMT strike on Tuesday. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch praised the “fantastic” turnout of members and said they had “exceeded expectations in our struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise”. The 40,000 members who took part are ready to walk out again tomorrow and on Saturday. Talks are ongoing today between the union and rail bosses, but it is not expected that the further strikes will be averted.

Lynch was out defending the workers on strike over the course of the action – and some of the TV interviewers are well worth a watch if you missed them. A personal favourite was the general secretary calling Chris Philp a liar many (many, many) times as the minister accused the RMT of abandoning talks over the weekend to join the TUC cost-of-living protest. Lynch also accused Good Morning Britain’s Richard Madeley of spouting “the most remarkable twaddle” and remained implacable as Sky News’ Kay Burley worked herself into a mess clumsily trying to get the union leader to say that the strikes would descend into violence.

Keir Starmer sparked controversy when he ordered frontbenchers to stay away from the action earlier this week. But at least four defied his instruction and proudly tweeted pictures of themselves on the picket line. The Labour leader is expected to discipline those who did so, although Labour sources say no decision will be made until the weekend. Trade union leaders quickly voiced their opposition to the order, including Unite’s Sharon Graham – whose union is the party’s largest affiliate.

Allies of Starmer reportedly believe picking a fight with party leftwingers will remind the public that he is different to his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. MPs from different wings of the party, however, told The Guardian that the diktat to stay away from the strikes was “imbecilic”, “pointless” and “dumb”. And – with figures such as ‘soft-left’ shadow minister Alex Sobel and self-described “Brownite” and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar joining the picket lines – it is unclear how this particular disagreement can be characterised as a battle between the right and left of the Labour Party. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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