Sam Tarry has been removed from his role as a shadow transport minister after the Labour MP joined members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) on a rail strike picket line earlier today.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “This isn’t about appearing on a picket line. Members of the frontbench sign up to collective responsibility. That includes media appearances being approved and speaking to agreed frontbench positions.
“As a government in waiting, any breach of collective responsibility is taken extremely seriously and for these reasons Sam Tarry has been removed from the frontbench.”
LabourList understands that Labour frontbenchers were not told to stay away from picket lines today, as they had been ahead of the last set of RMT strikes, but Keir Starmer said on Tuesday: “The Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour Party in power. And a government doesn’t go on picket lines.”
Commenting this evening, the MP for Ilford South said that he was “proud” to have joined the workers who “kept our train services running throughout the pandemic” against “relentless attacks” from the Conservative government.
Tarry argued that staff have been “forced to take action because they’re faced with a cost of living crisis and rampant inflation caused by the government’s mismanagement of our economy, leaving millions struggling to pay their bills and provide for their families”.
“This dispute would not be taking place under a Labour government, which would ensure that rail workers receive a fair wage,” he added.
“It has been a privilege to serve on Labour’s frontbench for the past two years and to have had the opportunity to speak up for hard-pressed workers who deserve so much better than the treatment they’ve received from this corrupt and out-of-touch government.
“I remain committed to supporting the striking rail workers, and campaigning for a Labour victory at the next general election, which I will fight for relentlessly from the backbenches.”
RMT workers employed by Network Rail and 14 rail operators are taking part in one-day strike action today. TSSA members at Avanti West Coast are also on strike while members of ASLEF are scheduled to be on strike on July 30th.
Sharon Graham, general secretary of Labour’s largest affiliated union, said sacking Tarry “for supporting working people on strike, against cuts to their jobs and pay” was “another insult to the trade union movement”.
“At a time when people are facing a cost-of-living crisis and on the day when the Conservative government has launched a new wave of attacks on the rights of working people, the Labour Party has opted to continue to indulge in old factional wars,” she added.
“Labour is becoming more and more irrelevant to ordinary working people who are suffering. Juvenile attacks on trade unionists will do absolutely nothing to further Labour’s prospects for power.”
Also reacting to the news that Tarry has been sacked, CWU general secretary Dave Ward tweeted that “history does not reflect well on those who sit on the fence in times of injustice” and told Tarry: “Well done.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, also took to social media, writing: “Tarry speaks for rail workers and workers everywhere hold your head up high mate.” Rail workers represented by TSSA and ASLEF have recently voted to strike.
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of transport union TSSA, said that his union is “ashamed of the actions of the Labour Party leadership and the anti-worker, anti-union message it is sending out”. RMT is not a trade union affiliated to the party but Unite, ASLEF, CWU and TSSA are.
Momentum vice-chair Sasha Das Gupta described the sacking as a “shameful decision that goes against the founding mission” of Labour. She added that the move has “driven a wedge between his leadership and the trade union movement”.
Tarry joined a picket line at Euston station early this morning. Asked what action could be taken against him later this morning, Anneliese Dodds said she was “sure that the whips will be looking at this in terms of it being a disciplinary matter” but added that the decision to join a picket line was “for that individual”.
She added: “I personally will not be on a picket line because I am a politician and I believe what politicians should be doing now is what the Conservative government has so appallingly failed to do but what the Welsh Labour government has done because there aren’t strikes taking place in Wales today.”
A message was circulated by the leader’s office ahead of RMT strikes last month, which said that “frontbenchers including [parliamentary private secretaries] should not be on picket lines”.
Several frontbenchers did attend picket lines, including Paula Barker, Navendu Mishra, Kate Osborne and Alex Sobel. The Labour leadership has not taken disciplinary action against these members of the shadow team.
Commenting after Tarry was sacked for joining the strike, Network Rail CEO Andrew Haines said: “I respect people’s individual rights to do that. I don’t agree with the strike, but I obviously respect people’s rights to picket. It’s a legal right.”