Labour frontbencher Lisa Nandy visits striking CWU members on picket line

Elliot Chappell
© CWUnews/Twitter.com

Labour’s Lisa Nandy has visited striking members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) in the wake of the Labour leadership telling frontbenchers last month that they should not join trade unionists on the picket line.

Tweeting this morning, after Keir Starmer wrote in an opinion piece this weekend that he wants the party to change “from a party of protest into a party that can win power”, North West regional secretary of CWU Carl Webb thanked the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary for meeting BT and Openreach workers on the picket line.

Other members of the Labour frontbench were also seen joining striking workers today. Party whip Navendu Mishra MP joined CWU members in Stockport while shadow employment minister Imran Hussain MP did the same in Bradford.

Their appearances follow the sacking of Sam Tarry MP from his frontbench position after he took part in a number of TV interviews from a rail strike picket line last week. A party spokesperson said at the time that the move had not been prompted by him joining the strike but because he had breached collective responsibility.

An ally of Nandy’s told PoliticsHome today: “[The leader’s office] were aware in advance. She went down to show her support for constituents campaigning for better pay and conditions at a really tough time, as you’d expect.

“As Keir said in The Mirror piece yesterday, we support their right to do that, and what they need now is a Labour government so they don’t feel like they’re on their own when times are tough.”

The Labour leadership circulated a message saying that “frontbenchers including [parliamentary private secretaries] should not be on picket lines” ahead of RMT strikes in June. LabourList understands that Labour frontbenchers were not told to stay away from picket lines ahead of Tarry’s sacking.

But the Labour leader told viewers in an interview shortly before Tarry was sacked that “the Labour Party in opposition needs to be the Labour Party in power” and that “a government doesn’t go on picket lines”.

He wrote in The Mirror on Sunday: “I completely understand why people are going on strike to secure better pay and better conditions. I support their right to do so. When I was a lawyer, I represented striking miners for free. Not just sentiment and a photo opp. I backed up my words with action.

“I am now leading a Labour Party that wants to change lives and give Britain the fresh start it needs. That means turning from a party of protest into a party that can win power – then hand that power to working people. I make no apologies for that.”

Starmer said in an interview after Tarry’s departure from the frontbench that the then shadow transport minister had been sacked because he “booked himself on to media programmes without permission” and “made up policy on the hoof”.

The Labour leadership was criticised by trade union leaders for the decision. Sharon Graham, general secretary of Labour’s largest affiliate donor Unite the Union, warned over the weekend that it is “harder and harder to defend” continuing to fund the party through the payment of affiliation fees.

Writing exclusively for LabourList on Friday, ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan described the decision as “not only wrong” but “stupid” and said that it was a move that the Labour leadership would “live to regret”.

CWU members working for BT and Openreach are on strike for the second day today. Further industrial action is set to take place over the summer as government pay offers to teachers, nurses, police officers and other key public sector industries have been rejected or criticised by union leaders.

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