Andy Burnham promises to tell Labour to “step up” for workers at conference

Elliot Chappell
© R Heilig/

Andy Burnham has declared that his party needs to “step up a bit” and get behind public sector workers “properly” and promised to “take that message” to the annual Labour Party conference due to start in Liverpool this weekend.

Speaking at a meeting of FBU members this afternoon, the mayor of Greater Manchester told attendees that “these are serious times”, adding: “£2bn has just been given away to people earning over £100,000 a year. This was just given away, a payday for bankers and nothing, absolutely nothing for you.”

His comments came after Kwasi Kwarteng delivered his ‘mini-Budget‘ statement this morning, in which the Chancellor announced plans to scrap the additional income tax band for the highest earners and axe the cap on bankers’ bonuses. Burnham told the room: “There has to be a fightback against this. This is wrong. It’s wrong.”

FBU members across the country are preparing for a ballot for strike action after having been offered a 2% annual pay offer in June. The consumer price index (CPI) puts the current rate of inflation at 10.1%. The union has said that the aim is for the ballot to be held in October.

Burnham described the 2% pay rise offered to firefighters as “insulting” and “wrong” and said it “needs to be called out in those terms”, promising that “Greater Manchester, as an entity, will stand with our firefighters”.

“We’ll stand with you now and I think we need to stand with other public sector workers, frontline workers, key workers, the people who were clapped. The people who clapped you now need to be shown for what they are – left you in the lurch, left you with nothing, going into a cost-of-living crisis.

“We will do our bit. I’m here to use my voice on your behalf. We need a deal this year that keeps your heads above water and by extension your family, your kids. That’s what we need and we’ll fight with you until we get it.”

He added: “I say this more broadly to my colleagues in politics, this isn’t the time to be debating the nuances of whether you go to this picket line – you stand with people at a time like this. You stand with people, you speak up for people. Lives are on the line here, people’s mental health is on the line.

“You can’t go into a cost-of-living crisis with nothing, but they’re giving you nothing. They didn’t mention public sector pay in this statement they’ve just made in the House of Commons but they did mention lifting the cap on bankers’ bonuses, they did scrap the top rate of tax.

“They’ve given billions to some of the richest people in the country and they’ve done nothing for those people who they clapped.”

Asked whether he would voice his support to the “people that can make those decisions” on public sector pay in parliament, and if they did not then whether he would “stand with us on the picket lines”, Burnham said: “Yes, to answer the last question. I’m not going to talk around that. Yes.

“On the first one, I’ll take it first to Labour conference this weekend. But as I said before, my own party, our movement, needs to step up a bit and get behind you properly. This is what we’re going into now, nothing has been done for working people in this Budget today, nothing.

“Billions have been spent, putting it into the pockets of people who didn’t need it. That’s serious. That is a serious situation for the country to be in,” he told the meeting.

“I’ll take that message there and I will say it and you’ll see it in the media this weekend. I will take it and I will take your situation there and I will speak about it in the media interviews that I do.”

The Labour leadership told shadow frontbenchers not to join picket lines ahead of strike action involving rail workers, members of the RMT union, earlier this year. Keir Starmer was criticised by trade union leaders for the instruction.

Burnham endorsed the rail strikes at the time, accusing the government of trying to “demonise” workers and saying it was “entirely right” for RMT members to walk out in the dispute over pay and redundancies.

He warned that the Labour leadership needs to say “this is what we are about” so that “people can get the sense of where the next Labour government would go” at the conference in Liverpool.

Frontbenchers have been seen on picket lines since. Labour’s Lisa Nandy was seen with striking members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) last month, as were party whip Navendu Mishra and shadow employment minister Imran Hussain.

An FBU spokesperson told LabourList this afternoon: “It is high time that the Labour leadership took the side of workers in policy and in actions. The place of Labour Party MPs and elected representatives is on the picket line, alongside the workers they are elected to represent. Any comments which highlight that are welcome to firefighters and workers in general.”

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