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Labour Front Benchers Banned From Joining Picket Lines Amid Rail Strikes

3 min read

Exclusive: Labour front benchers have been told by the party leadership that they are banned from picket lines this week amid rail strikes organised by the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union.

In a message sent 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,” the memo from the leader's office read.

But it added: “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 move is set to be controversial with some members of the front bench due to Labour's historic union ties. 

"People are talking about resigning on this issue. They’re feeling like they’ve got to take a stance – the Labour Party is literally borne out of the labour movement," one Labour source told PoliticsHome.

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, said: "Why is someone writing this tosh to our shadow cabinet? Do they not understand that the thing about solidarity is it is reciprocal? If you give it, you get it.

"If we want the people of this country to support us as a potential government then we have to show them that we support them when they stand up against unfair treatment and try to protect their families."

However, others reacted more positively to the instruction from Keir Starmer's team. "I think the message we want to get across is we want to be in government to sort this stuff out. People already know we have the link with unions – it is about showing we can solve these problems. It’s not an anti-union thing," a party source said.

During RMT strikes in 2018, Labour MPs, including then party chair Ian Lavery, joined picket lines in their local area and posted photos of their participation on social media.

Under Keir Starmer, Labour has argued that “ministers would rather provoke this dispute than lift a finger to resolve it” and shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh has accused her opposite number Grant Shapps of a dereliction of duty.

But Starmer ally Wes Streeting apologised to a shadow cabinet meeting after publicly expressing sympathy for rail strikers, according to a report by The Times.

Shapps announced today that legislation will be brought forward requiring railways to run a minimum number of services, including during periods of industrial action.

“We can no longer tolerate a position where rail workers exercising their right to strike can do it without any regard for how the rights of others are respected,” the Transport Secretary told MPs.

The RMT has confirmed it will go ahead with the planned industrial action taking place on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday this week.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “Our campaign will run for as long as it needs to run until we get a settlement that is acceptable to our people.”

The Labour Party was contacted for comment.

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