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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour Front Benchers Are Defying Keir Starmer’s Order To Avoid Picket Lines During Rail Strike


5 min read

Several members of Labour’s front bench have defied the ban on joining picket lines during the UK’s biggest rail strike in decades, with one claiming they “wouldn’t be doing my job” if they didn’t support striking workers.

PoliticsHome reported on Monday that the party’s top team had been told that they were banned from joining picket lines as widespread strikes by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers' union take place across the country.

But several Labour MPs have already defied this order, including Paula Barker — Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree and a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) in the defence team — who wrote on Twitter that she was joining striking staff as they “deserve to be paid properly and feel secure in their jobs”.

It’s understood that Labour's chief whip will decide how to discipline those shadow front benchers who have defied the leadership once the industrial action is over later this week.

"Unlike the government, our focus is firmly on the public," a Labour spokesperson said:

“The Tories are in charge, and they failed to fix it. The responsibility for this week’s chaos lies firmly with them. Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps must U-turn on their refusal to even meet with Network Rail and the RMT to urgently find a solution."

Barker told PoliticsHome the RMT were right to “take lawful industrial action” and said organising a strike was “no mean feat” for workers as the UK has “some of the most regressive anti-trade union laws in the Western world”.

“This hysteria about ‘you’re bringing the country to a halt’ – the purpose of a strike is to cause disruption and make people see the value of the jobs the striking workers carry out,” she continued.

“If people don’t have the right to withhold their labour after jumping through all the legislative hoops, the country is in an even worse situation than I thought it was under Boris Johnson’s Tory rule.”

Barker added: “I spent a very, very long time in the trade union movement. I was privileged enough to represent workers.

“I always promised that when I came into Westminster I would be Wavertree’s voice in Parliament, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t representing my constituents and the working class.”

Barker was joined on the picket line by Navendu Mishra, MP for Stockport and opposition whip, who also defied the ban imposed on front benchers.

He wrote on Twitter that he stood with “all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs [and] keep passengers safe”.

Another senior Labour MP to flout the order was Kate Osborne, MP for Jarrow and a PPS in the shadow Northern Ireland team, who wrote on Twitter that she’d joined a picket line in Bromley as she would “always stand on the side of the workers”.

Alex Sobel, a shadow environment minister, was also pictured alongside workers at a picket line at Tottenham Court Road tube station. The tweet was shared by the RMT Bakerloo branch, and was not posted on his Twitter feed.

Labour shadow cabinet members were told in a message on Monday 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 front benchers 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.”

PoliticsHome understands the directive for front benchers not to join picket lines has not been replicated in Scotland, where Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar joined RMT workers on Tuesday morning.

“This is a crisis entirely of the Government’s making. The workers don’t want strikes. The unions don’t want strikes. The public don’t want strikes. They demand better,” he wrote on Twitter.


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