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Labour Rail Strike Row Emboldens Activists To Formally Challenge Leadership Over MPs On Picket Lines

Labour Rail Strike Row Emboldens Activists To Formally Challenge Leadership Over MPs On Picket Lines

Labour left activists are seeking to formalise support MPs on picket lines after Sam Tarry was sacked as shadow transport minister.

4 min read

Left-wing Labour activists are urgently seeking to formally solidify support for senior MPs to stand alongside striking workers following confusion over party leadership's stance on the matter.

Following the sacking of shadow transport minister Sam Tarry after he appeared alongside striking RMT workers last week, shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy escaped censure for speaking to BT workers staging industrial action on Monday.

The Labour leadership said Tarry was removed for giving unauthorised interviews to broadcasters, and for "making up policy on the hoof” after he said workers deserved pay rises in line with inflation.

It is understood that Labour leader Keir Starmer his staff were aware that Nandy would be meeting striking workers in her Wigan constituency, while Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said there was “a clear difference” between the two incidences”.

But the discrepancy in consequence has aggrieved figures on the Labour left, who feel Tarry – who is also facing the threat of deselection in his Ilford South seat – has been treated more harshly than Nandy, who is much more well-favoured by the leadership.

The row has continued to escalate after two further frontbenchers Navendu Mishra and Imran Hussain having visited Communication Workers Union pickets on Monday.

Figures who are critical of Starmer have accused the Labour leader of losing control of the party, but a source close to the leader's office told PoliticsHome their “position hasn't changed” in that they expect frontbenchers not to join in with picket lines.

With further rail strikes planned throughout August protesting for better pay and conditions, as well as by postal workers, the left-wing Momentum group are now actively campaigning for Labour members to back shadow cabinet MPs joining picket lines. 

They hope to use increased support for this position to pass a motion that formalises Labour's support for MPs to join picket lines at the party's annual conference in Liverpool this September, with the group saying “Labour must stand with labour”.

Kate Dove, Momentum’s co-chair was highly critical of Starmer's insistence that senior MPs should not appear on picket lines this summer. 

“With the Tories attacking the pay and conditions of key workers, while pushing tax cuts for the richest, Labour has a clear chance to show it's on the side of working people," she told PoliticsHome. 

“Instead, Keir Starmer has instituted an absurd picket line ban, disregarded even by his own shadow cabinet members, and refuses to back an inflation-proof pay rise for workers.

“These stances fly in the face of both the party's identity and the public mood. Momentum won't let Starmer drive a wedge between Labour and the millions of workers represented by trade unions.”

But a Labour party source dismissed suggestions that the party had adopted a new position that was not sympathetic to the concerns of workers. 

“The position hasn't changed: we expect Labour frontbenchers not to involve themselves in picketing, but of course MPs will meet their constituents and respond to events affecting their constituencies,” they told PoliticsHome

They insisted that the issues raised by striking workers would be addressed by a Labour government, which would seek to "grow the economy, ensure high quality public services, and for all workers to have better pay and conditions”.

But one Labour MP who is broadly supportive of the leadership, said the party should not have found itself in the position of having to censure frontbenchers for appearing on picket lines, and believed the party should be supporting striking workers by backing pay rises in line with inflation.

“The whole thing is just a row we didn't need to have. We're the party of labour, there's a massive cost of living crisis and inflation is running rampant while businesses are still making mega profits – of course people have had enough, and aren't willing to accept things getting worse,” they told PoliticsHome.

“It's a bad look for MPs on £80,000 a year to be lecturing the public on pay restraint full stop, but it's a fucking terrible look for Labour.”

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