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Labour Shadow Minister Sacked After Joining Rail Strike Picket Line

Sam Tarry on rail picket line with trade unionists (Wiktor Szymanowicz / Alamy)

4 min read

Shadow transport minister Sam Tarry has been sacked by Keir Starmer after the Labour front bencher joined a picket line in support of striking railway workers.

Shadow ministers were told by the party leadership in June that they were banned from picket lines amid rail strikes organised by the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers' union.

The Labour Party indicated today that Tarry's appearance on a picket line today was not the reason for the sacking, however, and it was instead the MP's decision to appear on the media and comment on party policy without approval.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party will always stand up for working people fighting for better pay, terms and conditions at work.

“This isn’t about appearing on a picket line. Members of the front bench sign up to collective responsibility. That includes media appearances being approved and speaking to agreed front bench positions.

“As a government in waiting, any breach of collective responsibility is taken extremely seriously and for these reasons Sam Tarry has been removed from the front bench.”

On Tuesday, Starmer had told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "A government doesn't go on picket lines, a government tries to resolve disputes."

Tarry appeared on the BBC and Sky News, among other broadcasters as rail workers went on strike across the country on Wednesday. He denied defying orders from the leadership, and allies pointed out there had been no fresh direct instruction to stay away from picket lines.

The MP described below-inflation pay rises as "not acceptable" and said the government should ensure there are "serious offers" of rises at least matching inflation. Starmer has not expressed this view when asked about Labour policy in interviews.

Reacting to his sacking, Tarry said: “As a Labour politician, I am proud to stand with these striking rail workers on the picket line in the face of relentless attacks by this Tory government."

He added: “This dispute would not be taking place under a Labour government, which would ensure that rail workers receive a fair wage.

“It has been a privilege to serve on Labour's front bench for the past two years and to have had the opportunity to speak up for hard-pressed workers who deserve so much better than the treatment they’ve received from this corrupt and out-of-touch government.

“I remain committed to supporting the striking rail workers, and campaigning for a Labour victory at the next general election, which I will fight for relentlessly from the back benches.”

A source close to Tarry said the time it took for the Labour leadership to announce the dismissal – confirmed late afternoon on Wednesday, after the MP joined a picket line and gave interviews in the morning – "reflects the indecision and lack of leadership at the top of the party".

They added: "They're in a very sticky position now as there's going to be a whole summer of strikes from across all sectors which front benchers will want to support. By doing this Keir has made a rod for his own back. What's he going to do? Sack them all?"

Several Labour front benchers – including party whip Navendu Mishra, who tweeted today in support of striking workers while abroad on a work trip – joined picket lines in June but were not disciplined for doing so.

Labour MPs on the left of the party, such as John McDonnell and Zarah Sultana, have expressed support for Tarry in response to his sacking, as has affiliated trade union leader Dave Ward of the Communication Workers' Union.

Tarry is facing possible deselection as the Labour candidate for Ilford South as wards in his local party voted unanimously for a full selection process to take place. Labour sources have suggested that the MP's defiance of the leadership today was linked to his reselection fight.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of transport union TSSA, which nominated Starmer for the leadership, said: "As a Labour-affiliated union, our union is ashamed of the actions of the Labour Party leadership and the anti-worker anti-union message it is sending out.

"If Keir Starmer doesn't understand the basic concept of solidarity on which our movement has been built then he is not worthy of leading our party.”

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