Several senior British Labour MPs have joined picket lines in support of the ongoing rail strike, despite warnings from Labour leader Keir Starmer’s office.
The Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers’ union (RMT) started a three-day nationwide industrial action on Tuesday. It said it wants to “shut down” the country’s railway network in what union leaders say will amount to the “biggest rail strike in modern history.”
According to UK media reports, Starmer instructed senior Labour MPs to “show leadership” by refraining from openly voicing support for the strikes, in an apparent attempt to fend off the Conservative government’s accusation that Labour is on the side of the striking workers who have caused chaos and misery for millions of commuters.
A leaked memo said: “Please be reminded that frontbenchers including [parliamentary private secretaries] should not be on the 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.”
But several frontbench Labour MPs defied the order and joined the picket lines.
Kate Osborne, a parliamentary aide to shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle, joined striking workers in Bromley, southeast London, saying: “I’m a trade unionist, I will always stand on the side of the workers.”
Labour whip Navendu Mishra also joined a picket line, saying: “As a proud trade unionist, I stand with all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs and keep passengers safe.”
Likewise, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who sits in the Scottish Parliament, distanced himself from Starmer’s position by heading to a picket line to show his “solidarity.”
Trade unions, which are among the party’s biggest donors, expressed frustration over the Labour leader’s lack of support for the strikes.
Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, told the PA news agency: “The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions.”
But Labour’s shadow Treasury chief secretary Pat McFadden warned colleagues that joining picket lines will not resolve the dispute on the railways.
Asked what his message to Labour MPs who do join the protests would be, McFadden told LBC News: “I would say to them, in the end that’s not how this will be resolved. It will be resolved by a deal that gets the railways running again, and that’s where the political focus should be.”
But Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has given clear backing to the industrial action.
She wrote on Twitter: “Workers have been left with no choice. No one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work.”
PA Media contributed to this report.