A party in chaos: As millions of ordinary Britons suffer in rail strike mayhem, 25 Left-wing MPs defy their party by joining picket lines… while Keir Starmer hid away
- At least 25 of them ignored disciplinary warnings even as their constituents were struggling to get to work
- And senior figures, including Angela Rayner, backed the RMT union in its bid to bring the country to its knees
- The Labour leader was accused of going into ‘hiding’ after he refused to comment on the industrial dispute
- Boris Johnson said that the strike was ‘wrong and unnecessary’ and called for a return to negotiations
The Labour Party was in chaos over crippling rail strikes last night.
As militant unions caused travel misery for millions, Keir Starmer faced a mutiny by his own MPs.
At least 25 of them ignored disciplinary warnings and joined the picket lines even as their constituents were struggling to get to work.
And senior figures, including Sir Keir’s own deputy Angela Rayner, backed the RMT union in its bid to bring the country to its knees.
The Labour leader was accused of going into ‘hiding’ after he refused to comment on the biggest industrial dispute for 30 years.
Boris Johnson said the strike was ‘wrong and unnecessary’ and called for a return to negotiations. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps accused Labour and the unions of ‘taking us back to the bad old days’ of the 1970s.
He added: ‘I pity poor Keir Starmer, a man trying to ride two horses at once.
‘He knows this strike is pointlessly destructive but his warning has been flatly ignored by shadow frontbenchers and backbenchers in thrall to unions who are prepared to place sectional interests above those of the country.
‘He is facing a crisis of authority. The Left senses his weakness and is humiliating him with every Labour MP’s appearance on a picket line. He has lost his grip on his own party.’
Yesterday’s strike by 40,000 rail workers caused massive travel disruption, with fewer than 20 per cent of services thought to have run.
Red line: Labour MPs at London’s Victoria station yesterday, from left: 1. Beth Winter (Cynon Valley), 2. Kim Johnson (Liverpool Riverside), 3. Rachael Maskell (York Central), 4. Ian Mearns (Gateshead), 5. Richard Burgon (Leeds East), 6. Zarah Sultana (Coventry South), 7. Ian Byrne (Liverpool West Derby), 8. Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford and Eccles), 9. Dan Carden (Liverpool Walton), 10. Paula Barker (Liverpool Wavertree)
Labour Party leader Sir Kier Starmer addressees Labour supporters as he campaigns in Wakefield ahead of the by-election on June 18
Out on strike, yet paid more than teachers and nurses
By Andy Jehring
Rail unions brought Britain to a standstill yesterday to demand more cash despite some of their members earning big salaries.
Train drivers have a median salary of £59,000 – which is around £5,000 more than the pay of an average solicitor or a major in the Army.
Rail workers in general earn £44,000 on average according to the Government, which is higher than teachers (£41,800), the Royal Navy (£36,666), and an Army sergeant (£35,853).
The RMT claims this figure is not representative of those striking as the majority of drivers who earn the most are not on the picket line, while low-paid staff such as cleaners are.
It said the median salary of those protesting was £33,000 – but that is still over 25 per cent higher than the median annual pay of UK workers (£25,971) and nearly double a care worker’s average pay (£17,000).
Even taking the union barons’ figure as gospel would still mean that those on strike earn roughly the same as most nurses and a little more than a junior doctor who have gone through seven years of training.
It means low-skilled workers already earning more than frontline NHS staff are holding Britain to ransom to try and get a 7 per cent pay raise. This is despite the Government already providing £16billion so that not a single rail worker had to be furloughed through the pandemic.
Travellers were left stranded or forced to take to congested roads as the strike saw rail bosses cancel all services on some lines and shut down early.
Commuters face further disruption today ahead of another all-out strike tomorrow in a bitter dispute about pay and rail reforms. As the Prime Minister vowed to ‘stay the course’ against union militants amid fears that strikes could spread like wildfire through the public sector:
- RMT boss Mick Lynch called on union bosses to co-ordinate industrial action across every town and city to cause maximum disruption;
- Some 19 of the Labour MPs who joined the picket lines yesterday have declared nearly £900,000 in funding from trade unions, analysis of the register of members’ financial interests showed;
- A YouGov poll found the public opposed yesterday’s strike by a margin of 45:37;
- Network Rail boss Andrew Haines revealed negotiators had got within a ‘gnat’s whisker’ of a deal on Monday before the RMT decided to press ahead with the strikes;
- A former top aide to Sir Keir said he would face an ‘explosion’ if he tried to sack Labour MPs who defied him to back the strikes;
- Downing Street warned that public sector pay would be held well below inflation;
- Union dinosaur Arthur Scargill joined a rail picket line in West Yorkshire;
- London commuters faced extra misery as 10,000 Underground workers walked out in a separate dispute;
- The Communications Workers Union balloted 115,000 postal workers over strike action following a 2 per cent pay offer from bosses.
- Sir Keir yesterday took a vow of silence on the rail dispute, with aides saying he would make no public comment either for or against the strikes.
A spokesman for the Labour leader said: ‘Unlike the Government, our focus is firmly on the public. The Tories are in charge – the responsibility for this week’s chaos lies firmly with them.’
Mrs Rayner took advantage of the leadership vacuum at the top of the Labour Party to make clear she backed the strikes, which are due to be repeated on Saturday as well as tomorrow.
‘Workers have been left with no choice,’ she said.
‘No one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work.’
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also defied Sir Keir to back the strike, which has left no rail services operating north of Glasgow today.
Mr Sarwar joined strikers on a picket line in Edinburgh to show ‘solidarity’, and said the crisis was ‘entirely of the Government’s making’.
Sir Keir’s office told Labour frontbenchers on Monday that they would be disciplined if they joined picket lines outside stations.
But at least four members of Sir Keir’s top team ignored the warning, including shadow minister Alex Sobel, whip Navendu Mishra and parliamentary aides Kate Osborne and Paula Barker.
Mr Mishra accused ministers of ‘treachery’, adding: ‘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.’
Others joining picket lines across the country included former leadership contender Rebecca Long Bailey and former shadow cabinet members John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Richard Burgon.
Sir Keir ordered his MPs last week not to condemn the rail strikes. But he has also refused to say whether he supports the dispute.
Sharon Graham of the Unite union said: ‘The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions. To instruct Labour MPs not to be on picket lines speaks volumes. You don’t lead by hiding. No one respects that.’
Labour MPs on the rail picket lines…and some of them even got a share of £890,000 from unions
By Daniel Martin and Kumail Jaffer
Labour MPs who defied their leader to join rail strikers yesterday have received nearly £900,000 in union funding, analysis reveals.
Sir Keir Starmer has told his frontbench they should stay away from picket lines after the RMT launched the biggest rail strike since 1989.
But – in a serious threat to his authority – at least four of them ignored him. Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also met striking workers in Edinburgh.
Less surprisingly, a number of hard-left Labour backbenchers also joined the strike action, including former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott.
She tweeted: ‘On the RMT union picket line at the Seven Sisters depot. (But don’t tell Keir Starmer).’ Ten MPs from the Socialist Campaign Group – including Jeremy Corbyn supporters Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon – proudly posed for pictures with striking RMT members at Victoria Station in London.
Diane Abbott: MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Corbynista: John McDonnell, Left-wing MP for Hayes and Harlington
Mick Whitley: MP for Birkenhead
Andy McDonald MP: Middlesbrough
A total of 25 Labour MPs were pictured on picket lines yesterday.
Analysis found that 19 of these MPs have received donations from the unions totalling £890,717. Tory MP Gareth Bacon said: ‘Weak Keir Starmer’s authority is shot. As these figures show, Labour MPs are clearly on the side of the militant union barons filling their coffers rather than hard working commuters simply trying to get to work.’
The donations were all listed in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Some were direct personal donations, while others were to constituency parties and others were for chairing all-party groups and other administrative costs.
Top of the list by far was hard-Left MP Mrs Long-Bailey, who stood for the Labour leadership after the resignation of Mr Corbyn. The MP for Salford and Eccles declared £345,325 from unions between 2015 and 2021, much of it around the time of her leadership campaign in early 2020.
Most of her donations came from Unite, the union formerly headed by Len McCluskey. She also received money from the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the RMT.
Despite the funding, however, Mrs Long-Bailey lost to Sir Keir in the leadership race. Yesterday she tweeted: ‘I was out on the picket line at Victoria Station in London this morning in with RMT union workers and Socialist Campaign Group colleagues. Solidarity to all on strike today. All they want is fair pay and to protect jobs and services.’ She completed the message with an emoji of a raised fist.
Next was Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East, another hard-Left Labour member who came a distant third when he stood for deputy leader. He declared £97,219.52 in union donations between 2015 and 2022. Again, most of the cash was from Unite but he also received money from the GMB.
Ian Lavery: MP for Wansbeck since 2010
Kate Osborne: MP for Jarrow since 2019
Alex Sobel: MP for Leeds North West and shadow environment minister
Navendu Mishra: Opposition Whip and MP for Stockport. Lloyd Russell-Moyle: MP for Brighton Kemptown
Yesterday he tweeted: ‘Great to pop to the picket line at Victoria Station this morning with other Labour MPs from the Socialist Campaign Group to show solidarity with RMT union workers forced by this Tory government into strike action to defend their pay, jobs and conditions.’
Ian Mearns, the Labour MP for Gateshead, declared £86,375 from the RMT between 2016 and 2020.
This was for ‘administration and coordination of the RMT Parliamentary Group, which I chair’.
Other high-profile union supporters include John McDonnell, who received £54,454.97 in union donations between 2014 and 2021.
The former shadow chancellor accepted most of his donations from Unite, but he also took money from the GMB, CWU, FBU and the RMT. Yesterday he tweeted: ‘Proud to join the RMT picket line this morning at West Ruislip in my [West London] borough. Solidarity to RMT union.’
Sir Keir’s office ordered all shadow ministers and junior parliamentary private secretaries (PPSs) to stay away from the picket lines. The order stated: ‘Please be reminded that frontbenchers including PPSs’ should not be on picket lines.’
But four did so – shadow environment minister Alex Sobel, opposition whip Navendu Mishra, shadow defence PPS Paula Barker and shadow Northern Ireland PPS Kate Osborne. And although she did not attend a picket line, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner pointedly tweeted: ‘No one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work.’
Margaret Greenwood: MP for Wirral West and former teacher
Nadia Whittome MP: Did not receive any union money
Clive Lewis: Has been MP for Norwich South since 2015
Tahir Ali: MP for Birmingham Hall Green since 2019
All out: Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar snubs Starmer
Sir Keir did not tweet about the strike yesterday, and is thought to be waiting until after the end of the industrial action to make a decision on disciplinary action.
Asked whether individuals would be punished, Labour’s shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden told Sky News: ‘That’s a matter for the whips and for Keir Starmer.’
Referring to the Scottish Labour leader, Miss Abbott tweeted: ‘What is Keir Starmer going to do, remove Anas as leader?’ Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, said: ‘The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions and we expect Labour MPs to defend workers, by words and by actions. To instruct Labour MPs not to be on picket lines with workers speaks volumes.’
Most of the Labour MPs who have been pictured on the picket lines are members of the hard-Left Socialist Campaign Group.
They include former shadow cabinet members under Mr Corbyn, including Miss Abbott, Mr Burgon, Mrs Long-Bailey, Clive Lewis, Mr McDonnell, Dan Carden, Andy McDonald and Ian Lavery.
The list also includes Tahir Ali, Ian Byrne, Kim Johnson, Zarah Sultana, Rachael Maskell, Mr Mearns, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Beth Winter, Mick Whitley, Nadia Whittome, Margaret Greenwood and Mohammad Yasin. Including the members of Sir Keir’s frontbench team, that brings the total to 25.
Miss Winter, Miss Whittome and Mr Byrne did not receive any union money. It is unclear if another three were given cash.