Keir Starmer provoked a furious reaction from unions on Wednesday night by firing a front bencher who joined striking rail workers on the picket line.
He quickly came over to fire Sam Tarry after the shadow transport minister ignored orders by holding TV interviews with strikers in London.
It came when Aslef announced another strike on Saturday, August 13, affecting nine railway companies, on top of Saturday’s planned action.
Meanwhile, unions expressed anger at the government’s plans to tighten union action laws, with RMT leader Mick Lynch suggesting he would support a general strike if Liz Truss became prime minister on a platform to “effectively ban collective action” .
A package of measures drafted by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps – a supporter of Rishi Sunak’s bid to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister – was labeled “anti-democratic” by the TUC, while Unite said it would face “fierce and prolonged opposition” . by workers.
Sir Keir on Tuesday warned his party’s shadow ministers not to join picket lines during a one-day strike by RMT members seeking better wage offers.
“The Labor Party in opposition must be the Labor Party in power,” said Starmer, who was mocked by the Tories for failing to sanction such actions during a previous round of strikes. “And a government doesn’t go on picket lines, a government tries to settle disputes.”
A Labor spokesperson said: “This is not about appearing on a picket line. Members of the front seat sign for collective responsibility. That includes approved media appearances and speaking with agreed frontbench positions.
“As a government waiting, any violation of collective responsibility is taken extremely seriously and for these reasons Sam Tarry has been removed from the front bench.”
But Mr Tarry, a former TSSA transport union official who helped lead Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign, said he was “proud” to join the striking railway workers.
“It has been a privilege to sit on the front seat of Labor for the past two years and have had the opportunity to speak up for hard-pressed workers who deserve so much better than the treatment they have received from this corrupt and out-of-touch government,” said the Ilford South MP.
“I remain committed to supporting the striking railway workers and campaigning for a Labor victory in the next general election, for which I will fight relentlessly from the back seats.”
And he warned that the Labor leadership was on a “direct collision course” with unions over strikes, revealing in an interview with LBC that he had received calls from seven general union secretaries – six of them affiliated with the party – who were “fucking” about his resignation.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said Tarry “did the right thing and stood shoulder to shoulder with railroad workers on strike for fairness and safety at work”.
“The PvdA needs to wake up and smell the coffee,” he said. “If they think they can win the next general election and push away seven million union members at the same time, they are misled.
“We expect attacks from the Tories, we don’t expect attacks from our own side. As a Labor-affiliated union, our union is ashamed of the actions of the Labor Party leaders and the anti-union message it broadcasts.
“This is a bad day for our movement. And if Keir Starmer does not understand the basic concept of solidarity on which our movement is built, then he is not worthy of leading our party.”
Sign up The Daily TelegraphMr Shapps said he wanted to complete Margaret Thatcher’s “unfinished business” by curbing union power.
After passing legislation to allow the use of agency workers as strikebreakers, he planned additional measures, including:
- A ban on strikes by different unions in the same workplace within a certain period
- A limit of six pickets in critical locations and a ban on intimidating language
- Requirements for new votes at every strike of union action, and a minimum threshold of 50 percent, compared to 40 percent of those allowed to vote now
- An increase in the minimum notice period for strike action from two to four weeks
- Minimum service levels during strikes on critical infrastructure such as railways
“The standard strategy of the RMT and others in industrial relations – their casual, habitual, brutal recourse to the strike weapon – must end,” Mr Shapps said. “Only then will this country evolve into a 21st-century economy with high productivity and high wages that benefits all workers.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described Mr Shapps’ package as “an attack on the fundamental right to strike…anti-democratic and anti-workers”.
“While millions struggle to make ends meet, ministers are falling over themselves to find new ways to limit workers’ ability to negotiate higher wages,” she said.
And general secretary Sharon Graham said, “If Grant Shapps had his way, we’d all still be in the workhouse.”
Ms Graham described the current cost of living crisis as “the latest episode in a protracted war against workers’ living standards”, Ms Graham said: “I will not apologize for demanding and winning fair pay increases for my members and for any action to remove the ability to strike will meet fierce and prolonged resistance.”
Earlier this week, Ms Truss pledged “tough action to prevent unions from paralyzing the country” if she becomes prime minister, including legislation to impose minimum service levels on critical national infrastructure.
She also pledged to raise voting thresholds from 40 to 50 percent to make it harder for union bosses to gain support for union action.
Mr Lynch predicted “a huge reaction from the union movement” if Mrs Truss’ plans went through, saying his union would support a general strike but acknowledging it was a decision for the TUC.