Labour split over rail strikes expected to cripple the country

Where DOES Labour stand on rail unions holding the country to ransom? Rachel Reeves says militants ‘are not the enemy’ but refuses to endorse frontbench colleague who said he would vote for walkout

  • Frontbenchers have disagreed over whether or not to support June action
  • Shadow minister Wes Streeting said that he would vote to strike if he was in RMT
  • Lisa Nandy said labour was ‘on the side’ of rail workers and praised unions
  • But party leadership treading more nuanced line over action affecting millions 

Labour’s split over rail strikes widened today as the party ties itself in knots over a walkout expected to cripple the country.

Frontbenchers have disagreed over whether or not to support action over public sector pay, led by the RMT, that will hit services for millions.

Last week shadow health minister Wes Streeting – tipped as a future party leader –  said that he would have voted to strike if he was in the RMT.

Labour’s Lisa Nandy also caused chaos in the party by saying it was ‘on the side’ of workers and praising unions for helping ‘really struggling’ staff including drivers who earn up to £70,000-a-year.

Britain’s unions have vowed to bring the country to a standstill in a ‘summer of discontent’ not seen since the 1926 General Strike with railway and Tube workers set to be bolstered by 155,000 comrades at airports, Royal Mail and BT. More than 1million council workers and teachers could strike in the autumn.

Shadow levelling up secretary Ms Nandy has broken ranks with Labour’s leadership including Sir Keir Starmer, who has dodged the issue so far. Several backbench MPs said they backed the RMT ‘100 per cent’ with Corbynista Richard Burgon demanding ‘more mass protests, demonstrations and strikes’.

This morning shadow chancellor Rachel Reeve uncomfortably refused to say whether she would follow Mr Streeting’s example.

Asked if she would go out on strike, Ms Reeves told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday she wanted ‘to be the chancellor of the exchequer’ and would do ‘everything within my power to avert these strikes’ if she were in that role. 

Appearing later on the BBC she added that striking rail workers are ‘not the enemy’ and were clapped by the public as key workers during the pandemic.

MailOnline can lay bare the strikes being planned to wreck the summer starting at the end of June

Last week shadow health minister Wes Streeting – tipped as a future party leader – said that he would have voted to strike if he was in the RMT.

Which train operators will be affected? 

Union members from National Rail and 13 different operators have voted to carry out strike action this month. 

Those operators are: 

  • Avanti West Coast
  • c2c
  • Chiltern Railways
  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Railway
  • Greater Anglia
  • GWR
  • LNER
  • Northern
  • Southeastern
  • South Western Railway
  • TransPennine Express
  • West Midlands Trains (including London Northwestern Railway)

Asked again if she supported the strikes, Ms Reeves said: ‘I don’t want to see strikes, but nor do people who work in the rail industry want to see strikes.

‘They want to see the Government working with industry, working with trade unions, to resolve this, but this Government as per usual seem to be more interested in sowing chaos, sowing division than actually in resolving the issues.’

Train drivers are to strike over pay and more rail workers are to be balloted for industrial action in growing disputes in the industry which threaten huge travel disruption in the coming weeks.

Labour descended into civil war last night over its ‘own goal’ response to impending rail strikes and a ‘lack of control’ at the heart of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership.

Leading party moderates raged at the lack of grip in Sir Keir’s office, which was allowing frontbenchers to ‘freelance’ on key policy and risked presenting the party as pro-strikes.

One senior Shadow Minister even accused colleagues Lisa Nandy and Wes Streeting of appearing to prepare for a ‘future leadership campaign’ by pandering to Left-wing members sympathetic to strikes.

The senior MP said: ‘Why are we giving the Tories this own goal? Can’t we see how badly this is going to play when the strikes happen and the Tories repeat this back?’

The row broke amid mounting pressure on Sir Keir to condemn militant rail union leaders threatening to paralyse the country with three days of strikes next week.

But criticisms that the Labour leader was failing to set out a clear position on strikes and control his frontbench have also fuelled doubts over his leadership.

That includes concerns over Sir Keir’s ability to beat a wounded Boris Johnson at the next General Election after he failed to capitalise on the massive Tory no-confidence rebellion last week. Even Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has urged her boss to ‘put some more welly’ into his performances.

Critics are furious at how Ms Nandy and Mr Streeting – seen as the frontrunners to replace Sir Keir – were allowed to ‘freelance’ on Labour’s position on the strikes.

Levelling up spokeswoman Ms Nandy said Labour was ‘on the rail workers’ side’, while health spokesman Mr Streeting declared if he was an RMT rail union member, ‘I would be voting to go on strike’.

But one frontbench colleague said last night the tone of their remarks contradicted the Labour Party’s ‘official position’ of being ‘against the strikes’. He said: ‘You can’t have first one Shadow Cabinet member and then another able to freelance on an issue as big as this.’

But he blamed ‘lack of discipline and control’ in Sir Keir’s leadership for allowing the situation in the first place.

The Shadow Minister said: ‘It speaks to an absolute lack of necessary discipline at the heart of the operation if senior members of the Shadow Cabinet feel they can go around pitching to the members for a putative future leadership election when we’ve got a General Election to win first.’

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