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‘Victory to the rail strikes’: Labour heading for fresh meltdown as MPs defy Sir Keir Starmer AGAIN to join picket lines – as party leader opens door to new row with unions by signalling he could back below-inflation public sector pay rises

  • Sir Keir Starmer heading for fresh Labour meltdown on second day of rail strikes
  • A number of MPs again defy their party leader to join picket lines across the UK
  • Sir Keir faces backlash over threat to sack frontbenchers who support strikers
  • Labour leader opens door to new row by failing to endorse inflation-linked rises 

Sir Keir Starmer was heading for another Labour meltdown today on the second day of national rail strikes.

In an act of defiance against the Labour leader, a number of the party’s MPs again joined picket lines in support of the rail workers’ walkout.

One even declared: ‘Victory to the rail strikes.’

As a bitter internal party row blew up again, senior figures from Labour’s left issued fresh condemnation of Sir Keir’s order for the party’s front bench not to join picket lines.

On Tuesday’s first day of strikes, a number defied the Labour leader’s plea and are now awaiting punishment by chief whip Sir Alan Campbell. 

But Sir Keir is facing pushback from members of his shadow cabinet over the threats of disciplinary action and is being urged to drop the issue. 

Sir Keir has also opened the door to another Labour row after he signalled he could support below-inflation pay rises for other parts of the public sector.

Teachers, nurses, doctors, civil servants and postal workers are all also considering strike action.

It is feared the train strikes could turn into a wider ‘summer of discontent’, as other unions also clash with bosses over pay settlements during the cost-of-living crisis. 

Sir Keir failed to outright back union demands for inflation-linked pay rises for public sector workers and instead pointed to the work of pay review bodies in deciding on wage hikes.

Emma Hardy, who used to be a parliamentary aide to Sir Keir Starmer and was a shadow minister as recently as March last year, was pictured joining a picket line in Hull

Emma Hardy, who used to be a parliamentary aide to Sir Keir Starmer and was a shadow minister as recently as March last year, was pictured joining a picket line in Hull

Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley joined rail workers outside Liverpool Lime Street Station and declared: 'Victory to the rail strikes'

Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley joined rail workers outside Liverpool Lime Street Station and declared: ‘Victory to the rail strikes’

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who was Labour Party chair under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, joined RMT members outside Berwick upon Tweed station

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who was Labour Party chair under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, joined RMT members outside Berwick upon Tweed station

Today, a number of Labour MPs again joined striking rail workers on picket lines across the country.

Emma Hardy, who used to be a parliamentary aide to Sir Keir and was a shadow minister as recently as March last year, was pictured joining a picket in Hull.

Fellow former shadow minister Karl Turner also joined striking workers in the Yorkshire city.

Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley joined rail workers outside Liverpool Lime Street Station.

He posted on Twitter: ‘I’m back on the picket lines to support our friends in the RMT union. Throughout this dispute, ministers have obstructed negotiations and refused to get around the table.

‘They want to sow division amongst working people, but we won’t let them. Victory to the rail strikes.’

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who was Labour Party chair under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, joined RMT members outside Berwick upon Tweed station.

Meanwhile, former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott lashed out at frontbencher Emily Thornberry, who last night insisted a Labour government would not be ‘picking a side’ in the rail dispute.

Ms Abbott told the shadow attorney general: ‘I thought when you joined the Labour Party you had picked a side…working people.’

At least four Labour frontbenchers defied Sir Keir’s orders on Tuesday’s first day of rail strikes and joined picket lines.

Sir Keir has also opened the door to another Labour row after he signalled he could support below-inflation pay rises for other parts of the public sector

Sir Keir has also opened the door to another Labour row after he signalled he could support below-inflation pay rises for other parts of the public sector

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott lashed out at frontbencher Emily Thornberry on Twitter over Sir Keir's position on strikes

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott lashed out at frontbencher Emily Thornberry on Twitter over Sir Keir’s position on strikes

There was no sign this morning that senior MPs – such as serving shadow ministers and parliamentary aides – had once again rebelled against their Labour leader’s wishes.

But the row over Sir Keir’s threat to discipline those who did join Tuesday’s picket lines continued to fester.

One shadow minister told the Guardian it would be ‘outrageous’ to caution, or even sack, Labour MPs for showing support for striking rail workers.

The newspaper also reported that Labour whips were trying to encourage those frontbenchers who rebelled to issue public apologies, with the risk of disciplinary action if they did not.

Sir Keir’s spokesman has denied that the Labour leader’s position on strikes had been undermined by MPs joining picket lines. 

‘The position has been followed by the vast majority of the frontbench and he’s set out his views clearly on that,’ the spokesman said.

Ahead of Tuesday’s first day of strikes, a letter was sent to shadow cabinet ministers warning them not to join picket lines, with the message then being passed to other members of Labour’s front bench. 

Decisions by Labour’s chief whip about disciplinary action are set to be taken in the ‘next few days’. 

Sir Keir has also set a course for another Labour row and a battle with the unions by failing to endorse union calls for inflation-linked pay rises during the cost-of-living crisis.

The Government has repeatedly urged wage restraint in the public sector over fears of a wage/price spiral that could further fuel rocketing inflation rates.

The Bank of England has forecast the inflation rate could reach as high as 11 per cent  this autumn.

More than 90% of office workers in London were forced to WFH on the first day of the RMT's rail strikes

More than 90% of office workers in London were forced to WFH on the first day of the RMT’s rail strikes

Raising the threat of further strike action across the public sector, many union leaders are calling for inflation-linked pay rises for their members.

But Sir Keir shied away from backing public sector workers from getting rises in line with inflation as a general matter of principle. 

He spokesman said: ‘We are well aware that people are suffering as a result of the cost of living crisis that is the result of this Government’s failure to act. 

‘We believe that the Government should ensure that workers are treated decently and fairly.

‘But we respect the work of the public sector pay review bodies and it’s their job to come forward with recommendations.

‘We’re not going to second-guess or pick numbers.’

Asked whether that meant Starmer would support whatever level of pay was recommended by the review bodies, even if it was below inflation, the spokesman added: ‘Our starting point would be to look at what the pay review bodies come forward with and our assumption would be that that would be what we would support.’

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