Tens of thousands of railway workers walked out in another 24 hour strike over pay, jobs, pensions and working conditions bring most of the national rail network to a halt this week. The employers are planning the biggest attack on railway workers pay and working conditions for 20 years, in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. The Tories threaten to bring in new laws to outlaw strikes that do not provide a guaranteed ‘minimum service’ to limit disruption to passengers and a new hate campaign has begun in the bourgeois media to vilify the leaders of the railway unions. But what is Sir Keir Starmer doing?
Nothing, or at least nothing to help the railway workers. The Labour leader refuses to support the railway unions’ strikes and he’s ordered his front-benchers to stay away from the picket lines. Shadow transport minister Sam Tarry has been kicked off the Labour front-bench for defying the Starmer diktat and joining striking rail workers outside London’s Euston station. Starmer now washes his hands on the modest renationalisation pledges that included the railways that he made during his party leadership bid claiming they may not be possible in the current economic climate.
Starmer and his Blairite clique think that the way back to power is by wooing a mythical “middle England” and seeking some sort of partnership with the Liberal Democrats. But disaffected Tories are, by and large, always going to turn to the Lib-Dems and the Liberal Democrats preferred coalition partner will inevitably be the Tories – not Labour.
Labour’s only hope is to mobilise its traditional working class support but there’s not much chance of that with Starmer at the helm.
One transport union leader, Mick Lynch of the RMT, says Labour will only be able to reclaim its traditional heartlands if it could “identify with working class people’s needs and their campaigns”. Another, Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, said his union was “ashamed” of Labour and suggested it was “deluded” to think the party could defeat the Conservatives without the support of union members. Many others would agree.
Ominously the leader of the giant Unite union, Sharon Graham, told the media that: “the Labour sacking of Sam Tarry for supporting working people on strike, against cuts to their jobs and pay, is another insult to the trade union movement. Quite frankly, it would be laughable if it were not so serious.
“At a time when people are facing a cost of living crisis, and on the day when the Conservative Government has launched a new wave of attacks on the rights of working people, the Labour Party has opted to continue to indulge in old factional wars.
“Labour is becoming more and more irrelevant to ordinary working people who are suffering. Juvenile attacks on trade unionists will do absolutely nothing to further Labour’s prospects for power.”
At the moment Labour is eight or nine points ahead of the Tories in the opinion polls. That’s still not enough to give them an overall majority in parliament. Labour needs a much bigger swing to take back the “Red Wall” seats in the north or make inroads north of the border.
The Tories know when to dump a lame-duck leader. It’s time Labour did the same.