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RAIL workers brought the network to a halt today as the first national strike since 1989 brought pickets out to stations in every corner of Britain.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch praised the “fantastic” turnout and said members of his union had “exceeded expectations in our struggle for job security, defending conditions and a decent pay rise.”
It was a dispute “we will win,” he declared.
Labour frontbenchers joined picket lines to support striking rail workers today, defying a ban from the party leadership.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told frontbenchers to stay away from picket lines while blaming the government for the walkouts but insisting he did not want the strikes to go ahead.
However, at least three junior frontbenchers, Kate Osborne and Paula Barker, both parliamentary private secretaries to shadow ministers, and Labour whip Navendu Mishra, defied his instructions.
Ms Osborne, an aide to shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle, joined striking workers in south-east London.
She said: “I’m a trade unionist, I will always stand on the side of the workers.”
Mr Mishra said from the London Victoria picket line: “I stand with all workers on our railway network who are taking industrial action to fight for their jobs and keep passengers safe.”
On the same picket line, Ms Barker tweeted: “Proud to support the workers on the picket line at London Victoria this morning, alongside colleagues.
“These workers keep our country moving safely 365 days a year. The least they deserve is to be paid properly and feel secure in their jobs.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also distanced himself from Sir Keir by heading to a picket line saying: “The workers don’t want strikes.
“The unions don’t want strikes. The public don’t want strikes”.
Even Sir Keir's deputy Angela Rayner backed the RMT, tweeting: “Workers have been left with no choice.
“No-one takes strike action lightly. I will always defend their absolute right to do so for fairness at work.”
Asked on LBC News what his message to Labour MPs who do join the protests would be, shadow treasury chief secretary Pat McFadden claimed: “In the end that’s not how this will be resolved.”
But Labour MP Barry Gardiner said: “If we want the people of this country to support us as a potential government then we have to show them we support them when they stand up against unfair treatment and try to protect their families.
“After 12 years of falling wages and with inflation running at 9 per cent, perhaps now is the time that a bit of solidarity from Labour MPs would not go amiss.”
Left MP Richard Burgon told the BBC today that the decision of Sir Keir was “not an approach I would have taken.”
Labour also faces pressure from unions to support the strike.
Aslef leader Mick Whelan called the banning of Labour frontbenchers from picket lines “a bloody disgrace.”
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.”
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Apparently ‘showing leadership’ means to sit on the fence.”
BFAWU general secretary Sarah Woolley said the Labour leadership was once again showing why her union disaffiliated from the party last year.
“We know which Labour MPs will do the right thing and join their local RMT picket”, she said.
A number of Labour backbenchers also posted on social media from picket lines.
Veteran MP Diane Abbott tweeted a picture of her with pickets in Seven Sisters in London, adding “(But don’t tell Keir Starmer)” to the caption.
Former party chair Ian Lavery said “solidarity with the RMT today and all days” as he supported a picket line in Morpeth.
Beth Winter, the Cynon Valley Labour member, tweeted: “Complete solidarity with striking RMT members today.”
Mr Lynch accused Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of “spouting nonsense” with plans to allow agency staff to step in for striking workers.
The RMT leader said: “I don’t see how the deployment of students or people who have got no work experience that are working for an agency will help anyone to resolve this situation, so as usual he’s just spouting nonsense.
“Our members will continue the campaign and have shown outstanding unity in the pursuit of a settlement to this dispute.
“RMT members are leading the way for all workers in this country who are sick and tired of having their pay and conditions slashed by a mixture of big business profits and government policy.
“Now is the time to stand up and fight for every single railway worker in this dispute that we will win.”
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