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Editorial: Streeting's forced apology shows Labour won't stand up for workers over this summer of action

LESS than a week after Labour MP Wes Streeting impressed viewers of BBC Question Time with a defence of RMT members taking strike action to defend their jobs, we hear he’s apologised to the shadow cabinet for doing so.

The apology — described as having been forced by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in the Times, to which Murdoch outlet it was presumably leaked to boost the latter’s anti-union credentials — comes just ahead of the TUC’s national We Deserve Better demonstration in London this weekend.

What can we learn from this pathetic climbdown? RMT itself is unsurprised, tweeting that it confirms the suspicion that Streeting was tacking left with an eye to any contest to succeed Starmer as head of the party.

As it gears up for national strike action against the devastating cuts to Britain’s railway network planned by the Tories, it has more important matters to deal with than internal manoeuvrings in a party it’s not affiliated to in any case.

RMT’s members overwhelmingly back strike action and its leadership have made the reasons for that clear in a run of strong media performances. They do not need Streeting’s help.

But the whole sorry episode still has lessons we should take to heart about the nature of the current Labour leadership and just how little solidarity workers can expect if they take action to defend essential services, their livelihoods, their pay or all three.

Starmer, clearly nettled by the gossip around a possible leadership challenge, is on counter-manoeuvres, having reportedly set up a special unit dubbed the “K Team” to jazz up his boring image.

Forcing the Blairites’ favourite candidate to replace him to backtrack on support for trade unions serves three party management purposes: it warns MPs not to stray from the script, appeals to the Blairite wing of the Labour right closest to Streeting (which has traditionally been hostile to the union link itself, not merely associated with right-wing trade unionism as is Labour First) and undermines Streeting’s ability to appeal for ultimately important union endorsements if there is a contest.

If there is a leadership challenge, the left will need a candidate; and Starmer’s leadership is catastrophic enough in its attempt to drive out all socialists, impose mandatory support for the United States, Nato and war and shut down all discussion of public ownership that the Labour left should be alert to every opportunity to unseat him.

But this is not of immediate relevance when it comes to mobilising for the cost-of-living fightback and organising for victory in the industrial actions coming this summer.

What trade unions should take from this is how low Labour has sunk. 

A shadow cabinet minister states, after a massive vote for strike action on a huge turnout that, if they were a member of the union in question, they would have voted the same way and calls on the government to negotiate seriously.

And that is deemed beyond the pale. It merits an apology. Because Labour opposes strikes.

Labour has turned its back on rail workers, just as it turned its back on bin workers in Coventry earlier this year.

It is sending a signal to MPs that they will be punished if they use platforms in the media to defend workers or put the case for strike action to the public.

Whether through fawning subservience to the Tory press or pro-corporate conviction, Labour is rejecting an opportunity to mount a joint political and industrial challenge to a policy of wanton sabotage of this country’s public transport system which makes a mockery of our climate commitments.

That just reinforces the need for us to get the message out ourselves, to build solidarity with transport workers and raise public awareness of the consequences if we do not defeat the Tory war on rail.

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