Starmer made 'catastrophic misjudgement' with picket line ban, says union chief

22 June 2022, 18:35 | Updated: 22 June 2022, 18:41

Mark Serwotka says Sir Keir made a "catastrophic judgement" over the strikes
Mark Serwotka says Sir Keir made a "catastrophic judgement" over the strikes. Picture: LBC/Getty

By Will Taylor

Keir Starmer made a "catastrophic misjudgement" by trying to prevent Labour politicians from showing up at picket lines in this week's rail strikes, a union boss has told LBC.

The Labour leader has tried to tone down his party's support for the RMT union's strikes, which shut down Britain's rail transport on Tuesday and will do the same on Thursday and Saturday.

That is despite some calls for him to rally around trade unions, which form a core element of the party.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, said on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr: "My view is what Keir Starmer did yesterday was a catastrophic misjudgement.

"He is the leader of the Labour party, founded by the trade unions, in Parliament to speak up for millions of working men and women in this country and I think not to support the strike himself is a mistake.

"But when he's threatening his colleagues with potential disciplinary action for standing on a picket line, something that they should be proud to do, it tells me that he’s really lost his bearings.

"So I was really disappointed and I hope tomorrow he takes a different view."

His own union will ballot its members about striking in September, after they were offered a pay rise of 2% and face Government attempts to reduce the size of the state by slashing the civil service's size.

Read more: Rail strike called under 'false pretences' by RMT's '1970s union baron' boss, says Shapps

Sir Keir is keeping an eye on how the public will react to the industrial action over pay, jobs and conditions.

It will affect travellers getting to events like Glastonbury as well as other prominent gigs this week, and sports events like the England v New Zealand test in Leeds, or the British Athletic Championships in Manchester.

Labour MPs including Kate Osborne, Paula Barker and Navendu Mishra, all frontbenchers, were seen on picket lines on Tuesday.

Read more: Furious commuter blocks packed bus as week of rail strike havoc begins

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, posted a photo of himself at Edinburgh Waverely train station, where he said neither the public, unions or workers wanted to take action, blaming the Government.

Sir Keir told Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions earlier on Wednesday: "The Prime Minister of this country and his Transport Secretary haven't attended a single meeting, held a conversation or lifted a finger to stop these strikes."

He added Mr Johnson should "do his job, get round the table and get the trains running".

The PM insisted his Government is “doing everything we can to prevent these strikes" but an agreement was needed to be reached between rail firms and the unions.