Keir Starmer’s ban on Labour MPs going on picket lines was a “fundamental mistake” that caused a “complete car crash” in a week when the party should have been talking about increasing workers’ wages, Sam Tarry has said after he was sacked from his role as a shadow minister following media appearances at an RMT picket line.
In a defiant riposte to the Labour leadership as he once again joined a picket line, the MP rejected Starmer’s statement that he had been sacked for making up policy “on the hoof” as he stood alongside striking workers during rail action. Trade unions were the ones “showing true leadership at the moment”, he added.
“At the end of the day I thought it was time we were really clear about whose side we were on, and I am on the side of ordinary British workers,” said Tarry, giving fresh interviews after joining striking workers from the Communication Workers Union (CWU) on Friday morning in central London.
“I didn’t make up policy. All I said is that surely it should be right that we make an offer to workers in this country that matches inflation, because otherwise all they are getting offered is a real-terms pay cut,” he told Sky News.
Writing for the Guardian, Tarry said Labour MPs were “duty bound” to join striking workers on the picket line.
“The rail workers need Labour in this dispute now, and MPs at
Westminster, who will not shirk from standing with them on picket lines, and fighting back against every Tory attack on these Covid heroes.”
He likened plans by the Conservative leadership frontrunner Liz Truss to prohibit industrial action as being like something from the dictatorships of Augusto Pinochet and Vladimir Putin, adding it would be a “dereliction of duty” for Labour not to support those on picket lines.
His comments came as thousands of BT and Openreach workers were striking across the UK on Friday in a dispute over pay. The CWU said it would be the first national telecoms strike since 1987 and the biggest ever among call centre workers.
Another strike will be held on Monday after union members voted in favour of industrial action in protest at a £1,500 pay rise.
Starmer, who removed Tarry from the party’s frontbench earlier this week as shadow minister for buses and local transport, has previously warned shadow ministers not to join picket lines, although several did so during the last rail strikes in June and did not lose their jobs.
The Guardian understands Tarry was told he was sacked for saying it was “not acceptable to offer below-inflation pay rises” because it would be a real-terms pay cut for workers.
Tarry was told Labour’s position was that it was for ministers and unions to negotiate terms. That dispute is likely to cause significant alarm from trade unions about Labour’s position, including those affiliated to the party.
Tarry said on Friday: “This isn’t about me or Keir Starmer. This is about the Labour party demonstrating it’s on the side of ordinary British workers in this country.
“I think it’s a fundamental mistake to ban Labour MPs from being on picket lines. It shouldn’t happen, never happen. It has caused a complete car crash in a week when we should have been talking about what we are going to do to raise wages for the British people.”
Asked if a general strike was a prospect, Tarry said he did not believe it was on the cards but that trade unions needed to work together to fight back against the government.
“They are the people showing true leadership at the moment. They are the people standing up for British workers,” he said.