Only five Welsh MPs have declared their support for strikes – compared to over 20 Senedd Members
Only five Welsh MPs have expressed their support for striking rail workers, compared to more than 20 members of the Senedd, Nation.Cymru has found amid a row over UK Labour’s position on the dispute.
Three of 22 Welsh Labour MPs – Beth Winter, Ruth Jones and Geraint Davies – have visited a picket line or posted a message of support. Two of three Plaid Cymru MPs – Liz Saville-Roberts and Hywel Williams – have done so.
In the Senedd, in contrast, almost all backbench Labour and Plaid Cymru MSs have spoken out in support of the strike or visited a picket line. Four Welsh Government ministers were also pictured visiting an RMT picket line.
The contrasting positions on the UK’s biggest rail strike since 1989 comes after Keir Starmer ‘banned’ frontbench MPs from visiting picket lines. Those that have done so could be disciplined by the Labour’s chief whip, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said yesterday.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said “supporting bad bosses is a new low for Labour” and Shavanah Taj, the general secretary of the Wales TUC, said that “UK Labour would do well to take a verse out of Welsh Labour’s party manual.”
Ruth Jones, who is on Labour’s frontbench at Westminster, said on Saturday: “As we enter the third day of industrial action from the RMT union, I’d like to reiterate my solidarity for those striking.
“In Wales, because of our Welsh Labour Government, Transport for Wales staff are not striking. But we mustn’t forget those employed by GWR and Network Rail, who have been hung out to dry by this reckless Tory Government in Westminster.”
‘Failure of leadership’
Beth Winter, the backbench MP for Cynon Valley, has urged the public to lobby Labour MPs to support the strike.
Most Labour MPs have shared graphics blaming the UK Government for not resolving the strike but stopped short of supporting the RMT.
The dispute, which has so far involved three days of action, comes after two years of failed talks between the RMT and rail management. On top of a below inflation pay offer, the major sticking point are potential redundancies which the RMT say would mean losing train guards, cleaners and almost all ticket offices.
While Transport for Wales staff are not taking part in the dispute, there has still been disruption due to the fact that staff of Network Rail, which manages the track in Wales, are taking part along with First Great Western workers. Some 67% of people in Wales say the strike is justified, according to polling.
Asked to clarify Labour’s position on BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement programme, Shadow Wales Secretary Jo Stevens said: “We’ve been very clear, we didn’t want these strikes to happen. Nobody wants strikes to happen.
“They happened because of the catastrophic failure of leadership by the government.”
But she added: “I’m never going to criticise anybody who is a trade union member who goes through a lawful ballot for industrial action as a last resort and stands on a picket line. Why would we? It’s a fundamental right to be able to do that.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford has expressed sympathy with Starmer’s position, telling the Senedd last week: “No inhibition exists on members of my group demonstrating their support for the trade union movement.
“Keir Starmer is in a very different position. He knows perfectly well that if he were to sanction that, the story would never, ever be, would it, about support for the trade union movement; it would be the Tories succeeding in their wish to portray this as somehow an example of the country returning to days that have been left far behind.”
But Plaid Cymru has accused Labour of competing with the Conservatives “to see who can be the most invisible” over the dispute.
“Is it Grant Shapps refusing to sit down with the rail unions, or is it Keir Starmer banning his Shadow Cabinet from the picket lines and berating them from speaking out in favour?” asked Plaid leader Adam Price.
“At a time when trade unionists and workers are being demonised, being turned into the scapegoats, being vilified to distract attention from Boris Johnson’s many failures, isn’t it even more important that we show them our support?”
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