‘Starmer wrong on frontbench picket line ban’

Leader has forgotten party roots, says councillor

Friday, 8th July — By Anna Lamche

RMT picket Mick Lynch

TV crews at the RMT picket line [Simon Lamrock]

A COUNCILLOR has said he was “disgusted but not surprised” when the leader of the Labour Party banned his frontbenchers from joining picket lines last month.

Speaking to the Tribune this week, Bunhill councillor Phil Graham said of Sir Keir Starmer’s edict: “I was disgusted but not surprised. I feel like he’s forgotten where we come from. We were formed by trade unions.”

His comments came after a speech he gave at the Town Hall last Thursday, which was met with rapturous applause from all corners of the council chamber.

Adding to the council’s “Save Islington’s buses” motion at the full council meeting, Cllr Graham said he was standing up to speak in support of transport workers.

He called on all politicians to “stand alongside our union comrades to get the best pay and conditions for all workers,” adding: “No politicians should be instructed not to stand on a picket line at any time.”

Sir Keir Starmer

“We took sides when we joined our party,” he said.

Cllr Graham, who worked for London Transport for 28 years, later warned his party’s current leadership is “trying to chase Tory votes, which is all well and good because you need votes from all sides to get into power. But you don’t do that by forgetting your core and going against your core support.”

He said the “core Labour vote” is vital to the party “because they’re the ones who will be out stomping the streets when [we’re] canvassing”.

He added there was evidence some key members of the party had already been alienated. “That’s something that came out in the last local elections: we had so few volunteers, it was unbelievable,” he said.

As the Tory leadership branded the oncoming industrial action “Labour’s strikes,” Cllr Graham warned Sir Keir has not yet managed to articulate “the story of why this is happening and why this is happening in particular now”.

Cllr Phil Graham

He said: “Because you’ve got the cost of living crisis, people have been taking pay cuts – if you don’t get an above-inflation pay rise, then you are getting a pay cut every year.”

The Bank of England’s governor recently told workers the risk of inflation meant they should “think and reflect” before asking for pay rises.

“It’s funny because bankers’ bonuses and CEOs’ bonuses don’t seem to send inflation skyrocketing, they’re all getting massive bonuses and their pay isn’t coming down,” he said.

As rail, communications and postal workers ballot in favour of strikes, Cllr Graham thinks much more industrial action is on the horizon. “I think we’re going to have a year of it,” he said. “People are angry… you’re going to get it right across the board, teachers will be out, everyone will be out. I think we’re verging on a general strike, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

He added: “Any opposition should be miles ahead of the Tories at the moment, they’re an absolute disgrace, [but] we’re not. There’s so many open goals, but unfortunately in Westminster we’re not landing them.

“The working people are rising up now, and I will stand on picket lines and I will continue to stand on picket lines.”

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