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(Bloomberg) -- The biggest UK rail strike in 30 years is putting opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer in a bind as he decides whether to punish members of his team for transgressing party orders not to join the picket lines.
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Junior members of Labour’s front bench including Paula Barker, Navendu Mishra and Kate Osborne tweeted their attendance at picket lines on Tuesday, while Shadow Environment Minister Alex Sobel appeared alongside striking workers at Tottenham Court Road in central London. That’s in apparent contravention of a memo from the party leadership -- first reported by PoliticsHome -- ordering them not to join the pickets.
The dissent within Labour’s ranks poses a dilemma for Starmer as he seeks to stamp his authority on the party after stories in the UK press in which anonymous members of his team accused him of being boring. He must now decide what punishment to mete out to those who have disobeyed orders over the strikes.
A person familiar with the matter said Chief Whip Alan Campbell will deal with any disciplinary action once the strikes have concluded. Tuesday marked the first of three days of industrial action by railway workers, organized by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). Further strikes are planned for Thursday and Saturday.
Scottish Labour Leader Anas Sarwar also posed with strikers and tweeted his support. Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting has said if he were a rail union member, he’d be voting to go on strike, while Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner tweeted on Tuesday that “workers have been left with no choice.”
Starmer has sought to tread a careful line over the strikes, which have pitted the interests of his party’s traditional backers -- the unions -- against those of commuters including low-paid workers who need to get to work -- and who are also Labour voters.
The leader of the opposition told the House of Commons last week that he didn’t want the strikes to go ahead, while saying Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has “not lifted a finger” to prevent them through negotiations with the unions.
“Unlike the government, our focus is firmly on the public,” Labour said Tuesday in a statement. “The Tories are in charge, and they failed to fix it. The responsibility for this week’s chaos lies firmly with them. Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps must u-turn on their refusal to even meet with Network Rail and the RMT to urgently find a solution.”
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