The Government should stop blaming the unions for its own failures

Published on: 19 December 2016

As Southern Rail workers go on strike because of concerns over safety and the role of conductors the Government should stop blaming the unions for its own failures.

I fully support RMT and Aslef in their efforts to maintain passenger safety. As a proud trade union member and Labour MP, I believe it is absolutely right that people should have the right to strike. It is a fundamental that helps to rebalance power towards the workers that produce the wealth.

In transport we have a Secretary of State who is known to be partisan. In a recently leaked letter he refused to let the Mayor of London run suburban rail lest it fall into the hands of a Labour Mayor. Not just a pathetic belligerent stance but a smack in the face to struggling commuters given TfL Rail is a top performer nationally with 93.1 per cent of services arriving on time.

For Grayling the strikes are like manna from heaven. It takes everyone’s eye off the bigger issue which is how badly Government runs its franchises and contracts, Southern Rail in particular.

Grayling would love nothing more than to implement his right wing wish list. Remember his time at the Ministry of Justice where he restricted prisoners’ access to books.

I Chair the Public Accounts Committee where we regularly examine franchising and see a shortage of companies bidding, extensions of franchises and a tendency for the incumbent to win the franchise bid when it takes place. Privatisation and franchising has failed. That’s why I fully support renationalising our railways.

I am proud trade union member and have campaigned alongside unions to introduce London weighting, increase London bus driver pay and to protect the rights for part-time workers.

As a MP I have consistently challenged the Government’s anti-union agenda, voting against the unfair and undemocratic Trade Union Bill.

The success of the strikes rests on public support. Strikes should bring the public with them. It’s vital that support is maintained or a strike on an already chaotic rail service could come back and bite in a climate where many Tory MPs who have long wanted to curb trade union rights are seeking an opportunity to do just that. As my colleague and Hackney friend Diane Abbott said people have a right to strike but it will be “very disastrous if they all go ahead for the public over Christmas time”.