Why Labour must back workers in struggle – Kim Johnson MP


“The bravery of the RMT members in fighting back against attacks on their jobs, pay and conditions has turned the tide on the narrative around the cost-of-living crisis.”

By Kim Johnson MP

As the MP for the socialist republic of Liverpool Riverside, and a dye-in-the-wool trade unionist myself – standing on a picket line feels like home to me.

As we’ve reminded our leader countless times over the past couple of weeks – the Labour Party was born out of the broader Labour movement. We are one and the same.

Or at least that’s the way it’s always been. The way it should be.

Last week, it was reported that Labour leader Keir Starmer circulated an instruction to his front bench not to show up on the RMT picket lines, and to tell their teams they were also not to attend.

It caused havoc, as outraged members and MPs leapt to the defence of striking workers and 24 MPs including myself proudly joined picket lines in defiance.

Not only did it prove to be unpopular and unenforceable in the Party, it proved to be a serious blunder too. During the course of the week-long strike, public opinion swung in behind the striking railway workers – due in no small part to the slick, no-nonsense media performances of RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch.

The bravery of the RMT members in fighting back against attacks on their jobs, pay and conditions has turned the tide on the narrative around the cost-of-living crisis. Instead of talking about the red-herring of wage-price spirals, we are now seeing mainstream media recognition that it’s price and profits inflation that is driving the need to increase wages.

There’s a clear lesson here for the Labour leadership about how sticking up for our principles and clearly arguing for better conditions for working people and the poorest in our society wins hearts and minds. These are popular, common-sense arguments and we should be unafraid to make them.

The RMTs struggle has inspired workers across the country to stand up and fight for a decent standard of living. Their message that workers should have the right to live in dignity – not struggling, using foodbanks, unable to heat their homes or fill the bellies of their families – resonated far and wide.

The RMT have shown what leadership looks like – it’s time the Labour Party sat up and took note.

If the Labour Party can’t swing in behind workers fighting attacks against jobs, pay and conditions during a cost of living crisis – after a decade in which wages and living standards have decreased for the poorest in our society, while the fat cats continue to cream off the top – then it begs the question when will it?

In the past year alone, billionaires in Britain increased their wealth by £55 billion. The average bankers bonus has increased by over a quarter. All the while, child and in-work poverty are reaching record highs.

Workers are saying enough is enough. It’s time for the Labour Party to do so too.

I was proud to stand on RMT picket lines last week alongside 24 of my colleagues, who are clear who’s corner we’re fighting. I joined my first union at 18, and I have joined countless pickets and rallies ever since. My own journey to becoming an MP began in Unison, where I was a rep at Liverpool council and led negotiations during a restructure which was finally dropped due to our work. My place will always be with workers fighting for their rights and livelihoods.

We are approaching the summer of discontent. With doctors, teachers, posties, airport workers, public sector workers, and many more ready to ballot over jobs, pay and conditions – the Labour leadership needs to get off the fence and fight for the people it was formed to represent.

Featured image: Kim Johnson (second from left) and other Socialist Campaign Group MPs join the RMT Picket.

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