Labour should categorically refuse to back demands from airline workers for a pay rise of about 10% in order to show it is serious about seeking negotiated outcomes to disputes, David Lammy has said.
The shadow foreign secretary said Labour had to act like a party of government and that responsible governments believed in negotiation and compromise.
The party has been criticised for not backing the RMT in the current dispute that triggered the rail strikes, but Labour frontbenchers have rarely dismissed union pay demands as firmly as Lammy in his interview on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show.
Lammy was asked if he supported the BA check-in staff at Heathrow who have voted go to on strike over management’s refusal to reverse the 10% pay cut imposed during the pandemic.
“Many of us might want a rise of 10%,” Lammy said. “In truth, most people understand it’s unlikely that you’re going to get that.”
Asked directly if he supported the check-in staff, who are members of Unite, Lammy replied: “No, I don’t. It’s a no. It’s a categorical no.”
Asked why he would not support them, he replied: “Because I’m serious about the business of being in government, and the business of being in government is that you support negotiation.
Referring to the rail dispute, he said: “This government isn’t negotiating. This government is not supporting reaching a compromise.”
Unite, unlike the RMT, is affiliated to the Labour party and has in the past been its biggest financial backer. However, Sharon Graham, who took over as general secretary last year, has strongly criticised Keir Starmer’s stance on the rail strike, and has hinted that funding for Labour will be cut.
Asked what would happen to the Labour MPs who did join picket lines to show their support for the RMT rail strike, Lammy said that Alan Campbell, the shadow chief whip, would be speaking to them “and making it very clear that a serious party of government does not join picket lines”.
Some frontbenchers and parliamentary aides were among those picketing, even though they had been explicitly ordered to stay away by Starmer’s office.
Lammy said Labour was the party of working people, but that did not mean it should automatically side with workers against employers in a dispute. Although rail workers had legitimate grievances, he suggested, there were also “working people who use the trains to get to work”.
On Tuesday, the Communication Workers Union is due to start balloting postal workers on strike action over a pay rise offer of 2%. Dave Ward, the CWU general secretary, told Sky News on Sunday that he was “disappointed” by Labour’s attitude towards unions taking industrial action.
“I think Labour have miscalculated, because I think they’re obsessed with reconnecting with working people, and the reason that people moved away from Labour was over Brexit,” he said.
“I don’t think people are going to turn their backs on working people who are facing these challenges because we’re all genuinely in that together.”