John McDonnell has criticised Sir Keir Starmer for not supporting striking workers, accusing him of “completely misreading the public mood”, but he made an embarrassing blunder. Mr McDonnell claimed that the public supports people who are taking strike action, adding that Sir Keir is “undermining support” for the party by not standing with workers. But a YouGov survey published in the midst of the rail strikes in July showed that more people oppose the rail strikes than support them.
This comes as the country has been rocked by strike action throughout the summer during a mounting cost of living crisis.
The poll, which surveyed 2,516 adults on June 21, 2022, showed that less than four in 10 adults in the country (37 percent) were supportive of the rail transport workers’ walk-outs.
A higher proportion (45 percent) opposed them.
Speaking at an event on the fringes of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, Mr McDonnell told delegates he thought Sir Keir should have said: “We are the Labour Party, we support workers in struggle and we do everything we can to support them. If it comes to a strike, yes we’d go on picket lines.”
He said that he “can see” why Sir Keir may have thought it best to remain ambivalent about the party’s approach towards striking workers, but said that support for the strikes has “grown”, accusing the party of having “completely misread the public mood”.
The former shadow Chancellor continued: “You have to think, why are people going on strike?
“The wages people are being offered, they’ve got no other option – you’ve got to understand that.
“But it isn’t just one strike, we could have over one million workers on strike; it just goes on and on.
Sir Keir has fallen short of standing with the striking workers, initially banning ministers from joining workers on the picket lines.
However, the policy appears to have been loosened after several ministers ignored the advice.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham has not attended the party conference this year, taking place in Liverpool this week, as a result of Labour’s failure to fully support striking workers.
She called for the party to correct the impression that it is “wrong” to be on the picket line.
Ms Graham warned that it is “a miscalculation by anybody, whether it is Keir Starmer or Liz Truss, quite frankly, in assuming that unions are a hated beast”.
Speaking to conference delegates, Mr McDonnell also warned Sir Keir Starmer that the party is becoming “irrelevant”.
He said there is a “huge” movement growing outside of the Labour Party but implied that the party is not doing enough to respond.
Mr McDonnell said: “What I’m worried about in terms of this conference, is we have a huge build of a movement outside of this party.
“What we seem to be doing is constructing an organisational form that is almost irrelevant to that movement.”
Further strikes are set to rock the country throughout autumn, with rail, mail and emergency services workers among those threatening to take industrial action.