Sir Tony Blair has warned Sir Keir Starmer not to back public sector strike action in an intervention that is likely to enrage the party’s leftwing members.
The former prime minister said it would be “very damaging” for the party to throw their support behind the industrial action, which he insisted Britain “can’t afford” at the moment.
Following last week’s national rail strikes, there are growing fears of a ‘summer of discontent’ with mass walkouts also being planned by teachers, doctors, firefighters, Royal Mail workers and BT staff.
Sir Keir has faced fury from Labour’s trade union backers for failing to wholeheartedly back workers taking strike action, as they demand large pay rises during the cost-of-living crisis.
He banned his party’s frontbenchers from joining picket lines during the recent railway strikes, leading to David Lammy saying he “categorically” did not support BA workers during their recent dispute, comments which he has now backtracked on.
But Sir Tony, who led Labour between 1994 and 2007, insisted Sir Keir was right not to bow to “huge pressure” to support widespread industrial action.
Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Sir Tony – who held a ‘Blairfest’ conference in London yesterday – warned Sir Keir that he could not be seen to be supporting large-scale strikes if he wanted to win the next general election.
“You can have every sympathy for people who, as a result of the situation the economy is in – the cost-of-living crisis, high inflation – that they’re angry about the situation, anxious about their terms and conditions of employment,” the ex-PM said.
“You can understand why these movements for strike action take place.
“But, the truth is, if Labour wants to form a government, it’s got to be very clear – the country at the moment can’t afford a whole wave of public sector strikes.”