Trade union chief defends Keir Starmer’s support of workers

A trade union boss has defended Sir Keir Starmer’s support of working people and criticised the general secretary of Unite for saying Labour needs to “get a spine”.

Shopworkers’ trade union Usdaw’s leader Paddy Lillis said Sharon Graham’s criticism of the Labour leader was “unfair” and should be directed towards the Government instead.

“I think it’s actually unfair. I think Keir Starmer has demonstrated over and over again that he’s on the side of workers. He understands the industrial actions taking place at the minute,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.

“We need to be, as a trade union movement and a Labour movement, putting the blame squarely where it belongs. And that’s with this Tory Government who have been missing in action”.

Ms Graham told the BBC on Sunday: “From my point of view, I think we are doing Labour a favour actually by saying ‘look, get a spine, stick up for workers'”.

She said the party needed to provide “a strong message” and do more to back workers seeking pay rises as employers make big profits.

But Mr Lillis called for a “degree of silence” from his fellow trade union chief.

“I think there’s a degree of silence needed sometimes and let the Labour leadership get on with taking the fight to the Tories and holding them to account for what’s wrong with this country in this moment in time,” he said.

Labour leadership contest
Sir Keir Starmer with Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis (Pete Byrne/PA)

It comes amid weeks of worsening industrial relations and accusations from union officials that the Government is doing little or nothing to help workers struggling with mounting bills.

Strikes or ballots for industrial action, which look like they may stretch into the autumn, have been called across various sectors in what the unions have described as a “summer of solidarity” in a growing drive for pay rises in the face of the cost-of-living crisis.

Sir Keir attracted criticism when he urged frontbenchers to stay away from rail strikes last month and sacked Sam Tarry, a shadow transport minister, for giving media interviews from picket lines.

Mr Lillis said: “Anyone that’s doing the Labour Party down doesn’t do us a favour.

“If you look over history, we’ve had six Labour prime ministers in our history and each time we turn on each other.

“This is a shadow cabinet that’s worked with the trade union leaders to come up with an employment rights green paper, looking at what they will introduce in power. So to turn round and say Keir Starmer’s not supportive of workers is not true”.