David Lammy has called on Labour to "categorically" oppose a 10 per cent pay rise for airport workers, sparking a row with one of the UK's largest unions and accusations of hypocrisy from the party's Left wing.
The shadow foreign secretary moved to toughen Labour’s stance ahead of a "summer of discontent" over falling pay by saying he did not support strikes and "categorically" opposed strikes by BA staff, "because I’m serious about the business of being in Government".
His comments, in a series of broadcast interviews on Sunday, prompted Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, to describe his support for "bad bosses" as a "new low" for Labour.
Left-wing MPs hit back by pointing out that both Mr Lammy and Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, had appeared on picket lines supporting workers in their industrial action over pay.
Labour has been criticised for not backing the RMT in the current dispute that triggered the rail strikes, but Mr Lammy firmly dismissed airline workers’ pay demands in his interview on the BBC’s Sunday Morning show.
"Many of us might want a rise of 10 per cent," Mr 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, Mr 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."
He also suggested Labour’s chief whip would be "speaking to" frontbench MPs who joined RMT picket lines to ensure that a "serious party of Government" did not participate in such protests.
In a statement, Unite’s Ms Graham accused Mr Lammy of a "direct attack" on workers, who were not seeking a pay rise but restoration of money cut during the pandemic.
"Supporting bad bosses is a new low for Labour and once again shows that politicians have failed. It is now down to the trade unions to defend working people. We are their only voice," she said.
Pointing out Sir Keir’s previous position on Twitter, Dianne Abbot said: "Keir was proud to go on picket lines once upon a time."
Sir Keir, whilst shadow Brexit secretary in 2019, joined at least two pickets of striking McDonald’s staff and members University and College Union. Mr Lammy has been present on picket lines supporting striking junior doctors in 2016, as well as college staff in 2018.
John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, said that he, along with "a lot of people in the Labour and trade union movement", were disappointed by Labour’s position.
He told Times Radio that the party needs to "pull back" and that every Labour MP should support striking workers "in every means possible" including attending picket lines.
Even Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, tweeted that "working people… have every right to fight for a fair pay rise and decent conditions".