A senior Labour MP has given his full support to the “entirely legitimate” public sector strike planned for Thursday. Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith told the BBC’s Daily Politics Show that he “completely” understood the need for the strike.
An estimated one million public sector workers plan to walk out in what Union leader Dave Prentice said could be bigger than the general strike of 1926. Mr Smith was debating the Conservative MP, Charlotte Leslie whom he accused of trying to “divide the country” between “public sector workers and public sector users” because she had suggested that Unions only be allowed to strike if a majority of their members favour it.
At the moment Unions are required to ballot their members on strike action but they are only required to get a majority who choose to participate in the vote. This means that small numbers of militants can cause strikes because most moderate union members do not bother to return their ballot papers. Many Conservatives want strike action limited to those occasions when more than half of the entire union vote to walk-out.
Mr Smith said it was legitimate for the unions to want to strike as public sector pay had been frozen for “far too long”. He continued: “Would I like to see the public sector given a pay increase? Absolutely. Have we seen pay being frozen for far too long from the perspective of those individuals? Yes we have.
“Are they right to be worrying about pensions, pay and the way in which earnings are being outstripped by inflation? Of course they are. So I completely understand the decision they are taking to strike.”
The presenter of the show Jo Coburn then asked if he supported “the strike, not just the right to strike, on the basis it has been so tough on pay.”
He replied: “I do. I think it’s a very legitimate thing for them to voice their concern about the nature of their jobs and how long people will have to work and about how much they are earning.”
Conservative MP Chris Skidmore said: “These comments make one thing abundantly clear – Labour are still the party of strikes and uncontrolled public sector pay.
“Ed Miliband must get a grip and condemn these strikes from his union paymasters – strikes which will damage children’s education, hurt the economy and inconvenience millions of ordinary people. If Miliband remains silent there can only be one conclusion: he’s a weak leader who just isn’t up to the job.”
Mr Smith’s comments will reignite concerns in middle England that Ed Miliband would go on a public sector spending spree if he got into Downing Street. The Labour Party are now financially reliant on public sector Union donations and may be willing to put up salaries to keep them flowing.
Miliband was elected Labour leader over his brother because the Unions outvoted ordinary Labour Party members.