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Labour law lead could back illegal strike

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Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon won’t say whether he backs unlawful action

Richard Burgon MP

Labour’s spokesman on law and the justice system has refused to say whether or not he would support an illegal strike.

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, a non-practising solicitor, was grilled by veteran Radio 4 presenter John Humphrys this morning about the threat of strikes by Unite. The mega-union’s leader, Len McCluskey, says that he could be willing to strike over caps on public sector pay even without reaching the 50% turnout required for a valid vote.

Asked whether he would support this, Burgon first tried to turn the tables on the government:

I think the real issue here is the only lawbreakers there have been when it comes to worker-employer relations are actually the government. It was on the 26th of July that the Supreme Court decided that the Ministry of Justice, of all things, have been operating unlawfully with their employment tribunal fees.

Humphrys was having none of it:

I’m asking you a completely different question though, aren’t I, I’m asking you whether you would support Unite breaking the law?

Burgon, a former employment lawyer, wanted to talk about the pay cap. But Humphrys cut in again:

What I’m asking you is a very specific question, and it really is terribly important isn’t it, because you are a senior figure in the opposition — shadow secretary of state for justice, shadow lord chancellor. I’m asking you whether if Unite were to go on strike, breaking the law, knowingly break the law, as Len McCluskey has just posited, would you support them?

“These are complete hypotheticals,” Burgon responded.

Again, Humphrys went on the attack: “No they’re not, because Len McCluskey has raised it. If it were a hypothetical Len McCluskey would have said so himself. He answered a direct question from Ross Hawkins directly and said yes, he would consider going on strike even if it meant breaking the law. I’m asking you for third time whether you would accept that yourself.”

Burgon went on to talk about the importance of voting in strike ballots and the repeal of the Trade Union Act. He said:

There isn’t any illegal strike action taking place… I think the real issue is, rather than talking about one line from a speech or interview from a general secretary of a trade union, we should be talking about the reality faced by hundreds of thousands of your listeners… these hardworking people are faced with a situation where they’re so desperate that they’re considering strike action.

Lawyers and political opponents were unimpressed with Burgon’s performance:

But colleagues and supporters didn’t rate the presenter’s interview style.

Burgon, an English Literature graduate, qualified as a solicitor in 2006 and worked for over a decade for trade union firm Thompsons. He has a reputation as one of the biggest music fans in the House of Commons, and was interviewed recently by Vice about his love of heavy metal.

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