Trade unionists are mobilising to defend the right to strike

"We won’t be intimidated by this government, and we won’t be bullied. We will defend the right to strike at all costs."

Unite balloons being flown at a TUC march

Next week, on Saturday 27 January, the whole union movement will come together to march in Cheltenham and stand up for the right to strike.

Cheltenham holds a special place in our movement’s history. Forty years ago – on 25th January 1984 – Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government attacked trade union rights at GCHQ.

Union members at GCHQ – many based in Cheltenham – were told to resign their membership or be sacked. But after a long and heroic campaign they were reinstated when an incoming Labour government repealed the ban in 1997.  

Over the thirteen years, marches and rallies regularly took place in Cheltenham commanding huge support. The fortitude of the workers and their families was unwavering, and it inspired the solidarity of the whole union movement.

Forty years later, that spirit and fight is needed once more. This time over five million workers face losing their right to strike as a result of the Conservative’s draconian Strikes Act.

The Tories’ Strikes Act is toxic, unworkable, undemocratic and likely illegal. And it’s a brazen attempt to try stop working people winning better pay and conditions.

The imposition of minimum service levels means that when workers lawfully vote to take strike action they could be told to attend work – and sacked if they don’t comply. That’s why at our special Congress, we made clear we would do everything in our power to defend that right to strike. It is a cornerstone of our democracy.

We won’t be intimidated by this government, and we won’t be bullied. We will defend the right to strike at all costs. And we will not rest this pernicious legislation is repealed from the statute books. 

This really matters. If the Tories get their way – we should expect further attacks on the rights of workers and trade unions in other sectors so far unaffected.   

The government wants to use this spiteful new bill as a Trojan horse for other anti-union measures, including an attempted clamp down on picketing. 

Our public services are crying out for investment to address the recruitment and retention crisis they face.   But, instead, the Conservatives are seeking to poison industrial relations with the result that services deteriorate even more, all driven by an unelected and out-of-touch prime minister who has lost the confidence of the British people. 

We won’t let this happen. We will use every lever at our disposable to defeat these unworkable – and almost certainly illegal – new laws. We will kick off a nationwide campaign of naming and shaming any employer or public body that uses this legislation.  We are actively exploring legal challenges to hold the government to account.

And the full force of the whole union movement will stand behind any worker disciplined or sacked for exercising their right to strike.  

Please join me – and trade union members from across the country – on Saturday the 27th of January 2024 as we march and rally in Cheltenham to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the GCHQ trade union ban

Let’s channel the spirit of those brave GCHQ workers and show our collective defiance against the Tories’ attack on the right to strike.   

Paul Nowak is general secretary of the Trades Union Congress

Image credit: Garry Knight – Public Domain

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