Trade unionists march to defend the right to strike in Cheltenham (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Up to 4,000 workers took to the streets of Cheltenham on Saturday against the Tories’ new anti-strike laws. 

The law tries to force workers to scab on their own strikes by providing a minimum service level during industrial disputes.

The TUC union federation called the protest on the 40th anniversary of the Tories’ banning of unions at the Cheltenham-based GCHQ spy agency.

Janet, from University College Hospital Unison union branch in London, told Socialist Worker, “I’m here today because I’m outraged about the minimum service laws. Forty years after the attack on GCHQ workers, this is another attack. 

“In the NHS on a normal day we can’t guarantee normal service and now they expect us to when we are striking.

“I’m inspired by the Aslef train drivers’ union when it called more strikes. That shows us what to do.”

LNER rail bosses backed off from the first use of the new anti-union laws last week after Aslef escalated planned strikes. It’s strikes that get results—not holding out for a Labour government.

“A lot of time it is suggested we wait for Labour. Keir Starmer puts up no opposition and I am not optimistic about Labour,” said Janet. “Trade unions need to stand up and fight back.”

Patricia, a Unite union member, said, “The only opportunity to get rid of this legislation are strikes. I’d like to see more action from trade union leaders, not just words. Too often in industrial disputes, they don’t push hard enough.”

Ross, a FBU firefighters’ union member from London, said, “Organising on the streets like this is the best way to fight back and get rid of the Tories.” 

Tony, another FBU member, said, “We are here to lay down a marker as, once again, we are faced with an assault on working people’s right to defend themselves. We must not stand idly by. We must resist, organise and not stop until this law is cast into the dustbin of history.”

Union leaders lined up to give speeches committing to defying the anti-strike laws. Outgoing PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka announced that the civil service workers’ union is launching “legal action against the government for their anti-trade union laws”.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, slammed the legislation. “In Unite we have removed the requirement to act within the law from our rulebook,” she said. 

“We will use every tactic in our armoury to push back any employers who use the anti-union legislation. Any use of the law will be seen as a hostile act and we will fight back and escalate.”

Mick Lynch, RMT transport union general secretary, said, “We need to use the right to strike across the country and across all unions. 

“Aslef showed us the way. TUC policy is non-cooperation and non-compliance—retain the right to strike by using the right to strike.”

Rank and file members will have to build pressure on union leaders to make sure that happens by pushing for strikes and non-compliance with law. The whole movement needs to organise and be ready for action.

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