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‘Protect the right to strike’ march marks 40th anniversary of GCHQ union ban

TRADE unionists will hold a “protect the right to strike” march and rally through Cheltenham tomorrow on the 40th anniversary of the union ban at GCHQ.

Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government banned trade union membership of staff at the government’s intelligence and security headquarters on January 25 1984.

She claimed that trade union membership was not compatible with being patriotic and guarding the country’s intelligence secrets.

Workers were told to resign from their unions or be sacked, which led to 14 workers being given the boot after they refused to do so.

It was not until Labour gained power in 1997, and after a long campaign by the workers and their unions, that the ban on union membership at GCHQ was repealed and the 14 were reinstated.

PCS and the TUC will be marching to commemorate that historic win – and to campaign against current attacks on the right to strike. 

Surviving members of the original campaign — Robin Smith, Brian Johnson and Gareth Morris — and their families will be attending as guests of honour. 

The march and rally come in the wake of government passing anti-strike laws that could restrict the right to strike for over five million workers. 

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “Forty years ago at GCHQ, workers were banned from belonging to a union. 

“After a long campaign by the workers and their unions, they won and were reinstated – but attacks on unions continue.  

“The new Strikes Act restricts the fundamental right of any worker to take industrial action to defend their pay and conditions. 

“This is an unprecedented attack on the right to strike – it’s unworkable, undemocratic and likely illegal.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Thatcher’s decision to ban trade unions at GCHQ was part of her attack on unions in general but these workers weren’t prepared to accept it. 

“Their principled decision not to give up their trade union membership saw them pay a massive price. 

“Now, 40 years on, as we celebrate their courage and determination, a different Conservative government is attacking trade union rights.

“This time they’re introducing minimum service levels in a naked attack on our right to strike.  

“Our message today is the same as it was in 1984 – we shall fight this injustice for however long it takes.” 

The march begins at 12 noon at Montpellier Gardens in Cheltenham.

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