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On the march for the right to strike

8 February 2024

Members of Aslef, one of the many unions on the TUC rally “Protect the right to strike”, Cheltenham, Saturday 27 January. Photo Workers.

On Saturday 27 January thousands of trade unionists from across the country assembled in Cheltenham for a TUC march and rally against the latest anti-strike laws. They know that the law is aimed at undermining their ability to organise and defend pay and conditions.

The unions most likely to be impacted by the legislation were well represented on the march – from the health service, teaching and railways. They are all targeted under the minimum service levels regulations.

Thatcher ban

They were joined by a range of other unions including steel workers from South Wales. Civil servants were prominent, although mostly not directly affected by the minimum services law. They remember well that 40 years previously, Margaret Thatcher banned union membership entirely at GHCQ, the government intelligence centre based in Cheltenham.

Following a series of successful strike actions across the NHS and the rail industry, the government passed the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act at the end of 2023. This gives employers the ability to serve work notices on individual workers compelling them to return to work on a legally called strike day.


A worker failing to comply can be lawfully dismissed. This legislation is designed to isolate individuals and to undermine collective action. It also enables employers to victimise individual workers without recourse, as they are the judge of who is given a work notice.

Many speakers at the rally pointed out that this legislation is a testament to the effectiveness of workers when we combine. The question everyone is now asking is “how do we respond?”


A rally and protest are an important start. But the real, most effective response to such legislation lies in asserting the right to strike.

Demonstrators were buoyed by the action from rail drivers’ union Aslef. Government-owned LNER threatened to use the legislation against a planned one-day strike. The union responded by increasing the number of strike days; LNER then withdrew. A first victory in what will no doubt be a protracted fight.