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Analysis reveals around 5.5 million workers across Britain have their right to strike threatened by the government’s “draconian” Strikes Act
  • Around 534,000 workers in the South West at risk of losing the right to strike 

  • Warning comes as TUC leader Paul Nowak and PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka will address a national rally in Cheltenham today (Saturday) 

The TUC has today (Saturday) warned that the right to strike of one in five (22%) workers in the South West is at risk because of the Conservative government’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act. 

The new warning comes as thousands of trade union members are expected to join a march and rally in Cheltenham today to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the GCHQ trade union ban and to stand up for the right to strike. 

The TUC says that in total around 5.5 million workers across England, Scotland and Wales could have their right to strike threatened by the new anti-strike legislation. 

The legislation means that when workers lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they could be forced to attend work – and sacked if they don’t comply.   

The analysis shows that the South West has the second highest percentage of the workforce affected by the Strikes Act across Great Britain – beaten only by the West Midlands. 

Around 534,000 workers in the South West risk losing their right to strike, according to the analysis. 

Widespread criticism 

The TUC says the new strike curbs are “undemocratic, unworkable and likely illegal”.  

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) wrote to the government to express “serious concerns” about its anti-strike legislation breaching international law. 

The Act has also faced a barrage of criticism from Acas, civil liberties organisations, the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, race and gender equalities groups, employment rights lawyers, and politicians around the world. 

NHS Providers recently warned that the legislation could worsen industrial relations, harm patient care and lead to more disruption. 

Cheltenham march and rally 

40 years ago – on 25 January 1984 – Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government attacked trade union rights at GCHQ. Union members were told to resign their membership or be sacked.  

After a long union campaign, they were reinstated when an incoming Labour government repealed the ban.   

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

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak and PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka will be joined by union leaders including Sharon Graham (Unite), Christina McAnea (Unison), Mick Lynch (RMT) and Mick Whelan (ASLEF). 

Speakers will include frontline workers from sectors affected by minimum service levels. And some surviving members of the original campaign – Robin Smith, Brian Johnson and Gareth Morris – and their families will attend as guests of honour. 

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:  

“This month marks 40 years since 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. Workers in the South West could be particularly hard hit. 

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

“That’s why today unions will march through Cheltenham to commemorate the GCHQ victory and to demonstrate continued defiance against minimum service level regulations and attacks on the right to strike.   

“We will once again show a Conservative government that the entire union movement stands together behind any worker sacked for trade union activity.” 

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: 

“40 years ago, Margaret Thatcher’s government came for working people by attacking their rights at work. But we stood together. We fought back. And we won. 

“This time the Tories have gone even further, and a generation later, that heroic fighting spirit is needed again.   

“Please join us today as we march and rally in Cheltenham to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the GCHQ trade union ban, when workers called out Thatcher’s attack on workers’ rights – and they won.  

“We stand shoulder to shoulder. Together we will win again.” 

Editors note

- Cheltenham march and rally: Details of the route and other information can be found here. Approximate timings to note: 

  • The march will gather from 12noon and begin at 12.30pm.  

  • The rally will start at 1.30pm with music. 

  • Speeches will be from 1.50pm. 

  • The rally will be finished at about 3.15pm. 

For requests to speak to Paul Nowak and other TUC spokespeople please call Alex Rossiter (07725 488 893) or Priya Rane (07979 925299). For requests to speak to Mark Serwotka and other PCS spokespeople, please call Tim Lezard (07810 641 459). 
- Workers at risk of losing their right to strike: 


Total people in employment 

Total in industries covered by Bill 

% of workforce at risk 

North East 




North West 




Yorks and Humber 




East Midlands 




West Midlands 




East of England 








South East 




South West 
















- Methodology: This analysis uses the October to December 2022 figures from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for employees in England, Wales and Scotland. It includes figures of those working in health service activities, fire service activities, education, transport, nuclear decommissioning and border security (the sectors named in the Act). This is used to calculate the total number working in industries affected by the bill in England, Wales and Scotland.  

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