Cheltenham TUC Rally – 26th January 2024

In January 1984 the government under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher announced that it would ban trade unions in GCHQ, claiming that there was an inherent conflict between the structure of trade unions and loyalty to the state.  No evidence was produced to support this invidious slur on the reputation, loyalty and integrity on trade unionists working at the centre.

Despite many threats a group of workers refused to be intimidated into relinquishing their trade union membership, as a result of which in 1988 fourteen staff were sacked.

There followed years of campaigning, marches and rallies organised by the TUC, trade unions and with many international organisations offering solidarity.

On 15 May 1997 the Foreign Secretary in Tony Blair’s new government lifted the trade union ban.

On Saturday 27 January 2024, thanks to the generosity of Unite providing a coach, Joe Hannigan and myself attended a rally in Cheltenham to mark the fortieth anniversary of the GCHQ ban being imposed.

Sandwiched between the Unison banners of Sandwell and Bristol University, we joined thousands of other trade unionists in a march through the town centre carrying our banner in tribute to those who struggled so hard to retain their trade union membership.

Finally, we gathered in Pittville Park to hear speeches by the general secretaries of many unions including our own.  In addition to talking of their admiration for the sacked GCHQ workers, they spoke in contempt of the current efforts by the government to further restrict the right of working people.

It is hoped that if elected to government this year the Labour Party will as pledged within a hundred days revoke all the anti-union legislation introduced by the current Conservative government.

GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) is the department that collects and analyses intelligence, protects the UK from cyber threats and supports the military.

Chris O’Neill

Chair, Hampshire Unison Retired Members Section