Trade unions, human rights groups and justice campaigners will join a demonstration outside Downing Street on Monday to protest a new law on strikes.
The House of Lords will debate the controversial Public Order Bill that aims to ensure minimum service levels during strikes - legislation that has been described by unions as a “historic attack on democratic rights”.
The new Bill, which goes through its final stages in the Commons on Monday (30 January) before being discussed in the Lords, will severely limit the right to protest, campaign groups say.
The minimum service levels bill is being introduced amid escalating industrial action in disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.
The biggest day of strikes in a decade will be held on Wednesday (1 February) when up to half a million workers will walk out, including teachers, train drivers, civil servants and university lecturers.
Monday’s protest is being organised by the Enough is Enough campaign and the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom with the support of human rights organisation Liberty, and several trade unions.
Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Lynch and Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack will be among the speakers at the protest on Monday.
Mr Lynch said: “Working people are the defenders of democratic rights and always have been.
“Ordinary people must have a right to make meaningful decisions in their workplace, their communities, and society.
“That wasn’t given to us. The right to strike and the right to protest are fundamental civil liberties. If we can’t resist these attacks, I fear for our future as a working class but also as citizens. We will live in a society where freedoms and rights are severely restricted.”
Mr Wrack added: “Any move to give bosses more powers to sack workers and sue unions for taking strike action in defence of jobs, wages and conditions will be fiercely resisted by the FBU.
“This is a historic attack on democratic rights. The Tories are clearly hell-bent on criminalising and victimising trade unions along with anyone who protests against their agenda. We need a mass movement of resistance to these authoritarian policies.”
What is the Public Order Bill?
The Bill was first introduced in May 2022, with the aim of bringing new offences regarding public order. It will also grant police more powers for stop and search, as well as measures to crackdown on protesters.
The Home Office says the purpose of the bill is to: “give police the tools they need to tackle dangerous and highly disruptive tactics, used by a small minority of protestors.”
Under the Bill the following will become against the law:
- Locking on, or going equipped to lock on - which is a method of protest where people attach themselves to buildings or objects
- Obstructing major transport works, for example the HS2
- Interfering with national infrastructure such as railways, airports and oil and gas, printing presses
Penalties for breaching the offences would be a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both for locking on and obstructing transport works. Interfering with national infrastructure would carry a penalty of up to 12 months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.
It could also see anyone subject to such orders having to wear an electronic tag. Breaching SDPOs would carry a penalty of six months in jail or an unlimited fine - or both.
Offenders would also have to have notification requirements which would mean having to keep in contact with the person/body supervising the order, as well as having to notify if they change their home address.