Protesters brave freeze to demonstrate against controversial strikes Bill

Thousands of protesters have braved sub-zero temperatures to demonstrate outside Downing Street against a controversial new Bill restricting the right to strike.

Mick Lynch, leader of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, and a number of Labour backbenchers and the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn were among those gathered on Monday evening.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and Unison were also present at the demonstration, which coincided with the second reading of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill in Parliament.

Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey of the RMT with former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey of the RMT with former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The legislation would see the right to strike restricted by imposing minimum service levels.

Bosses would be legally able to fire employees who ignore a notice requiring them to work on days of industrial action.

Protesters chanted “f*** the Tories” and “the people united will never be divided” and others banged drums as they gathered in Westminster.

Addressing protesters, Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said she was “keeping warm” by thinking about how National Education Union (NEU) teachers had earlier voted to strike.

“It’s absolutely freezing but you know what’s keeping me warm? The NEU just smashed their ballot,” she told the crowd.

“Picket lines, democracy, we are the champions of them and we are not going to accept any extra conditions on our ability to do that.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs Zara Sultana and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were among speakers to address crowds from a podium on Whitehall.

Mr Corbyn condemned “disgusting levels of inequality” in Britain under the Tory Government, while Ms Ribeiro-Addy, having come straight from Parliament, said the Bill’s introduction in the Commons had been “absolutely disgraceful”.

“All we heard from the minister was lies, deceit and utter contempt for our public service workers,” she told protesters.

Clare Keenan, from the PCS, described the Bill as an “attack on my human rights and those of my fellow workers”.

She said: “You can’t make people go to work five days a week and having to use food banks and removing their ability to protest.

“It’s just a hurdle that they’re putting in the way to stop workers from taking industrial action.”

Retired George Hallam, who attended to show solidarity with workers, likened the Bill to anti-strike action under Margaret Thatcher’s government.

He said: “I think the Government is chancing its arm because the last time it tried something like this was the 1970s.

“It’s worse than a sin, it’s a mistake, because they’re likely to get a bloody nose like they did back then.”