The denial of a basic human right to GCHQ workers — 14 of them were sacked because of their refusal to resign their union membership — and the “enemy within” language deployed by the government, led to a fierce campaign from trade unions and civil libertarians. The incoming Labour government eventually repealed the ban in 1997.
Where did Amnesty stand on this back in 1984? I don’t know, but maybe the written history of Amnesty-trade union relations, which we have commissioned to be published this year as part of our celebrations, will shed some light.
What I’m pretty sure of is that the decades of co-operation and solidarity in the years since the ban means that if an abuse of that sort happened again, we’d be out there adding our voices in protest. We understand loud-and-clear that the right to form and join trade unions free of harassment and intimidation is a fundamental human right, and if it’s worth fighting for in Iran , in Colombia and in Zimbabwe, it’s certainly worth defending here at home.
In a future dispute of this sort, if someone with the talent of Brian Finch were to make a painting of the demonstration, I would expect to see plenty of Amnesty Workers Rights = Human Rights placards!