The government has introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to Parliament, and its second reading was rushed through. Because of widespread protests, the third and final reading has been delayed until after Easter. Delayed but not scrapped.
By Martin Ralph – International Socialist League (UK)
The bill gives more powers and protections for the police, some of which will be UK-wide, while others may only apply in England and Wales.
The bill will give the police much greater power to prevent or stop protests. It will ban protests that block roads around Parliament, and it will introduce a new offence, punishable by up to ten years in prison, of “public nuisance” for actions that cause “serious distress”, “serious annoyance”, and “serious inconvenience” including “serious noise”.It also allows the police to impose conditions on one-person protests.
The bill will make trespass an offence, criminalising Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. And it introduces new stop and search powers that will increase racial profiling and harassment.
It also includes a possible ten-year sentence for damaging a memorial or statue. It means you could get a longer sentence for damaging a statue than the average sentence given to rapists.
Protests take to the streets
Since the vigil for Sarah Everard (who was allegedly killed by a senior policeman), there has been a wave of protests throughout the UK against the policing bill, police brutality, the carceral state, misogyny and racism and to demand the right to protest for all. Many of these protests have exercised social distancing and masks.
The policemen ‘safeguarded’ Sarah Everard’s vigils by forming human barriers and then pushing the protestors, mainly women, closer together. Millions of people looked on in horror as the TV news showed police officers forcefully arresting women at such vigils.
On 20 and 21 March, over 13 cities saw demonstrations against the Bill.
In every demonstration opposed to violence against women that we know of, police used threats of arrest, arrest and fined some protestors up to £10,000.
The legal confusion grew following last week’s Court of Appeal case – during which the police force appeared to accept that it did not have a policy of blanket bans on protests because that would breach human rights.
However, when those attending the vigil in memory of Sarah Everard surrounded a bandstand on Clapham Common in London, a decision was taken to attempt to remove them.
More than 60 MPs and Lords have written to the home secretary calling for a change in Covid-19 legislation to allow protests to happen during the lockdown. Their letter says, “The police have no legal certainty as to their duties and powers, protestors have no legal certainty as to their rights, and there is inconsistent application of the Regulations across the country. This cannot continue.“
But Sam Grant from Liberty said: “Last week, the police conceded protest is not banned under the lockdown regulations but used them to threaten then arrest demonstrators anyway.”
All that means is that the police attack demonstrations or mass gatherings when they decide to.
Policing is unaccountable, aggressive and violent
A coalition of groups has come together to oppose the bill. Sisters Uncut have led the fight against the bill and in women’s demonstrations. As they say, events have shown that protest works, “that’s why they want to ban it, and that’s why we’re fighting back. The coalition that is coming together shows that many people are angry about the brutal reality of policing in this country and who are determined to fight this dangerous extension of state power….policing is unaccountable, aggressive and violent. Targets of police repression – working-class people, racial minorities, sex workers and many others – have had enough.” Sisters Uncut.
When Johnson and the establishment talk of democracy, they mean bourgeois democracy and the rule of their law. When people start anything that could harm their control, they react by trying to kill it off.
Many organisations of youth and women are taking to the streets. This is a struggle for our democratic rights, for our democracy, the democracy of the streets and our organisations.
Successive governments have introduced anti-trade union laws, and the TUC did nothing but conferences and motions and Labour governments increased those powers of the state which are used against workers. At the same time, each government has strengthened the immigration controls and removed automatic rights for health and jobs. Our rights have been under attack for decades, and now they are coming for much more.
The Tories know that anger is building against their policies on Covid-19 that led to so many unnecessary deaths in care homes, of elderly people, frontline workers, Black and ethnic minorities and disabled people. The anger of many health workers is also increasing because most were ‘honoured’ by Johnson with a 1% pay increase that amounts to an effective pay cut, taking into inflation. Workers are also fighting and striking against “Fire and Rehire”. All these problems highlight that Johnson aims to make poor people and workers pay for their mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis and the coming economic crisis.
Women and youth, workers and unions that organise strikes, all those opposed to violence against women and black people show they can fight. That is what the government fears because, in many cases, the struggles are not controlled by the Labour Party or by the TUC.
Trade Union leaders pose no action
Union leaders will make speeches on Zoom, they will condemn the Tory bill, and then go quiet.
The last time there was the possibility of extended and massive strike action, the TUC and the big unions went along with a national strike of over two million workers over pensions in November 2011 for one day. Afterwards, workers were asking ‘when is the next one?’ It never came.
When the then General Secretary, Brendan Barber, was retiring in 2012, he had a celebration at the TUC headquarters, where it was announced there would be a video link. To the surprise of some attendees, the person in the video was the head of the Bank of England, who warmly thanked Barber for his efforts to save the British economy (he meant profits, of course) in preventing the pension strike movement from continuing.
Today Unions in health say they support the 15% pay demand of NHS workers. They praise them and then do nothing – for a year.
That is why we say to workers: act now, take this discussion into every workplace, discuss the Tory bill and how it is a major attack on your right to organise. Discuss how to fight this, and demand your union opposes and mobilises fights the bill. Kill the bill – you have the power to do that, but you need to organise with the women and youth.
Defend our democracy on the streets
We say we say Kill the bill! Not us!