This is a proposal to establish a committee to organise against the encroaching attacks on democratic and political rights being pursued by the Conservative Government.
In the context of the global rise of the far right and populist authoritarianism the Johnson government represents a real threat. Right wing Tories have already made clear that they want to dismantle the Human Rights Act. The recent BLM protests were denounced as “illegal” by Home Secretary Priti Patel and the policing of the found to be racist by monitoring organisation Netpol. Now Patel has written to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to find ways to restrict rights to protest after COVID lock down ends.
The attempt to shut down the vigil for Sarah Everard murdered by a serving Met Police officer and then the attack on it after dark shows the direction. It was the heroic decision by Sister Uncut to defy the police and keep the action going, and then the decision to call another mass protest the next day outside New Scotland Yard which shows the direction that we must go down.
The recent years have seen a number of new laws and policies introduced which criminalise protest and criticism of government policy, including gagging academics, a domestic extremist database and so on. They are proposing to make ID compulsory for voting which is intended to discriminate against Black and other communities. The government has banned education around ‘anti-capitalism’ from schools, meanwhile the right are claiming to be the victims over ‘cancel culture’ and are aggressively pursuing their own agenda of free speech which is a cover for their desire to be racist, sexist and so on.
The government is rushing through a new bill that will make “effective protest” illegal if it causes a “nuisance”, protest organisers facing jail time and/or a massive fine. In a country like Britain which prides itself on being a modern democracy, protests are still seen as a civil right, but mass protests or protests with direct action components that disrupt business will be targeted. It was revealing when Patel wrote to the police chiefs saying that protists cannot disrupt “the rights of others to go about their daily business”. In the same way that trade unionism is legal but effective trade unionism is effectively illegal, so too protests will be very hard to organise, mountains of paperwork, prohibitively expensive fines or prison sentences for people organising any direct action that affects business.
It is worth bearing in mind also that Labour has recently backed harsh penalties for people defacing war memorials and Sadiq Khan was firmly opposed to any disruptive actions by Extinction Rebellion – Labour leaders will not be reliable allies in this struggle. Tragic, considering how Keir Starmer sold himself to the party membership as a campaigning civil rights lawyer. But Labour has prevaricated on these issues, and is now looking to have a firmer stance against the moves towards greater police powers. A fight in the Labour Party and trade unions over these issues will be crucial.
Among the main targets of new repressive measures will be two movements that are so important in the current global situation, the anti racist movement and the environmental movement. But any increase in police will be used against any and all radical protest movements.
Taking into account the attacks on migrants, increase in surveillance and the global moves towards ‘stronger’ states this is a worrying trend. Defence of political and civil rights will be an increasingly important battleground over the coming years. The political establishment and the big business know that in the coming years protests will no doubt be militant, ‘disruptive’, angry acts of defiance against a capitalist system that is destroying the planet and wrecking peoples lives. The next years will be turbulent as the contradictions of capitalism, imperialism and climate change entwine and deepen.
We have to defend the right to protest as well as wider civil and political rights as the tendency towards authoritarian security ‘solutions’ to political problems become more prevalent.
What is needed is a campaign for our political and democratic rights, a campaigning organisation that isn’t just an NGO but is a campaigning organisation. One that also provides broad solidarity with campaigners across the world fighting for their democratic rights. It can also point to a better world, one where democracy is unchained and we do not have to live with these repressive institutions and social structures any more. Such an organisation would not seek to replace existing campaigns but act as a fulcrum for resistance.
- Resist the attacks on civil and defend democratic and political in Britain.
- Highlight the role of racist, violent policing
- Defend migrants and refugee rights. Have a clear commitment to anti-racism and self organisation of oppressed groups.
- Support trade union freedoms and the right to strike
- Support the democratic rights to criticise the government and its political agenda. No support of the right for bigots to promote their agenda of hate.
- Highlight the cause of people fighting for democratic rights abroad (Hong Kong, Myanmar/Burma, etc)