Last week, four protestors were cleared by a jury of criminal damage, after pulling down a statue of slave owner Edward Colston during the BLM protests in 2020.
This has provoked howls of indignation from a number of Tory MPs. Some have even called for jury trials to be abolished in these cases, since they cannot be trusted to reach the ‘right’ verdict when it comes to protecting property and heritage!
Of course, the property and ‘heritage’ that these rogues defend is one that decorates slavery and adorns Britain’s long and sordid history of racism.
Robert Jenrick, a Tory MP, has opined that the jury verdict undermines the rule of law, despite juries having the absolute right to make up their own minds on the matter. Suella Braverman, the attorney general, even scorned the jury’s verdict, gesturing to the court of appeal to step in to clarify the law.
Tory minister Grant Shapps has suggested that amendments tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Court Bill (PCSC) last December would close the “potential loopholes” that led to the activists’ acquittal.
This is a shameful admission that the bourgeois legal system is really only there to rule in favour of the establishment. If the ruling class doesn’t like a decision? Simply change the law!
Now last-minute changes to the bill – totalling 18 pages of amendments – have been tabled in the unelected House of Lords by an unaccountable peer in an attempt to further curtail democratic rights of protest. The irony is quite palpable.
The amendment that Shapps was referring to would allow courts to consider the “emotional or wider distress” caused by damage to public property, which would carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Under such vagaries, the Tories would be able to ramp up their repression and cower activists through this ongoing assault on our freedoms.
In their slate of amendments, the government is even more pointed in trying to block protests like those we have seen in recent years, which have brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets.
The amendments cover: imprisonment for obstructing roads (which would see Insulate Britain activists locked away); blocking printing presses (back in September, Extinction Rebellion blocked three print presses for Murdoch-owned papers); or protesting at airports (such as those done by the Stansted 15); and oil refineries.
On top of this, the amendments, if passed, would allow police officers to stop and search people without grounds for suspicion, with anyone trying to obstruct such a search liable to receive up to 51 weeks in prison.
Already arbitrary stop-and-search measures disproportionately affect BAME youth. These amendments will be further used to further harass those communities who already disproportionately bear the brunt of state violence and racism.
Another egregious proposal is ‘serious disruption prevention orders’. These could be used on any person who has been to as little as two protests in the last five years. These orders, if imposed, would subsequently prevent you from organisning with certain people – or even just carrying certain items.
The Home Secretary would also be given a blank cheque to decide what constitutes ‘serious disruption’.
It is clear that, in the face of increasing instability and unrest, the ruling class is trying to outlaw any and all potential threats to the capitalist system they defend – and are seeking to use all instruments of the state at their disposal to achieve this.
This is why we cannot rely on the justice system to protect us against state repression. Bourgeois law exists to protect the principle of private property at all costs, merely providing an illusion of fairness that can be engineered or discarded altogether to protect the capitalists’ interests.
These recent developments also show plainly why we cannot rely on feudal relics like the House of Lords to defend our democratic rights.
In the final analysis, such institutions exist to prop up the ruling class – especially in times of crisis like we see today.
Indeed, when the bill passed the Commons, it was with a smaller than expected majority, showing how useful an institution like the House of Lords can be to the government, which is becoming more fractured by the day.
The Tories are seeking to curb our right to protest, because it is through such collective struggles that the working class gains confidence and realise its strength – a strength that could be used to overthrow this government and the rotten capitalist system as a whole.
The way to oppose these measures is not to be cowed and keep our heads down. Instead, we can only rely on our own strength as workers and youth to oppose this bill and the entire reactionary state as a whole.
By their nature, however, individual protests to stop the bill cannot go on forever. Eventually, people get tired of turning out if they don’t see any results, no matter how great the cause.
Existing anti-union laws will work in tandem with these new laws to curb all attempts at opposition to the existing order. In fact, alongside this bill, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is tabling separate anti-union legislation that would see five-figure fines for breaking anti-union laws, and which would impose a levy on unions.
The labour movement must therefore support all attempts to protest against the PCSC bill, and use its industrial strength to resist anti-union legislation. This will draw in wider layers to oppose this bill, and the Tory government and the bosses who are pushing it. A conscious and collective working-class – mobilised with correct leadership – can defeat any law.
But the labour movement must not stop there. The best defence is offence. We must galvanise to abolish all draconian anti-trade union laws and legislation, which will be used in the coming period to try to keep the lid on the burning anger and indignation amongst workers and youth.
It is only through unified, audacious action that we can transform the struggle into a broader one against the entire repressive state machine, and the capitalist system which it exists to defend.
We must be clear: the real criminals are not activists, but the Tory government and the decrepit system they cling to – a system that thrives on exploitation and oppression. Only through mass struggle can we achieve an end to the horrors of capitalism that continually bring people out onto the streets in protest.