Socialist Worker

Protests at new level as thousands march across Britain against police bill

by Sophie Squire and Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2749

Fury against the bill in London

Fury against the bill in London (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Thousands of protesters took to the streets of London to show their anger at the police bill. It will try to silence protests and give the cops and the government more powers to intimidate black people and travellers.

Up to 5,000 protesters gathered at Speakers’ Corner carrying placards with slogans such as, “No protest, no progress,” and, “I’d have better protection as a statue than as a woman." 

Protester Lauren told Socialist Worker that she felt as if big protests don’t happen now we’ll “lose the right to protest altogether”.

Many of those protesting voiced their disgust with the new Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report that denied institutional racism exists in Britain.

Ami told Socialist Worker that she was horrified, but not surprised the government is trying to say that racism doesn’t exist.

“The Tories are trying to deny there is a problem," she said. "But they really can’t hide it especially when they are racists themselves. 

The bill is uniting people in opposition to it

The bill is uniting people in opposition to it (Pic: Guy Smallman)


“I am worried that this report will give racists and those who deny racism legitimacy. 

Protester Han said, “Tories have used the pandemic to repress our freedom of speech.

“This bill really shows that really free speech doesn’t actually matter to them at all.” 

Streets

Protesters marched to Parliament Square chanting, “Kill the bill,” and, “Whose streets? Our streets."

At a rally, speakers included former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The protest brought together groups such as Extinction Rebellion, Stand Up To Racism (SUTR), Traveller groups and LGBT+ organisations.

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Fran, an activist in SUTR, told Socialist Worker that the gathering of different groups showed just how wide the threats are and how people are linking issues.

“People are angry about so much more than just the bill itself," she said. "They are angry at black and Asian deaths in custody and the fact that a higher percentage of black and Asian people have died from coronavirus.

“They are also angry this government has pushed herd immunity and have left thousands of elderly people to die in care homes. The Tories simply don’t care. Now we’ve got to end them.”

Around 500 activists also met for a demonstration against violence against women in Trafalgar Square on the same day.

The protest mainly focused on the shocking findings of a YouGov poll that found 97 percent of women aged 18-24 had been sexually harassed.

Protester Jordan told Socialist Worker, “It was really powerful to see so many young women marching and protesting together.

“I think a lot of people here are able to see that so much of the sexism and racism we experience comes from the state and especially the police.”


Every part of Britain sees protests 

Protests took place on Saturday across Britain.

As this report was published, activists were saying that up to 3,000 people had joined Bristol’s fifth protest against the bill.

One protester reports, "It was a demonstration mainly of young people with an upbeat mood. It was deeply anti-racist and anti-capitalist.

"The trades council banner was there and an NEU union banner. That's some evidence of the labour movement dipping its toes in the water." 

In Manchester around 700 people marched around the city and blocked roads. Callum, who attended the protest, told Socialist Worker, “the atmosphere was full of camaraderie.

Speakers

“It was very refreshing to see so many people cheering for one another,” he said. “There were so many different speakers from different groups.”

Callum explained that it’s vital the movement “keeps coming out every week”.

“If we don’t use our rights they’ll take them away,” he said.

“The Tories introduced this bill to stop protests, but there have been more protests in the past few weeks than before. We must not back off.”

Another protester reported, "Labour leader Keir Starmer was booed every time someone mentioned him".

Later hundreds of people joined a striking bus workers' demonstration.

Protesting in Newcastle

Protesting in Newcastle (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Hundreds of mostly young people also joined a rally at Grey’s Monument in Newcastle.

After rallying, they took to one of the city’s busiest roads and marched to the main council building.

Their protesters took the knee for a minute’s silence for Sarah Everard and victims of sexism, racism and the police.

One speaker told the crowd, “What the Tories don't want us to do is fight back. The bill is about Priti Patel and the government preventing us from using our voices and getting the Tories out.”

Protester Jack, told Socialist Worker he joined the rally to “stand for democracy.”

“We need the right to assemble for protest,” he said. “That’s how things fundamentally get changed.”

Another protester, Annabelle, said, “They might criminalise protest, but they can’t stop people protesting.”

Marched

In Sheffield around 1,200 marched through the city centre and staged a sit-in outside the police station with protesters chanting, “Acab.”

And in Brighton huge numbers turned out to march to the police station, chanting, “defund the police.” They also blocked roads on the seafront and the city centre.

Around 350 people turned up in York to join the anti-bill protest. Julie, a teacher and Unison union rep, told the crowd that workers must unite against the bill.

“Trade unions have won rights for workers through struggle through protests, strikes and picket lines,” she said.

“It is these methods which work which is precisely why they are targeted by the Tory police bill.

“We need more trade unionists and workers on these protests. Demonstrations can win change. But strikes affect profits and can have an even more powerful impact.”

Shrewsbury say no to the bill

Shrewsbury say no to the bill (Pic: David Smith)


In Norwich 300 demonstrators took part in the day of action, and around 250 attended a protest in Weymouth. Northampton saw up to 300 people marching and rally in the town centre.

And in Oxford hundreds attended a demonstration, with placards reading, “Protest for protest,” and “Democracy is dying." 

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About 200 turned out in Bournemouth and 400 in Birmingham. There were also protests in Shrewsbury and Derby with climate activists and anti-racists joining forces to resist the protest-smashing bill.

Other protests were also held in Cardiff, Nottingham, Aberystwyth, Bath, Lancaster, Swindon, Folkestone, Luton, Taunton, Cambridge and Leicester.

In Liverpool, on the same day, 130 people protested over commissioners taking over the council and 350 joined a kill the bill demonstration.

Around 140 protesters in Glasgow marched through the city centre and chanted, “No justice? No peace. No racist police.”

Although Scotland is not directly affected by the police bill, organisers said they “stand in solidarity with those protesting”.

Defiance in Birmingham

Defiance in Birmingham (Pic: Bob Moloney)


In Portsmouth about 150 protesters gathered chanting “Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, take your bill and go to hell”.

Trade unionist and socialist Jon said, “Speakers from Extinction Rebellion, Stand Up To Racism and Reclaim These Streets vowed to continue protesting until the whole bill is scrapped.

“Portsmouth Trades Council unanimously passed a motion proposed by Unison to oppose the bill and call a May Day rally on Saturday 1 May to fight the bill.”

Around 400 protested in Plymouth, 250 in Weymouth.

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And on Friday in Leeds over 1,200 young, angry demonstrators turned out to march through the streets with drums and chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.”

The crowd represented groups who will be affected by the Tories’ new bill—anti-racists, climate activists, Travellers, trans activists, students, disabled people and trade unionists.

And 250 people gathered in Finsbury Park in north London also on Friday.

The outpouring of anger and rage at the Tories’ bill is a sign of the power protests can tap. It is vital to keep up the momentum of the movement until the whole repressive, draconian bill is smashed for good.

It's been inspiring to see the protests so far. But they need to grow even bigger and link with more working class people. They should not let themselves be tamed or diverted into parliamentary channels.


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