Around 4,000 people marched against the Tories’ protest-smashing police bill in London on International Workers’ Day, Saturday.
Crowds gathered at Trafalgar Square for a rally before marching up to Buckingham Palace and on to the Home Office.
Placards read, “That's Priti undemocratic,” “Defund the Met,” and, “More police power = more police violence.”
Protester Elizabeth told Socialist Worker she is “angry”. “Protesting is a right and they're trying to take it away,” she said.
“The Tories already have little care for anyone—disabled people, black people or women—we’ve seen this during the pandemic.
"Their bill takes away our ability to fight. But we can't let them—we need to fight the bill until it's defeated.”
At the rally at Trafalgar Square one speaker asked the crowd, “Who holds the cops accountable? They don't protect us.”
Trade union delegations were an important part of the protest, with feeder marches from the UVW, RMT and UCU unions. Julia, a Sage care worker and UVW member, told Socialist Worker, “Workers need a fair place in society.
“But it's not possible when we are made to pay for crises. We need to fight for change and change to laws— the laws are now fair.
“If workers don't fight, we won't win anything. We have the power in society, but we have to be united.”
Julia was also angry about the Tory corruption scandals. “It's not fair they can spend hundreds of millions of pounds including on a flat that doesn't need renovating,” she said. “While there is nothing for us.
Ebony, an RMT transport union member, told Socialist Worker she’s “out here because I'm a big opponent of the government's bill”. “They want to bring it in to take away our right to protest,” she said. “That's against our human rights.
“They're trying to keep us quiet and don't want us to resist whatever they throw at us.
She added, “We should have the right to protest injustices. It's abhorrent. We won't be quite against capitalism, racism and sexism.”
On the loud and angry march protesters chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets,” “The workers united, will never be defeated,” and, “Kill, kill, kill the Bill.”
And outside the Home Office loud cries of, “Priti Patel, Priti racist,” and, “Let in every refugee” took aim at Tory home secretary Priti Patel.
The measures in the bill would allow any boss to clamp down on the right to picket during strikes. Cat, an RMT health and safety rep, told Socialist Worker, “I've seen the deterioration of our rights in the workplace to take industrial action.
“And I saw how police treated anti-frackers in Kirby Misperton in north Yorkshire.
“They tried to use the Labour Relations Act, which was brought in because pickets imposed on the bosses. As a health and safety rep, I choose to be here because we have to resist and make a difference.
“Protest is something we use against unsafe workplaces."
Cat said she wants people out in the street “to see and feel the injustice”. “Now we need to get organised,” she added. “Especially as it’s May Day.”
Teacher and NEU education union member Amy was also at the rally. “I feel as educators and teachers we have to protest to protect our right to protest,” she told Socialist Worker. “And it's in the interest of the kids we teach.”
Amy explained that this last year has been “politicising” for teachers, especially young ones who “haven't been involved in trade unions before”.
She added that during the pandemic her district balloted to strike. “Through doing that I realised how difficult it is to get to a point where you can take industrial action,” Amy said. “So the two— protesting and workers rights—are connected.”
The large trade union presence on the protest is an important step forward in the fight against the Tories’ repressive biĺl.
We need radicalism and unity to defeat the police bill.
Anger on the streets across Britain
Actions included protests in Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Liverpool, Bristol, Brighton, Cambridge, Leeds and Portsmouth and in smaller towns such as Barnstaple and Leamington.
Demonstrators are furious at the Tory policing bill that attacks the right to protest and gives cops more powers to harass oppressed people.
As Leeds protester Jay put it, “The police already have too much power to bully the people they don’t like. I’m opposing the bill because I want everyone to be free to protest and live without police harassment.”
Around 1,000 gathered in Brighton for a rally called by the trades council. Protesters brought banners from the Unison, UCU, NEU, Unite and Acorn unions, and local MP Caroline Lucas sent a message of support.
Around 500 people then marched to Brighton police station to continue protesting chanting, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”
A “huge crowd” gathered on Woodhouse Moor in Hyde Park, Leeds, for a Kill the Bill protest on Saturday afternoon.
Some 250 people marched at midday in Bristol in a protest organised by Bristol Trades Council. Local activists say it was the biggest trades council march for a couple of years, with Kill the Bill as a big theme.
Protesters brought banners from the UCU, NEU, Unite and Unison unions. Activists from the Kill the Bill campaign and Extinction Rebellion joined the action, one of four planned protests in the city on Saturday.
Protesters rallied at Castle Park after marching through Bristol city centre. Bristol trades council president Sheila Caffrey hailed school workers’ refusal to return to unsafe schools in January, as an example of how action can protect safety.
“No to putting workers at risk,” she said. “No to putting young people and the children we teach at risk.”
Around 150 people joined the protest in Cambridge. The demo brought together protesters from a broad range of campaigns with a growing trade union presence after Cambridge trades council put out a call to mobilise.
In Lancaster, Travellers in horse-drawn carts led the May Day march. The Tory police bill would create a new offence of “residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle”.
This and other measures would give cops even more powers to harass Travellers.
Marchers chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets” and, “Kill the bill” as the demonstration wound its way through Lancaster city centre.
Banners on the march included Lancaster Trades Council, Lancaster & Fleetwood Labour Party, and local banners from the UCU, NEU and RMT unions.
Traveller Catherine Varey Lipton told a rally that the police bill “uses dehumanising language” regarding Gypsies and Travellers.
“We are being treated as outsiders who are unworthy of equal rights,” she said. “I want to give us a voice.”
Catherine also blasted the media for encouraging anti-Traveller prejudice – along with our rulers. “All kinds of bigotry comes from the top down – from parliament, from police and other officials,” she said. “Gypsies and Travellers have been described in the House of Commons as a ‘disease’ and a ‘plague’.”
Around 200 people protested against the bill in Manchester. UCU union executive member Saira Weiner told a rally, "We've seen more and more reports of police targeting innocent people. We stand up for everyone who's oppressed by this system."
Nurse Karen Reissmann who had been fined £10,000 for protesting in Manchester against the Tories' 1 percent pay insult to health workers told a rally, "We've never won our rights without a fight,
"We need this square filled, we need our trade unions on board. Let's stand together, unity is the only way forward to win."
Although St Peter's Square had held two groups of protesters during much of the rally, campaigners from Stand Up To Racism and other groups agreed on a united march through the city centre.
Activists blocked junctions and tramlines to protest against the police bill and recent police actions against peaceful protest.
Around 150 people joined a Kill the Bill protest in Leamington, several with Extinction Rebellion flags. Protesters came from groups including Black Lives Matter, Justice for Palestine, Keep Our NHS Pulbic and the NEU union.
Another 100 braved pouring rain in Portsmouth to join a demonstration called by the trades council. In Cornwall, protesters marched to Truro police station and in Plymouth to Charles Cross Police Station.
Some 150 people marched in York, where a homemade placard demanded, “Protect women, not statues!” The protest began speeches at the Minster themed around International Workers’ Day.
A speaker from the TUC spoke about the fight against the Industrial Relations Act in the 1970s, and another from the IWGB union about unionising precarious workers. A young shop worker told the crowd about joining the Usdaw union and why unions are important.
Around 150 people joined a noisy protest in Norwich called by Extinction Rebellion and Norwich trades council.
Protesters then marched around York chanting, “Kill the bill” and, “Tory scum.”
There was a “small but lively” protest in Haverfordwest, west Wales. Several demonstrators held Stand Up To Racism placards reading, “Black Lives Matter.” More protesters gathered in Aberystwyth.
There were 100 demonstrators on the May Day march in Hastings, called by the trades council. Banners came from the Unite and Unison unions, and from Hastings Stand Up To Racism. Other protesters brought Roma flags.
In Nottingham, campaigners fighting to save the John Carroll Leisure Centre, which faces closure, marched to join a May Day rally up to 300-strong. The UCU and Unison unions sent banners, along with the Keep Our NHS Public campaign.
Heavy police tactics in Newcastle
The protest in Newcastle was bigger and angrier than the last one—and was met with heavier handed policing.
Hundreds of people gathered at Grey's Monument in the city centre. But cops began arresting people early on just as protesters rallied for speeches.
Protesters reacted by demanding cops let the arrested go free, then marched around the city.
Police tried to funnel them to a park on the outskirts of the city centre. They tried to block the road back into town—but had to back down when protesters stood their ground and chanted “Let us march.”
Cops became more aggressive as the protest wound down. Snatch squads pushed into the crowd, grabbing people and shoving them to the ground.
One protester told the march, “The police are trained to de-escalate situations. There was absolutely no need for any of the arrests today.
“The other week we had a protest and none of this happened. People were not shoved and pushed to the ground. It is possible for people to exercise their protest.”
Another said it was her first protest, and had been “the best experience because I'm surrounded by people who want the same as me”.
But she added, “Police have not protected people. They've been pushing and throwing people to the ground. That's not protecting people.”
One protester told Socialist Worker, “It’s a shame that it’s come to this—to have to take to the streets to defend our right to protest.”
He added the police’s treatment of the protest was “to put it lightly, bollocks. This is something close to an authoritarian state.”
Despite the continuing protests, there was no trade union involvement in the march.
One marcher, Danny, a member of the Unison union, decided to come to the protest himself. He told Socialist Worker, “Working people need to stand together. We've already had the laws passed under David Cameron changing our rights to strike.”
Another protester said the movement needs to get bigger. “The best way to stop the bill is to keep protesting like this. We need to spread the word.”