By Charlie Kimber
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London rally rages against attacks on right to protest

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The best way to stop the Tories’ repressive laws is to defy them
Issue 2857
 
Protest rights: shouting protesters with Big Ben in the background

Campaigners for protest rights marched on Downing Street (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Protesters gathered in central London on Saturday to denounce new anti-protest laws—and to insist they will keep defying them.

Around 400 people at the demonstration included campaigners from Black Lives Matter groups, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) groups, Just Stop Oil, Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac), Stand Up To Racism, anti-monarchy group Republic, Extinction Rebellion, and others.

Traveller Michael told Socialist Worker, “It’s good we are all together because all the laws work by isolating people who can then be picked off by the police and the courts.

“Many of the laws are not just about protest but also about demolishing the basis for ways of living  that don’t fit into a very narrow way of existence.”

Opening the protesters’ rally, Alex Considine from Fuel Poverty Action and Extinction Rebellion said. “Unity is what we have needed for a long time. We are pushing back to defend rights and uniting to defy the Public Order Act.”

Naima Omar from Stand Up To Racism told Socialist Worker, “The attack on protests is part of a strategy of racist scapegoating and targeting of groups who can be wrongly blamed for the problems in society. Anti-racists have to support all those who are affected by such measures.”

Just Stop Oil activist Helen said, “The government is quick to criticise human rights abuses in other countries. But what we are now facing are human rights abuses here. And it’s possible only because there is no opposition from the Labour Party. It’s not coming through the political set-up, we have to do it ourselves.”

There is a real problem that there was not even a glimmer of a trade union presence on the demonstration, or Labour Party involvement. On Monday trade unionists came out to decry the new anti-union laws. But there is no cross-over to the other elements of the authoritarian agenda which covers all forms of protest and resistance.

Protesters in Parliament Square with a yellow banner with black writing saying "Unite to defy"

There was a strong sense of unity between different campaigns to defend protest rights (Picture: Socialist Worker)

The threats are real. For example, The Police Act 2022 redefined and outlawed “serious disruption” so widely that it could be applied to almost any situation. It created a new offence of “intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance”, with a penalty of up to ten years in prison.

Now the Public Order Act 2023 has gone further, handing police even more powers to shut down protests. Anyone who chains themselves to railings can be jailed for 51 weeks. And carrying equipment that could be used for such protests is also potentially illegal.

Police seized protesters at the coronation for possession of string and luggage straps.

Cops will also have massively increased powers against protesters who dig tunnels. And officers can carry out “suspicionless” stop and search far more frequently.

If you resist a search, you can be imprisoned for 51 weeks.

The act introduces “serious disruption prevention orders”, to take out what the police call “aggravated activists”.

The best way to defend rights is to use them, That means defiance of laws against strikes and protests.

Paula Peters from Dpac told the demonstration, “There will be no peace for the government which is violating and abusing human rights. We will defy you.”

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