Protests on the eve of the final House of Lords vote on the Police Crime and Sentencing bill are not a last-ditch effort but a warmup for the fight to come, writes Charlotte Powell.
Tens of thousands protested around Britain today in Kill the Bill demonstrations ahead of the final House of Lords vote on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) bill this Monday.
These were the first protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill since early December.
Thousands marched in London from Lincoln’s Inn Fields to Parliament square. Kill the Bill organisers worked together with organisers of protests against the Nationality and Borders bill to arrange a joint demonstration. Speakers included John McDonnell, Zita Holbourne and Shami Chakrabarti. Previous demonstrations in London have also featured high profile politicians in their speaking lineups alongside grassroots activists and organisers.
In Manchester, there were around 1500 people present, even blocking the city’s trams later in the day. A large number of organisations were present, including Manchester XR, the Young Communist League, Kids of Colour, and the Northern Police Monitoring Project. Speakers included Huda Ammori from Palestine Action, fresh from the recent victory against arms manufacturer Elbit in Oldham, rs21’s Ian Allinson representing Manchester Trades Council, and representatives from Keep our NHS public, the ongoing CHEP strike, Acorn, Women Asylum Seekers together, and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) groups.
In Bristol, a crowd of at least 500 marched, with speakers from XR, members of the GRT community and other organisations based around protest and human rights. They spoke passionately on the issues around further empowering the police when they already act aggressively against protests, and the need for relying on protest for necessary changes to society.
In Scotland protests were held in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. Edinburgh saw a small but lively demonstration outside the UK government building, with a mixture of seasoned activists and people who were protesting for the first time.
Overall, protests were held in at least 25 towns and cities around the country, including Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Coventry, Cardiff, Swansea, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Southampton and Exeter.
What is at stake
The threats the policing bill poses to individual and collective freedoms to protest and struggle against oppression are already well documented. By attacking the right to protest it also shores up class oppression and injustice against marginalised groups, while explicitly coming after the very limited freedoms still left to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.
Alongside this, the Nationality and Borders Bill will give the government the power to revoke British citizenship from individuals without even notifying them.
Crucially, 18 pages of new amendments were added to the bill by Priti Patel in November which make it even worse than before. They criminalise obstructing major transport works, and increase stop & search powers around protests for police. A particularly nasty amendment introduces ‘serious disruption prevention orders [SDPOs]’ which can prohibit individuals from joining protests or even calling on others to protest.
Labour peers have come out against the amendments and stated they will fight them in the House of Lords vote this Monday. This is undoubtedly in part due to the waves of protest that this winter and in spring of 2021.
Unfortunately a version of this bill is sure to pass, regardless of what happens on Monday. Whether because the coalition of organisations fighting the bill never reached a tipping point of becoming a truly mass movement, or because of the broader lack of militant working class organisation in Britain today, the Bill has not been killed.
The PCSC bill being passed into law will make the fight to kill it a much longer struggle than managing to get it voted down in parliament would have been. But the over 500 organisations that signed the Kill the Bill coalition statement last year knew this was a very real possibility. Even in the beginning stages of this movement, organisations in the coalition were discussing how to resist the Bill if it passes. Now is the time to revisit that discussion. The number of towns and cities that held protests today is proof that there is a fighting force up and down the country ready to revisit that conversation in workplace unions, in militant organisations, and in the streets.