|Volume 51 Number 16, May 8, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Tens of thousands took part in militant May Day demonstrations in many cities and towns across Britain. The main focus of the demonstrations was opposition to the Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill 2021, at present going through Parliament, which gives police and ministers further powers to ban demonstrations on arbitrary grounds, such as causing annoyance or being too loud. The demonstrations demanded "No More Police Powers", and the movement against the Bill has been growing around the hashtag #KillTheBill, focusing on the criminalisation of protest that the Bill enshrines.
It has been pointed out in the course of the protests how the Bill will also drastically impact the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, as it threatens to criminalise trespass in a state where 92% of the land is privately owned. The May Day demonstrations were the latest in the protests against the use and abuse of police powers. A coalition of over 40 activist groups have joined forces since March against the Bill, which is due to resume its path through Parliament this month. More than 600 civil society and protest groups have called for the government to drop the legislation, and a planned quick passage through parliament has already been delayed.
In London, in a Mayday Day of Action, thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square at noon. An estimated 10,000 people attended the London demonstrations, and a rally was held featuring speakers from Sisters Uncut, the youth empowerment organisation The 4FRONT Project, anti-school exclusions campaign group No More Exclusions, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Socialists, Women of Colour and Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement (SWARM). The diverse range of organisations represented included the trade unions UVW, IWGB, UCU, RMT and Unison. This broad swathe of organisations was reflected in the demonstration itself, with speakers pointing out, "We're here for everybody!"
After gathering in Trafalgar Square from midday, protesters marched past Buckingham Palace amidst red and purple smoke flares, then through Victoria, past the Department for Education and the Home Office, and finally across the river to Vauxhall Gardens.
Outside the Home Office, speeches were given from atop a double decker bus, including students from Pimlico Academy who recently walked out of school in protest of racist school uniform policies. Activists expressed solidarity with Osime Brown, a young autistic Black man currently facing deportation to Jamaica.
As police helicopters flew overhead, a militant march took place to Vauxhall Gardens with the focus on how to intervene in police Stop and Searches, how to resist evictions and how to stop immigration raids.
Opposition to the Bill has been growing also because of the exercise of police violence against peaceful demonstrations during the Covid-19 lockdown, as well as the revelations of endemic police corruption, racism, and connection with neo-Nazi organisations. The state has also had to hold the Mitting Inquiry, initiated after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence on April 22, 1993, which indicated endemic racism throughout the police. The use of under-cover policing since the Anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, and before, has also demonstrated both the immorality and provocateur nature of the police powers. In this light, demonstrators on May Day also upheld the slogan, "Whose Streets? Our Streets!"
Among the cities where protests were held were Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle. In Manchester, a large contingent also marched to the Go North West bus garage where drivers have been on strike. After ten weeks of industrial action, the threat of fire and rehire has been removed, and the fire and rehire contract made null and void. Two drivers who were sacked are to be reinstated, though the bus drivers have remained on strike and will do so until a new contract is signed.
In Tyne & Wear an online May Day Rally was successfully held at which, amongst other speakers, the Chair of Newcastle Stop the War spoke on the importance of joining the anti-war movement. The rally was organised by the Tyne & Wear May Day Committee, part of Newcastle Trades Union Council.
Bristol was also a prominent city of protest, where demonstrators have come under attack from police right from the first of eleven demonstrations since March. Bristol is the city where the statue of slave-trader Edward Colston was torn down and dumped in the tidal river, a just action which has come under attack from the government who have also linked the increase in police powers with the state ideology which defends the history of Empire.
In Truro in Cornwall, protesters gathered on Lemon Quay and marched through the city. A statement from organisers prior to the event said: "We're taking to the streets again on a day of national action to Kill the Bill. Cornwall has shown we are rising to each and every occasion. Let's make Mayday bigger and more spectacular than any of our protests so far. Cornwall is rising! We have shown that we have a vibrant protest movement here. We need to grow that momentum. We need to Kill The Bill."
Other towns where demonstrations were held included Bath, Brighton, Doncaster, Hastings, Luton, Margate, Oxford, and Aberystwyth in Wales.
Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, said in London: "The bill represents a massive assault on civil liberties and it's part of a wider trend on the part of the government to shut down free speech, shut down protest, shut down dissenting voices. In a sense it's an attack on a fundamental democratic value, which is the right to raise our voice in criticism, in protest, in dissent.
"We are really, really alarmed by the government's thrust towards authoritarianism. This represents one in a long line of draconian laws which the government is bringing in which will impact on our fundamental rights."
L: Bath R: Brighton
London May Day