The anti-disruptive measures or anti-strike measures might come into life in the United Kingdom in the upcoming weeks. The once-great Britain is now on the way to become a truly semi-autocratic state. Looking at history, the first bills imposed by the Fascist or Nazi regimes were also called anti-disruptive or anti-terrorist at this time, and they were also anti-strike, anti-industrial action. Those laws were supposedly meant to protect ‘hard working people’ from ‘disruptive strikes’. The similarities are obvious. While the teachers in England and Wales are going on strike, joining ranks with nurses, rail workers, barristers and an uncountable multitude of other workers and environmental activists from Just Stop Oil and other organisations, the millionaires’ court, or the so-called Rishi Sunak’s government imposes harsh anti-union laws.
Right now the spearhead of autocratic British legislation has two directions. One of them is the attack on the workers right to strike. According to the Tory government, the main enemy of the state, law, security, are strikers from the so-called strategic companies and assets: rail and hospitals, fire and rescue services, transport services, decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, border security and education services.
The other autocratic and antidemocratic vanguard aims on stopping and criminalising the so-called disruptive protests, such as those held by Just Stop Oil Activists. Some of them already have been arrested after their actions. The Just Stop Oil coalition is demanding an end to all new oil, gas and coal licences in the UK.
“About 24 Just Stop Oil supporters were sent to prison on remand following the action on the M25, where people climbed up gantries and paused the flow of traffic. 12 supporters are still there now – all without a guilty conviction, still awaiting trial”
– a Just Stop Oil activist told me.
“In 2022, the UK government imprisoned 132 Just Stop Oil supporters. That is 132 vicars, students, nurses, grandmothers and sons. That is 132 ordinary people sent behind bars, whilst the real criminals in the UK government continue with their plans for over 100 new oil and gas licences – oh, and a new coal mine that nobody wants. Why are they doing this? It’s a simple, scary truth: the British government would rather send me and my dearest friends to prison, than protect us from climate breakdown, because they would rather choose profit over people”
– she summed up.
When she mentions a prospect of being sent to prison, she does not exaggerate. As we can read on the most official of British official pages, “through an amendment tabled to the Public Order Bill, the Government will broaden the legal definition of ‘serious disruption’, giving police greater flexibility and clarity over when to intervene, to stop the disruptive minority who use tactics such as blocking roads and slow marching to inflict misery on the public”.
The government has already granted additional powers to the police, so that protestors using guerilla tactics can be succesfully containe. But, as we read, the police chefs are not sure when a demonstration end and a ‘serious disruption’ starts.
“The changes introduced will give police officers absolute clarity over when they should step in. In practice, this will mean:
- police will not need to wait for disruption to take place and can shut protests down before chaos erupts
- police will not need to treat a series of protests by the same group as standalone incidents but will be able to consider their total impact
- police will be able to consider long-running campaigns designed to cause repeat disruption over a period of days or weeks”
In the meantime, the majority of British public claims to be sympathetic towards… the activists causing the ‘disruption’. While around 800-1000 people have ever taken action under the JSO banner, many more people support the organisation’s program, according to Social Change Lab report. This might even bring a breakthrough in the perception of radical movements and different tactics and strategies in the turbulent future ahead. Therefore, Rishi Sunak’s squad is not introducing changes according to the will of the people. Quite the opposite.
And this is how he justifies his moves:
“The right to protest is a fundamental principle of our democracy, but this is not absolute. A balance must be struck between the rights of individuals and the rights of the hard-working majority to go about their day-to-day business. (..) We cannot have protests conducted by a small minority disrupting the lives of the ordinary public. It’s not acceptable and we’re going to bring it to an end. (..) The police asked us for more clarity to crack down on these guerrilla tactics, and we have listened.”
But according to the activists:
“The “serious disruption prevention orders” spell out that If you have attended two “disruptive” protests in the last five years, with no definition given of “serious disruption”, you can be subject to an electronic ankle tag, banned from any protests, banned from associating with certain people, banned from using the internet in certain ways, and be made to report to a police station – like prisoners have to when they’re on probation. (..) And if you break If you break any of these conditions, you could be subject to 51 weeks in prison. And all of this – by the way – can be done to you even if you have no guilty conviction”.
This pushed Amnesty International onto campaigning against dismantling basic human rights written and defined by the UN. They write that
“The Government’s proposed ‘Police Crackdown Bill’ gets the balance dangerously wrong. Such an enormous and unprecedented extension of policing powers would put too much power in the hands of the state, to effectively ban peaceful protests should they see fit. Recent uses of excessive force by the police highlight precisely why Parliament must not grant further powers. The police already have powers to prevent public assemblies from causing serious harm. This Bill does something entirely different – it cracks down on explicitly nonviolent dissent.”
It goes without saying that this overpowering of police also has other layers, which are militarization of the democratic state and might even lead to racist incidents. Such measures allowing the security forces to block any gathering and disallow public participation are typical for states like authoritarian Russia or Iran. They have nothing to do with democracy and liberal freedoms.
As we have seen above, the so-called laws to mitigate the disruption of strikes on the public are aimed at workers’ rights (so human rights!) of the people working in rail and hospitals, fire and rescue services, transport services, decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, border security and education services. Legislation will allow bosses of key public services to sue unions and sack employees who refuse to work.
And here things come dangerously close to fascist anti-worker measures. On the website of Gov.uk we can read that:
- “New laws will allow government to set minimum levels of service which must be met during strikes to ensure the safety of the public and their access to public services
- the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will ensure crucial public services such as rail, ambulances, and fire services maintain a minimum service during industrial action, reducing risk to life and ensuring the public can still get to work
The government boasts that “millions of hard-working people across the UK will be protected from disruptive strikes thanks to new laws which will allow employers in critical public sectors to maintain minimum levels of service during strikes”. The cruel strikers will no more prevent people from getting to work and back home, from being admitted into hospital etc. The government decided to act, even though the people themselves did not ask for this: instead, they supported the railway workers on strike and expressed their understanding with protesting teachers or NHS personnel.
Maybe I am wrong, maybe the United Kingdom is at war with someone? Those laws sound like the one someone might want to impose during the war. Then, they could sound acceptable. But is it? Let’s think about it a minute.
Ahh, no. Now, we know!
The GOVERNMENT of the United Kingdom is at war with its own population, and specifically with the working people.
If someone thinks that class war is just a Marxist, Communist idea, a product of the plot of some disruptive commies, now she or he can think about it twice. The richest Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in history, richer than the Royal Family, not elected in the general elections, imposed the strictest bills in order to fight with working people.. I do not know if there could be a better answer to someone’s doubts about the existence of the class struggle.
Sharon Graham, the general secretary of the Unite union, in the interview for The Guardian said:
“Yet again, Rishi Sunak abdicates his responsibility as a leader. Whatever the latest scheme the government comes up with to attack us, unions will continue to defend workers.”
Meanwhile the business secretary, Grant Shapps, who has previously taken a hardline position towards unions, said:
“As well as protecting the freedom to strike, the government must also protect life and livelihoods. (..) While we hope that voluntary agreements can continue to be made in most cases, introducing minimum safety levels – the minimum levels of service we expect to be provided – will restore the balance between those seeking to strike and protecting the public from disproportionate disruption.”
If the government is so concerned about livelihoods, how about rising the wages? This could actually prevent many of the strikes as the key union demands could have been met beforehand. However, such moves go beyond the Tories logics.
And Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, explained another aspect of the situation that the anti-strike legislation authors do not see:
“The public and health staff would welcome minimum staffing levels in the NHS every day of the week. That way, people wouldn’t be lying in agony on A&E floors or dying in the backs of ambulances. But limiting legal staffing levels to strike days and threatening to sack or fine health workers when there are record vacancies in the NHS show proper patient care isn’t what ministers want”.
The Labour Party has declared that as soon as Tories are not in power, the bills will disappear. The unions demand them to be gone even sooner. Those bills must be killed!