The Fight for Democracy: A Challenge to Britain’s New Laws Undermining Protests and Civil Liberties

In response to the UK government's potentially damaging Minimum Service Bill and the escalating pre-emptive actions by police forces curbing public protests, the British Trades Union Council calls for an emergency demonstration, marking an urgent need for a comprehensive initiative to defend democratic rights amid a tightening grip on civil liberties. By Terry Conway.


On May 22, the British Trades Union Council (TUC) called an emergency demonstration under the slogan ‘Protect the right to strike.” The protest takes place as the Tory government’s misnamed Minimum Service Bill returns to the House of Commons to consider weakening amendments passed by the House of Lords. Whatever parliamentary manoeuvres take place, it is likely this will shortly become law.

Emergency Protest poster TUC

The TUC is right that this law fundamentally undermines the right to strike when we already have the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe. But their response is completely insufficient.

It’s not just trade union rights that are being undermined. Recent weeks have seen a stepping up of pre-emptive action by police forces. There is no real right to protest today.

In the run-up to the coronation on May 6, protestors from the group Republic, who had been liaising with the police about their plans, were arrested before anything happened. One was held for 16 hours after being stopped by officers who suspected him and others of carrying “lock-on” devices to tie themselves to inanimate objects.

Three volunteers working to reduce violence against women and girls the night before were detained ’on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance’. The police stated that they “received intelligence” that people “were planning to use rape alarms to disrupt the procession”.

Receiving less publicity was the heavy-handed behaviour of police in the East Midlands city of Leicester in their response to a pro-Palestinian protest outside the Elbit arms factory. Elbit Systems is the majority supplier of weapons for the Israeli military, including 85% of Israel’s military drone fleet. The campaign group Palestine Action (PA) has been targeting the company in recent years with some success, forcing the closure of one factory in Oldham, in the North West.

On this occasion, activists announced their intention to set up a blockade outside the factory. Two prominent members were arrested on the motorway outside the city, while other protestors had their tents confiscated in the forlorn hope of undermining their plans.

These two operations by the state took place in the context of changes to the law that criminalise ‘potential nuisance’, giving extensive scope for repression. Also of concern was police behaviour towards a pro trans and anti-far right demonstration in south London. Aggressive policing of the left resulted in one woman having a cracked rib, but some police were wearing  ‘thin blue line’ badges on their uniforms imported from white supremacist groups in the United States.

This is not the only dangerous import that Britain has seen recently. Local elections took place in some parts of England on May 5, and this was the first time under a new, and badly publicised, law compelling people to produce photographic identification to be able to vote in person. There were stories of up to a quarter of voters in some areas being turned away. Voter suppression is clearly a tool of the right in the United States and elsewhere, and now it is being used in Britain.

It’s clear that a major initiative to defend democratic rights is seriously needed.

EMERGENCY PROTEST outside Parliament tonight (May 22)


Monday 22

Parliament Square

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