Resisting unjust laws and standing on the shoulders of giants

September 9, 2021

On the 8th September there was a National Assembly of delegates of around 30-40 local ‘Kill the Bill’ groups. They reviewed what they have achieved so far in opposing the Police Bill going through Parliament which threatens to give the police even more powers to control and suppress people’s right to protest and demonstrate. They were also discussing what tactics and strategies to use over the coming weeks and months.

Below is a short presentation at the Assembly by Dave from HSG about relevant lessons to be learned from the anti-poll tax movement. It also touches on some of his experiences in successful opposition and defiance campaigns before and after the poll tax – eg Stop ‘The City’ protests 1983/84, the McLibel Support Campaign 1991-2005, and the Freedom To Protest conference/network in 2005/06. It includes some very useful online links.

The message is that we can learn a lot and gain inspiration from past struggles, in particular those that have successfully challenged unjust laws and the repressive power of the police and State.

Getting inspiration and strength from some relevant historic movements / Standing on the shoulders of giants

Thanks for the invitation. Congratulations to everyone in KtB for the all the impressive work/publicity/opposition done so far.

I have been asked to speak for a short time about the lessons of the mass, and inspirational, anti-Poll Tax movement throughout Britain 1988-1992 and how it defeated State repression efforts – including police calls for powers to ban street protests in Central London.It is useful to put this in some kind of context/continuum:

For example my own previous experiences as part of the coordination group for the series of Stop ‘The City’ anti-capitalist protests in London in 1983/84  – particularly notable for mass non-cooperation with the police and support for all arrested.Stop ‘The City’ overview:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_the_City

The anti-Poll Tax movement involved over 2000 local groups, united in the strategy of promoting total non-cooperation against an unjust and unfair law – said by Thatcher to be her Government’s ‘flagship’.  This led to successful mass resistance to, and solidarity in the face of: official registration of every adult, continuous payment bills and threats, police crack down on protest, mass use of bailiffs and many hundreds of jail sentences. I was involved with Tottenham Against the Poll Tax and at one time was secretary of the London Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Groups.The 250,000-strong anti-Poll Tax demonstration on March 31st 1990 was the culmination of large and angry protests (and arrests) outside town halls throughout Britain. It was attacked by police and a battle and hours of ‘rioting’ ensued, with 500 arrested.The Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign was set up immediately and mobilised activists to support all those arrested, to attend every court hearing, to win the explicit backing of every anti-Poll Tax group, to support all prisoners, to resist police calls for new powers to ban demonstrations, and to ensure another mass anti-poll tax demonstration in Trafalgar Square. A few days before an anniversary demonstration, the Poll Tax was scrapped. It became a victory celebration.

This is because, despite the full might of the State’s administration and punitive efforts, 18 million people still refused to pay, the tax had to be scrapped as unenforceable, and Thatcher had been irreparably damaged and so had resigned.

See: Poll Tax Rebellion: https://libcom.org/history/poll-tax-rebellion-danny-burns

Especially Chapter 4 re local and national protests: https://libcom.org/library/chapter-4-riot-rebellion

Subsequently I was one one of the McLibel Trial defendants / part of the successful McLibel Support Campaign (MSC) 1991-2005 which defeated the McDonald’s Corporation’s efforts to use libel laws to suppress dissent.  A defiance campaign ensured that leaflets that were given out in thousands when we were sued ended up being given out in millions all over the world by the end of the longest trial in English legal history – in which we had turned the tables and put the junk food transnational on trial.https://radicalhistorynetwork.blogspot.com/search?q=McLibel5. A  ‘Freedom To Protest’ conference organised by the MSC and an alliance of groups in 2005 (which I co-chaired) saw 80 campaigning groups pledge to continue to ‘keep on keeping on’ and to back each other in the face of future repression efforts.http://www.freedomtoprotest.org.uk/conferencereport.htm

6. And finally I note the successful spycops campaigning in the last 10 years which has publicly exposed and thoroughly discredited the secret undercover political policing of protest groups since 1968 – 1,000 left-leaning campaign groups infiltrated and closely monitored (including the Anti-Poll Tax movement and the McLibel Campaign). The spycops activists have also helped develop solidarity and resilience among the wide range of campaigns and movements targeted.See a key statement/overview here:http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/2020/10/30/undercover-policing-statement-victims/

7. Of course there are many other inspirational movements in the UK (and many more abroad) that we can learn from and gain strength from – eg the post-world-war-2 mass occupations of military bases and hotels by homeless families, anti-militarist blockades of military sites in the early 1980s, the Climate Camp annual occupations of key sites in the mid 2000s, the family justice campaigns for black people and others killed by police over the last 30+ years, the building workers anti-blacklisting protests, history of workplace picketing for 150+ years, and much more..  all of which faced hostile State and police repression but carried on anyway.

These and others are the ‘Giants’ upon whose shoulders we stand today.

8. I think key elements of successful resistance and defiance of unjust laws is a combination of

– developing and ensuring ongoing mass public support

– steely determination that success must and can be achieved

– intelligent use of the media and the legal system as a platform

– building solidarity among those most affected (eg for KtB, campaign groups who organise street protests), and active support for those arrested etc.

9. It is inevitable that sometimes movements face such ruthless opposition or effective co-optation or fizzle out due (eg to marginalisation or exhaustion) whatever people do. But often those involved integrate into / pass on their experiences / transform and enliven other campaigns and struggles and then bubble up again years later seemingly ‘from nowhere’..

For a better world

Dave Morris

(Haringey Solidarity Group)

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