Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/553/6526
Liverpool: Mass protest wins back the right to campaign!
FOLLOWING MONTHS of protest against Merseyside police harassing and arresting local campaigners, our democratic right to hold stalls and campaign has been re-established. A negotiated agreement between campaigners and police has, so far, ended harassment by the authorities.
The arrests of campaigners on 11 October (see last week's The Socialist) backfired on those officers responsible when the protests escalated. A crowd of up to 300 shoppers and passers-by surrounded police vans containing arrested campaigners chanting "Let them go!"
That week the trade union movement declared its support for us. Members of Liverpool Unison local government branch committee expressed disgust at the actions of the police. 30 UCU (lecturers' union) branch members unanimously passed a motion of support, as did Liverpool Trades Council. A very sympathetic half-page article in the local daily paper included a photo of hundreds of protesters, with a further column in the evening paper.
Socialist Party and CNWP member Tony Mulhearn issued a press statement and spoke on a local radio programme about the issue.
A "Freedom of Expression" meeting brought together 60 activists on 15 October to discuss developments and to plan further action, including a mass stall on the 18th.
Into this meeting a bombshell was dropped: after phoning the police to find out the whereabouts of his stall, one activist had received a letter from a senior police officer requesting a meeting urgently at a place and time of our choosing! This was an opportunity we had to seize. Representatives were elected to discuss everything but make no concessions.
The next morning, the five - myself from the Socialist Party, also members of the Stop the War coalition, Keep the NHS Public, Rock around the Blockade (which campaigns against the blockade of Cuba) and Riverside Labour Party - met with two senior police officers in a room rented free from the sacked dockers' Casa club.
We outlined the harassment, the arrests, the seizure of our stalls with no receipts given, and the huge support we had received from the general public. The police conceded our right to campaign, to hold stalls, to collect petitions, to sell our papers. Had an individual officer gone too far? The police looked horrified when we said that the chair used by a disabled comrade had been seized!
We stressed that, if we were not allowed to campaign peacefully, then the campaign would continue growing with more activists and more public support.
It appeared that the last thing these police officers wanted was a repetition of 11 October. They agreed to return our stalls. They agreed to "look into" the summonses of those arrested and, for cases which had not yet been sent on to the council, to withdraw them.
Further agreed was a means whereby if shops or shoppers complain about stalls the police, instead of immediately making arrests and seizing campaign materials, will negotiate with campaigners' representatives. We welcomed all this but stressed that we would be there again on 18 October to exercise our right to campaign.
On that day around 60 campaigners set up stalls, sold literature and petitioned. A handful of police officers, including the one who had been in the forefront of the harassment, just looked on.
This is a clear victory of the right for people to campaign and, seemingly, of some common sense among the police. It is a good example of how to campaign, winning public support, bringing together a diverse array of groups, and winning the argument in the media and the unions. This stands us in good stead for our other campaigns and, should it again be necessary, to defend our right to campaign in the future.
In The Socialist 22 October 2008:
Ford workers strike
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review