Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/610/8780
Council criminalises dissent
"You're committing a crime. Do you like being a criminal?" These were the words of Waltham Forest's Environmental Crime enforcement officer as he confronted members of Walthamstow Socialist Party. Their 'crime'? Running a campaigning stall in the town square for two hours on a Saturday morning.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Walthamstow Socialist Party secretary
Three of the members have since received hand-delivered letters citing a 1906 bye-law. Now, using a stall to campaign against war, racism or the privatisation of our public services can result in a fine of £500! This is outrageous and the Socialist Party has initiated a local campaign to defend the right to campaign and protest in the borough.
The background to this shocking attack on democratic rights is the Independent Panel Report into Waltham Forest council. The council has been found to be undemocratic, lacking in transparency and their privatisation schemes are clearly rotten.
To the Socialist Party this is not news but it is a vindication of the dozens of anti-cuts and anti-privatisation campaigns we have led and participated in. In all of these campaigns and now, the Socialist Party has demanded that the council opens the books and that all councillors are subject to the right of recall.
A council that stands accused of wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds if not millions on privatisation schemes it has never assessed, has "recouped £26,785 from fixed penalty notices, £13,760 from fines and £16,282 in court costs" in its crackdown on 'environmental crime' according to the Waltham Forest Guardian.
Locally this 'zero tolerance' campaign is seen as a clampdown on campaigning groups. 50 people crammed into the Socialist Party's meeting on Thursday 28 January to organise a united local campaign to defend democratic rights.
Experiences were shared of being stopped from campaigning in the street and even an instance of being challenged and threatened for advertising a charity event.
Many public spaces and resources in Waltham Forest have been privatised, denying local activists access to them or a say in how they are run. While the council attempts to silence campaign groups, it has free rein to hang its banners anywhere it wants and has all the articles it desires in the local newsletter.
The Socialist Party argued that mass action by ordinary people is our key tool in the fight for our rights. Trade unionists, socialists, charities, campaigners, artists, musicians and young people committed to mobilise for a protest at the town hall and a day of action.
We are demanding access to the square for campaigners, adequate public notice boards and meeting rooms and no harassment of campaigners.
Many forms of opposition to this attack will be employed by the campaign, including getting legal advice but especially calling for a slate of 'No cuts! No clampdown' candidates to stand in the local elections. This rotten council will not be allowed to silence dissent and prevent a fightback when it pursues further cuts and privatisation schemes.
In The Socialist 3 February 2010:
War and occupation
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis