Archive article from The Socialist Issue 373
Blair's election strategy threatens democratic rights
NEW LABOUR'S general election strategy is now clear. They say "vote Labour" for tough measures on law and order and to fight the 'war on terror'.
Blair and Co are proposing a huge raft of repressive legislation which they say will tackle serious social problems, as well as helping prevent future terrorist attacks.
New Labour believe this law and order card will win them support from so-called 'middle England', cutting the possibility of a Tory recovery; and also from working-class Labour voters who are threatening to abandon the party.
Like Bush's Republicans in the US, Labour's leadership believe their best chance of being re-elected is to play on people's fears and try to push the issues of jobs, crumbling public services, privatisation and living standards to the side.
But these laws won't provide better security for Britain's population. Instead they dramatically reduce our democratic rights, giving the government and police sweeping new powers and providing even less accountability to the public.
New Labour's proposals are a charter for abuses of power by government and police. They will allow the rich and powerful, including big companies, even more freedom to do what they like without worrying about protests or campaigns from their workforce or the local community.
ASBOs - making peaceful protest illegal
IMAGINE YOUR local hospital is being shut down and you want to organise a campaign against it. You get your mates, co-workers and fellow trade unionists together to do some leafleting in your neighbourhood's shopping centre to get more people involved and set the campaign rolling.
Some of your colleagues brought their kids along, the shoppers are interested in what you're saying. There is a relaxed atmosphere on a Saturday morning. Then, out of the blue, the police appear.
They say "you're behaving in an anti-social manner," and apparently you're intimidating the shoppers. So you'll be banned from the shopping centre for the next 24 hours.
And don't even think about coming back an hour later to do your shopping. This would be a violation of the law and you could end up in prison for up to five years. Congratulations, you have just been ASBO'd.
An ASBO, short for Anti-Social Behaviour Order, is the newest buzz-word from Tony Blair's governmental machine.
According to a press statement from the Home Office from 31 October, it is all part of a "fight back" in the communities. They say an ASBO can be issued "to disperse intimidating gangs who may be out on the streets threatening local people, with police powers to take home any young people out and about after 9pm".
The government claims that ASBOs are a great tool to stop youth crime but there is no evidence to back this up. Greater Manchester tops the list with 422 ASBOs being issued since 1999 - the percentage being issued in the same area is up 232% since 31 March 2003.
The Socialist Party is currently campaigning for more and better youth facilities in Wythenshawe, Manchester. "There is nothing for us here, and what we got is crap," a local young teenager told me. In fact, the area only has two youth clubs for 8.000 young people.
Public and green spaces have slowly been eroded so it's no wonder that young people are hanging about on street corners being bored. It will take strong community campaigns - against the same government that is currently introducing the ASBOS - in order to get the services ordinary people deserve.
Trade unionists threatened
THAT'S WHERE a crucial point of the ASBOs comes in. ASBOs are already being used against a number of campaigning organisations. On 26 August for example, two women were given an ASBO for peacefully handing out leaflets against a major arms company in Richmond town centre.
During the firefighters' dispute, some firefighters went into town centres to collect money for their strike fund and to tell local people about their struggle. Under the definition of "dispersing intimidating gangs" you can easily imagine ASBOs being issued against campaigning trade unionists in the future.
At this year's TUC, Tony Blair told trade unionists that secondary picketing and solidarity action should be considered a thing of the past. There is a bitter legal reality behind Tony Blair's smiling face and ASBOs are a part of it.
ASBOs are also being used against animal rights campaigners protesting outside managers of Huntington Life Sciences, a company conducting experiments on animals. ASBOs are used in this context to "stop individuals from being terrorised at home" (The Daily Telegraph, 29 July).
While the socialist does not support the more violent harassment methods used by a small minority of animal rights campaigners, this law's possible repercussions could be far reaching for all campaigners, removing people's right to protest in many cases.
A protest outside the office of a political party could be seen as "intimidating" behaviour and give the police legal justification to remove the protesters.
Strikers "visiting" one of their bosses' homes to make their point during campaigning against, say, job cuts would be especially "intimidating" in such a context. Police and courts could also treat mass pickets as a form of anti-social behaviour.
COMMUNITY CAMPAIGNS and workers' struggle provide the basis for building a spirit of solidarity and friendship among ordinary people. The 1984-85 miners' struggle provides the best example for this - entire towns experienced a level of unity unknown until then when fighting Thatcher's attacks.
Yet, the government is creating the very laws which could seriously undermine and criminalise such campaigns. Meanwhile, all major political parties who cry out for 'law and order' force through the cuts in public spending, the school and hospital closures and the attacks on pensioners' rights, which make community campaigns a matter of survival for ordinary people.
So ASBOs are anti-social by their very nature. With trade unionists gearing up to fight the equally anti-social job cuts in the public sector, trade unionists, socialists and community campaigners have to unite to fight the increasingly repressive nature of the British state as well.
How local communities can fight anti-social behaviour
ST MICHAELS Ward has the highest unemployment in Coventry. Outside the city's main areas investment in community and youth facilities has suffered and issues involving young people and local residents have grown.
St Michaels was represented by three Socialist Party councillors, now it's two - one was lost by a hair's breadth in the last election. A year ago these problems came to my attention as a Socialist councillor.
A group of young people were playing ball games and bothering residents including a man with a heart condition. Local residents were fuming. There was a clear possibility of an "Us and them" situation between them and the youth involved.
I helped set up a meeting attended by over 35 local residents. The police and community wardens also came. The meeting was angry but constructive, partly due to the tone we set that there was a lack of local facilities for young people.
It would have been easy just to demand that the police turned up heavy-handedly but instead we used the local warden service to approach the youth. They did so and discussed with them - one young lad was excluded from school and had nothing to occupy him. The wardens helped set up a course for him and helped occupy others.
The police were involved and their presence increased but not in a heavy-handed way. Within a month the problems had dissipated in that area. There were sporadic problems and news that problems had shifted to other streets but for a good few months the area was quieter.
A heavy-handed approach would not have got this result - it may even have exacerbated it. Stretched police resources would in any case have made such an approach impossible to sustain.
Whilst New Labour's Anti Social Behaviour Bill had measures that working class people would support, such as closure of crack houses and measures against prostitution and fly-tipping, it helped to create a myth that deep rooted social problems can be tackled by bits of paper and bureaucracy.
In reality the prisons are overcrowded and the courts can't cope. And the more ASBO's are used for low-key offences, the more swamped the system to enforce them will become. But New Labour spinners try to use these issues to grab votes and deflect people's attention away from the real robbers, like the capitalists who run Fords stealing the livelihoods of Coventry workers.
Socialists have to be careful - simply blaming capitalism won't help communities having to cope with the "Do what you like and stuff the others" approach of Thatcherism and with less and less hope for a secure future for working-class youth.
The community should be really 'empowered' to deal with these issues by strong residents' and community groups that would seek to help young people as well as deal with problems.
New Labour's crackdown plans
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill
(likely to become law before the general election) gives the police new powers including
No to ID cards
IDENTITY (ID) cards are a license to print money for fraudsters, and will give another lucrative business opportunity to organised crime.
Even biometric ID cards are open to forgery; the only thing that will change is that the price of forged ID documents will go up, and the stranglehold of organised crime on the production of forged ID will become tighter, as only large criminal gangs will have the resources to create believable copies.
ID cards won't stop terrorism. Compulsory ID cards in Spain didn't prevent the Madrid bombings in March this year. For terrorists with the money to get hold of fake ID it could even make evading the authorities easier.
ID cards will be used to help destroy public services. New Labour say they want ID cards to be shown in future before people can access public services like health, education and welfare benefits. We don't want a system like the US, where you have to show that you have medical insurance to cover your treatment before you are admitted to hospital.
Blunkett increasing the power of the state
NEW LABOUR'S attacks on democratic rights such as the anti-terrorist bills and the 2003 Criminal Justice Act have greatly extended the power of the state and reduced the rights of the accused.
The amount of time allowed for detention without charge has increased from 36 hours to 48. Some people have been detained without charge in British prisons for over two years now under anti-terror laws.
The new criminal justice bill aims to dismantle the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" by shifting the burden of proof onto the defence as opposed to the prosecution.
It would introduce hearsay evidence and allow previous convictions into jury trials, which could prove hideously prejudicial.
New Labour intend to scrap the double-jeopardy rule which, in effect, will mean that even if someone is acquitted by a jury for a particular offence, they can still be tormented again and again by police. This is at a time when a huge number of miscarriages of justice - people convicted of crimes that they did not commit - are still coming to light.
Home Secretary Blunkett claims that he's shifting the balance of the criminal justice system towards the rights of victims of crime. But the ultimate needs of victims cannot be properly catered for by building more prisons to lock up petty thieves, drug addicts and the wrongly accused.
Only by getting to the root causes of crime can we begin to improve the lives of victims and offenders of crime. Those causes lie in a system that ravages the world's resources for the benefit of a privileged few, while leaving war and poverty for those that it leaves in its wake.