The mass Black Lives Matter anti-racist protests in 2020 were singled out and attacked in the report. Photo: London SP
The mass Black Lives Matter anti-racist protests in 2020 were singled out and attacked in the report. Photo: London SP

Reject this big-business attempt to push back workers’ struggle

Sam Hey, Manchester Socialist Party

Just before the election was called, ex-Labour anti-Corbyn MP John Woodcock released his Counter-Extremism Report: ‘Protecting Our Democracy From Coercion’. The report attacks the right to protest and contains a list of recommendations for the government in order to “protect democracy” by undermining protests.

The report contains a new labelling of “Extreme left wing and anarchist” for, “extremism threats from traditional revolutionary far-left ideologies”. His report recommends extending the use of covert surveillance and taking steps to “strengthen the legislative framework for responding to political protest, political violence and disruption.” In practice,

Woodcock is recommending the government makes more use of the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Act 2022, and go further by expanding the grounds for which a march cannot go ahead, as well as legalising individuals and businesses claiming damages against protest organisations. Woodcock’s recommendations also demand protest organisers pay towards policing costs, essentially fining organisations just for protesting.

Lobbying works?

After resigning from Labour facing an allegation of sexual harassment, Woodcock was granted a life peerage from Boris Johnson after calling for a vote for him and the Tories in the 2019 general election. As has been reported in the Guardian, while serving as an ‘independent’ government advisor, Woodcock is also: a paid advisor to Rud Pederson, lobbyists who have worked with fossil fuel giant Glencore; a paid advisor to the Purpose Business Coalition, of which BP is a member; and chair of the Purpose Defence Coalition, which includes Leonardo, one of the largest arms manufacturers with links to the Israeli government. Woodcock’s ties to the arms industry and fossil fuel companies would be a useful addition to the report, as they contextualise his attempt to scaremonger movements such as environmentalism, Palestinian solidarity, and anti-racism, stating: “If extreme movements go unchallenged then they might eventually overturn democracy.”

Woodcock uses democracy as a euphemism for capitalist interests, and while the report specifically mentions groups like Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, his recommendations represent an erosion of the fundamental right to protest. These rights have consistently been fought for by the working-class and trade-union movement. His proposed restrictions on protests build on the legislation opposed by the ‘Kill The Bill’ campaign in 2022 and, if any of the report is legislated upon, it must be fought against by the workers’ movement.

The Socialist Party demands that these anti-democratic, anti-protest recommendations get thrown in the bin on the first day of the next government. And laws attacking the right to protest be repealed, alongside all the anti-trade union laws. Socialists fight for real democracy, in which the interests of working people are acted on, not the lobbying of the super-rich.