Civil Contingencies Bill: Why Workers Should Oppose Blunkett’s Law

IMAGINE A country where the government can declare a “state of emergency” using any definition it wants, including situations affecting “political, administrative or economic stability”.

Steve Score

Imagine a country where peaceful protests and strikes could be banned; where legislation could be rushed through without parliamentary approval; where people’s movements could be restricted, curfews imposed and property seized without compensation.

Imagine a country where regulations imposed under emergency powers can overrule legislation passed by Parliament and the Human Rights Act; where emergency powers can, according to Liberty the civil rights organisation, allow “any specified person to give any oral directions, which, if disobeyed or obstructed, can result in an imprisonable criminal offence”

A third world dictatorship? A fictional account of a repressive future state? No – all of this is in the Blair government’s draft Civil Contingencies Bill, announced in last week’s Queen’s speech.

This is yet another sign of the growing authoritarianism of New Labour, along with other measures announced in the Queen’s speech – ID cards and more attacks on asylum seekers’ rights to a fair hearing.

The government are again using the threat of terrorism as an excuse for more potentially repressive legislation. Similar arguments were used in the past to introduce repressive legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, introduced after the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings and used for example to harass trades unionists.

After 11 September 2001, the government declared a “technical” state of emergency in order to allow indefinite detention without trial under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act.

This bill “updates” legislation such as the 1920s Emergency Powers Act, which Liberty describes as having been “passed in the context of post-revolutionary Europe and was primarily directed at industrial action, prevalent in post-war Britain.” In other words, to be used against workers’ struggles and potentially revolutionary movements in this country following the Russian Revolution.

It’s just as much the case today that this new legislation, brought in because the government thinks it can use the fear of terrorism as an excuse to strengthen repressive powers, could be used against workers taking strike action and mass movements demanding political change. Remember the government threatening to ban the firefighters from taking strike action?

Obviously, if the Bill is passed it doesn’t mean we are about to become a military police dictatorship – the strength of the working class at present prevents this. However, anything that could be used in future against workers’ struggles must be opposed.

Liberty make the point that during the war in Iraq, under this Bill, if the secretary of State considered there was a “serious” threat to security – something which he would define himself – he could potentially have banned the anti-war protests.

Of course we want public safety measures in case of terrorist attack, but this is about something else. Along with opposing all the other new attacks by New Labour such as foundation hospitals and top-up fees, trades’ unions and socialists have to campaign against this Bill.