The Assembly Executive is preparing an act that will criminalise the right to protest. The “Public Assemblies Bill” proposed by the working group on parades after the Hillsborough Agreement will mean all protests of 50 or more people will be illegal acts unless they ask permission 37 days before hand!
Protests organised at short notice, such as those organised by the Socialist Party and Lisburn Road residents in Belfast against racist attacks on Romanians will be deemed illegal if this legislation is passed. Emergency protests will have to give three days notice. Racist thugs are not going to give notice, so why should those organising against them?
The Bill shows the politicians recognise that the cuts they are planning will be met with resistance and they want to take away people’s right to protest. It even gives the example of a group protesting against the closure of local sports facility. Not content with stripping communities of facilities, the Stormont Executive wants to criminalise those communities that resist.
The Bill also specifically targets the trade union movement. Recently, there have been a series of attacks by the courts on workers engaged in industrial struggle, be it the BA workers, railway signal workers in Britain or the Thomas Cook workers in Dublin, who occupied their workplace in defence of jobs and were met with a brutal police raid.
However, recent industrial struggles such as Visteon Occupation and the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike have also shown that repressive legislation is powerless when faced with mass action.
Democratic rights were won by working class people in the same way better living conditions were won – through mass struggle. It is important an effective campaign, based on the trade unions and workers organisations, is democratically organised to defeat this undemocratic Bill. If this legislation passes, then it will be necessary to organise mass protests to defy the Bill.