In Solidarity 562 we carried an article clarifying the law around protest. Despite the threats the police made to organisers of a 5 September trans rights protest (which led to it being cancelled), protesting was still legal.
Then on 9 September Boris Johnson announced that further restrictions would be made so that no more than six people are allowed to gather socially. The change came into force on Monday 14 September.
At the time of the announcement NHS campaigners were busy organising protests for 12 September, and were reassured that the new changes would not have taken effect by then. But they asked the question – after 14 September can protests that involve more than 6 people still happen?
The answer is yes.
The changes are about socialising. The exemptions for other purposes remain unchanged. These include gathering for work, education... and by political campaigning organisations. The law requires only:
• An adequate risk assessment (but there is no requirement to show it to the police)
• Steps to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid 19 (e.g. using facemasks, distancing, hand sanitiser)
• The protest must be called by an organisation that seeks to change policy or law (i.e. it should not be anonymous.
Despite the reassurances, the moves by the government and media coverage of rising Covid numbers meant that many nurses were reluctant to join the NHS pay protest, and protests were smaller than the previous round on 8 August.
The government’s rules seem arbitrary. The risk of transmission is generally higher indoors than gathering socially outdoors, but bigger gatherings are allowed inside at work. The government would like people to take more risks to ensure they earn money for their boss. In their view being able to see friends and family is less important than working.
Just because protests are legal doesn’t mean they are the right thing to do. Are they? Workers’ Liberty continues to participate and build for demonstrations. We think this is right because:
• The risks of contracting Covid-19 at outdoor demos is small, especially if masks, hand sanitiser and distancing are used. The rate of transmission outside is lower, and outbreaks of Covid-19 have not been linked to demonstrations.
• Demonstrations are as important as any “essential service”. People’s ability to protest is an inalienable human right, and an essential tool for the working class in campaigning.
After the death of George Floyd in May there were huge protests in America. Health professionals and epidemiologists had been campaigning hard in favour of measures to reduce infection. At the time they thought the risk posed by those protests was likely to be higher than it now seems it was. Yet they came out strongly in support of the protests.
At the time infectious disease physician Dr Cassandra Pierre predicted: “I am really worried we’d see a second wave of infection.” When asked why then were so many public health researchers supporting the protests, she said “the reason they are in favour of it is because the cause is objectively just. There’s just no way around it”.
It is as right now as it was then. Socialists continue to support and defend our civil liberties to protest – for trans rights, for increased NHS pay, against racism and police brutality, in solidarity with Uyghur people, and against every other horror and injustice capitalism throws at us.