Saturday, 18 April 2009
It is almost the end of yet another month of this present year, thousands have lost homes, jobs or both, the economic crises of capitalism has barely or scantly left a family unaffected or untouched in the length and breadth of the whole country. Banks have been handed billions if not trillions, and their discredited heads have taken astronomical and large amounts of cash in severance pay, rewarded and honoured for a job well done, pre-credit crunch of course, even though they created and led us all into it. It is with this background in mind, that I come to reflect upon the G20 summit of world leaders that was held in the Excel center not so far away from where I live in Caning Town East London, in fact I have a view of this venue from my flat windows. For me the irony of this chosen location prickle's my contempt for the whole rotten caboodle of capitalism.
Here in one of the East London Boroughs, with one of the highest rate's of almost every think imaginable that constitutes derivation and poverty, from unemployment to child poverty, our so-called world leaders gathered in what some described as an over large aircraft hanger to address the world recession under the stewardship of Gorden Brown desperate to save the world this time around and his job in the process. But this post is not about the actual summit or new giant stars like President Barack Obama appearing for the first time in the splendid assemblage of a world galaxy of leaders. No,instead this post is about dissent in a recession; and has it begun to lead to repression, are we seeing the apparatus of the state use the force at it disposal to quell, suppress and crush protest and disagreement, that is the question?
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, historians noted a marked deterioration in the conditions of workers, for example between 1800 and 1840 there was a shortage of meat in London; out of 8.5 million Irishmen, close to a million literally starved to death in the famine of 1846-1847; the average wage of hand loom weavers fell between 1805 and 1833 from 23 shillings a week to 6s 3d. Interestingly, the average height of the population - good indication of nutrition - rose between 1780 and 1830, fell in the next thirty years, then rose again. The 1840s were known, even at that time, as the 'Hungry Forties'. Riots, mostly related to food shortages, broke out in Britain. "Here I am between Earth and Sky, so help me God. I would sooner lose my life than go home as I am. Bread I will have", is quoted from a rioter in the Fens, giving an idea of sheer desperation that led in the end to riots; and all over the country. The nineteenth century riots is just one example of cause, effect and consequence. The history of world capitalism has stonewashed it's self of dissent and throughout it's existence up and to this very present time. The G20 summit and the peaceful protest of that day may lay down a marker of change for the worst.
Even before the G20 summit of world leaders began in London, five people were arrested in Plymouth under the Terrorism Act, reportedly accused of possessing “material relating to political ideology”.
All were released without charge, but the fact that political activism is considered a criminal offence in 21st century Britain was subsequently writ large on the streets of the capital.
On April 1, a massive police operation was set in place around the G20 summit. Hundreds of people, legally exercising their right to protest, were “kettled”—forcibly held behind police cordons for up to seven hours—in the side streets of central London.
It was behind one of these cordons that Ian Tomlinson—attempting to make his way home after work—was attacked from behind by a baton-wielding masked police officer. He died moments later.
Eyewitness accounts, video footage and photo stills provide conclusive proof that the police’s attack against Tomlinson was par for the course during the protests.
The police actions had nothing to do with ensuring “public safety”. If anything, they constituted a deliberate attempt to provoke disorder as the pretext for further repression. This is underscored by evidence of plain-clothes officers armed with batons striking out at demonstrators, as well as the participation of the Territorial Support Group—a special quasi-paramilitary police unit which was involved in several of the most publicised incidents, and whose identification numbers were concealed.
Police now routinely photograph and demand the identification and addresses of people taking part in lawful demonstrations.Less than one month before the protests, section 76 of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 came into force, providing for the arrest and imprisonment of anyone taking photographs of police officers.
In one instance during the G20 protests, recorded on camera, police officers instructed photographers and news crews to leave the vicinity within 30 minutes or face arrest.
This in a country whose population is now one of the most heavily surveyed in the world. The UK has the greatest concentration of closed circuit TV cameras per head of population. Moreover, without any parliamentary debate let alone public consent, recent legislation has compelled all Internet service providers to retain data from emails and website visits for up to one year. Details of phone calls and text messages can be similarly stored, and made available to the government and other official agencies.
As if such powers were not enough for police to be aware of the movements of any potentially “significant” individuals, on April 13, police in Nottingham carried out the unprecedented “pre-emptive” arrests of 114 people. No crime had been committed. The arrests were made purely on the basis that the police “suspected” a plan by environmentalists to target a power station in Nottingham. While no charges have as yet been made, the arrests were used to mount a trawling operation, raiding homes and seizing personal papers and computers.
In between the London and Nottingham operations, police in the north-west of England mounted major “anti-terror” raids, involving dozens of armed officers. Twelve men, mainly foreign students, were detained as part of what was claimed to be an operation against an imminent terrorist attack.
Once again no charges have been made. Under British anti-terror laws, suspects can be held for 28 days without charge. It is widely reported that no evidence has so far been recovered to substantiate claims of a terrorist emergency.
All the recent police operations are predicated on the more than 200 pieces of separate anti-terror legislation enacted by the Labour government over the last years, and consolidated in the Terrorism Act 2006 which criminalises the mere expression of opinion deemed unacceptable by the Home Secretary.
At the time, then Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the measures on the grounds that political exigencies meant the “rules of the game” had changed.
This established a new legal principle—guilty on the say-so of the powers-that-be. The “rules” now in operation are those where armed police swoops and the targeting of political dissent is a matter of routine. In February this year, in a move which received barely any coverage, the Association of Chief Police Officers set up the Confidential Intelligence Unit, targeted at “domestic extremists”. Assuming the “counter-subversion” functions usually conducted by MI5, the CIU is dedicated to the surveillance of radical groups, including placing informers amongst their numbers.
The assault on civil liberties is not specific to Britain. It is a tendency evidenced throughout the so-called “advanced democracies”. Indeed proclamations of “democracy” increasingly function as a thin veneer, behind which the state has abrogated to itself near autocratic powers.
That this finds no principled opposition from within the ruling establishment or its liberal “critics” must serve as a warning.
The essential driving force behind the adoption of such dictatorial methods is not the maintenance of “public order”, but the need to defend the existing order, preserving the wealth and power of a privileged few at the expense of working people under conditions of the greatest breakdown in the world capitalist economy since the 1930s.
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