Key rights are under attack in Britain. As the Tory government faces widespread opposition in workplaces and on the streets they are seeking to bring in laws to shut down the protests. They are attacking our right to strike and our right to demonstrate. Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity, said: “It’s no coincidence that both the right to protest and the right to strike are under attack. The attacks are linked and so should our response to them be.”
Defend the right to protest
Protest is a form of nonviolent direct action that allows people to voice their grievances and demands in public. It is a way of engaging in the civic space and has been instrumental in achieving human rights through actions such as strikes, marches, sit-ins, and civil disobedience. Protests have played a significant role in liberation and justice movements and continue to impact change through creative and diverse forms. Throughout history, protests have led to positive change, although it often requires strong social movements, persistence, and participation. Despite attempts by authorities to suppress protests, their influence and legacy can be seen years later through changing social norms and laws. The power of protests lies in highlighting the lack of legitimacy of repressive power structures, raising awareness, and contributing to the gradual change of language, minds, and behaviours until a tipping point is reached. Over time, these processes have led to improvements in various issues such as governance, labour conditions, gender equality, environmental protection, and more.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty UK’s Chief Executive Director said:
“It follows a pattern of a government voicing support for protest around the world but cracking down on the right to speak up here at home.”
These new attempts to reduce protest rights are in breach of international human rights law. On September 2020, the UN Human Rights Council General Comment on the right to peaceful assembly stated:
“State parties should not rely on a vague definition of ‘public order’ to justify overbroad restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly. Peaceful assemblies can in some cases be inherently or deliberately disruptive and require a significant degree of toleration.”
For example, the government proposed Serious Disruption Prevention Orders go even further than Russian Law on Assemblies. In Russia, people convicted of protest-related offences are not allowed to organise protests. If the Public Order Bill passes, people convicted for protesting would not even be allowed to participate.
Defend the right to strike
The UK government’s proposed Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill has sparked controversy as it aims to limit the right to strike of workers in key public services such as health, education, transport and more. Many human rights defenders say that the bill is a direct attack on workers and their trade unions and instead of addressing the issues that lead to strikes, the government is making it harder for workers to win fair pay. The bill allows the government to set “minimum service levels” for public services, but with no detail on the limits, the government may impose restrictions without agreement with unions. The bill also gives employers the right to serve the union with a “work notice” specifying the number of workers required to work during the strike and mandates the union to ensure compliance, which the union claims would force them to break the strike. The bill removes protection for striking workers, allowing employers to dismiss those who take part in lawful industrial action and making unions liable for up to £1 million if they do not attempt to force striking workers to work, which will limit the right to withdraw labour.
The right to strike is a fundamental aspect of workers’ rights and a cornerstone of a just society. It provides workers with a means of bargaining for better wages, working conditions, and overall treatment from their employers. Without the right to strike, workers would have no way of leveraging their power and making their voices heard, leading to a situation where employers hold all the power in the workplace.
One of the main reasons why the right to strike is so important is that it helps to balance the power dynamic between workers and employers. Workers, particularly those who are low-paid or in low-skilled jobs, often face challenging working conditions and limited opportunities for advancement. By striking, they can draw attention to their grievances and force employers to take their concerns seriously. This, in turn, helps to create a more equitable and just workplace, where workers are treated with dignity and respect.
Another reason why the right to strike is important is that it provides workers with a way of seeking fair compensation for their labor. In many cases, workers are not paid a living wage and are unable to make ends meet, even when working full-time. By striking, workers can demand better wages and benefits, helping to ensure that they are able to provide for themselves and their families.
Strikes can also play a key role in promoting social justice and advancing human rights. For example, the right to strike has been instrumental in achieving many of the key labor rights that workers enjoy today, such as the minimum wage, paid holidays, and the right to form a union. By striking, workers can put pressure on governments and employers to make positive changes that benefit not just themselves, but society as a whole.
Finally, the right to strike is also important because it is a key component of democratic societies. Workers have the right to express their opinions and demand change, just like any other citizen. By striking, they can make their voices heard and contribute to the democratic process, helping to create a more inclusive and equitable society.