England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Repression ramps up: Workers and students must respond!

By Heng, UCL Student Socialist Alternative

Hundreds of climate protestors arrested, students protesting to defend Gaza face suspensions, and workers penalised for political expression. Children donning green or red, the colours of Palestine, are reported to the school ‘Hate Crime Team’. This is how the British ruling class responds to the mass struggles rocking the country. New bills expand the arsenal of the state to arrest, silence and stop protests. While these bills can only be used selectively at first, the dampening of the strike wave has emboldened the Tories to go on the offensive.

Repression cannot be ignored, it must be fought head-on. The power of a mobilised working class, united around defending democratic rights, is the most effective force to stop Tory terror in its tracks.

Kick Prevent out of our schools!

Primary schools have become a battleground for the Tory state. Children walking out in solidarity with Gazans their age facing Israeli bombs are deemed a “counter-terrorism threat” and Prevent, the government’s snitch program in schools, is in overdrive. Nearly half of schoolchildren in 2023 referred to Prevent are from Arab or Asian backgrounds. Under this atmosphere of fear, parents are telling their children to self-censor.

Prevent was introduced by a Blairite Labour government marching in line with US imperialism’s disastrous “Global War on Terror”. A real fight to end repression in our schools must be launched by the education unions. This means fighting to kick Prevent out, but also challenging the racist, proimperialist, transphobic ideology that the British ruling class wants to push.

Students will need to mobilise alongside teachers around demands for democratisation of how and what is taught, the right to political discussion and action, as well as school uniform policies. Uniform policies, enforced by school management and the government, are part of British capitalism’s effort to subordinate children, enforce sexist and racist norms, and punish those deemed a threat – including those showing solidarity with Palestine or expressing their gender identity.

Fight clampdowns on campus with solidarity!

At SOAS University, four students were suspended by management for a peaceful protest. Similarly, at University College London (UCL), the student centre has been declared a ‘no protest zone’ by the Provost in response to recent protests. Attacks like this pose starkly the question of who should run our universities: racist millionaire management or students and staff. One important step in fighting repression is to publicise it as widely as possible. When Student Socialist Alternative organised protests against the suspension of UCL’s Marxist Society, we also platformed suspended SOAS students and marched from UCL to SOAS to show our solidarity. This ensures that these attacks are not treated as isolated incidents but rather as serious attacks on the whole movement. We should never make a silent retreat – successful attacks by the capitalist state will restrict the movement as a whole.

Recently, a SOAS student and supporter of the ‘Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism!’ society was arrested under the Terrorism Act for giving a speech. While she was released soon after, this is a taste of what is to come. While we completely reject the Stalinist and sectarian politics of that group, these laws are weapons to attack all Palestine protests.

Socialist Alternative is clear in our opposition to Hamas – but we do so for different reasons than British imperialism. Hamas’ method of terror against civilians and pro-capitalist, sectarian ideology means it offers no real solution to the national oppression of Palestinians. Nevertheless, state attacks against activists showing solidarity with Palestinians must be clearly opposed.

Tory repression arsenal expanding

The new ‘Public Order Act’ (Section 7) has unleashed terror on the climate movement, with 630 arrests during November alone. One 19-year-old protestor was held for three nights by police on seemingly false charges. This law allows the police to arrest anybody for blocking roads, highways, and other ‘national infrastructure’. Disruption is the point of protest! Groups like Just Stop Oil should not have to stand alone against this chilling law. The same can, and has, been used against Palestinian solidarity and the workers’ movement.

Workers themselves are being politically victimised. A TFL tube driver was suspended for chanting ‘Free Palestine’ over the PA, and the police became involved. Unfortunately, the response of the union has been disgraceful. An ASLEF full-time organiser said that police involvement was a ‘ridiculous overreaction’, but conceded it should be dealt with ‘internally’! This means they are still in favour of politically gagging their own union members! 

Unions calling for a ceasefire is positive, but there is often a reluctance from union tops to follow this through with action. It is up to the ranks of the workers’ movement to mobilise for this.

One successful defence campaign was the daily mobilisation of protestors and trade unionists to defend the ‘Elbit Eight’, who were acquitted of jail time after successfully disrupting £280m worth of arms contracts between Israeli Elbit Systems and the British government in 2022.

Repression must be resisted by mass action. This means publicising cases and coordinating joint protests around the basic principle of defending democratic rights. While many would look towards court battles, we cannot rely on the laws ultimately written and upheld to protect the interests of the ruling class. For rulings to go against those interests, mass pressure from the streets is needed.

More importantly, it is not enough just to mobilise the few activists within the present left organisations. We must broaden these mobilisations to the whole working class and Palestinian movement, taking cases of repression into trade union branches, campaign groups, and planning assemblies for Palestinian solidarity. Other social struggles should be appealed to as well, linking up with feminist, queer, anti-racist, and climate movements in mass conferences of resistance.

This should be coupled with open discussion about the strategy necessary to escalate the struggle for Palestinian liberation. The best defence is offence: without real democratic political discussion, the most effective wedge against imperialism and the Israeli occupation won’t be found!

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