New Law Attacks Civil Rights

In the aftermath of September 11, governments around the world have been attempting to rush through legislation which undermines democratic rights, in the name of fighting terrorism. In the UK, Blair is trying to introduce a new law which will allow among other things indefinite imprisonment without trial of foreign nationals.

One by-product of the so-called Great War Against Terrorism has been the mad rush by governments around the world to introduce all manner of assorted new "anti-terrorism" laws.

As usual Britain has led the way, bringing forward the most reactionary set of measures against civil liberties since the height of the second world war. Under a new law it will be possible for the state to arrest people and hold them without trial indefinitely in cases where they cannot be deported. Such legislation undermines the right to trial which has been enshrined in English law for centuries. Speeded through parliament in a matter of days with sadly minimal opposition, there are still many questions unanswered as to what is going on - and why.

Over the years successive governments - both Conservative and Labour - have looked for means to restrict our civil liberties in various obvious and not so obvious ways. This may seem strange when you consider that they are forever going on about democracy and freedom. But the truth of the matter is that they are only interested in their democracy and their freedom - the right to exploit and act in the interests of big business. Parliamentary democracy is supposed to be the means by which we decide on issues, freely and without restraint. Yet it is largely an illusion, designed to implicate us in the continued rule of capital over our lives. So long as it does not threaten their privileges and their system they are quite happy. Naturally they are quite prepared to pontificate at will. They produce worthy-sounding long resolutions on the Rights Of Man and complain about those regimes who do not go along with it .

Yet when "our" economic interests are then found to be in conflict with such protests then the protests are quietly dropped. So whereas we have recently seen pages and pages written about the repressive acts of the Taliban, we see nothing about other regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and - of course - Israel. They are "our friends" and cannot be criticised, as it would evidently be unpatriotic. Activists around the world have become used to the two-faced approach of such august bodies as the British Foreign Office. Torture, false imprisonment and rigged elections are all very nasty but for our great democracies, trade deals take priority.

These people understand that it is necessary to have as much real control as they can get away with, if only as insurance for the future. The state, as Marxism has long sought to explain, is at its heart, armed bodies of men. That is to say the coercive element by which, implicitly or otherwise, the state machine exerts its authority over society. Normally, by convincing us that we are in fact running things ourselves by virtue of the odd election here and there, this power remains masked. But at times of crisis things change. For example during the miners strike of 1984-5 the state openly displayed its power, turning whole mining areas into virtual police states where civil liberties became just a long-forgotten dream. Usually at times such as these the representatives of the police etc, are quick to complain about how their hands are being "tied" by the inconvenience of various civil rights. The trouble is that having introduced various pieces of legislation to show us that we do live in a liberal, fair-minded democracy where equality under the law exists, these laws cannot then be pushed aside without a reason.

In recent years, terrorism, with its inevitable whipping up of reaction within society, has been the best excuse to hand to push through repressive laws. In the seventies, we saw the Prevention of Terrorism Act rushed through in response to the IRA bombing campaign. This act was rather misnamed since it had no preventative effect on terrorism whatsoever, but instead gave the state all manner of draconian powers to arrest and hold people without charge, starting first of all with, as it happened, a trade unionist. In the eighties, Thatcher tried to use the reaction to the Heysel disaster, where many football fans were killed at a European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus, to push through legislation to force all football supporters in the UK to carry ID cards if they wished to attend games. The unstated intention was that this would have acted as the thin end of a wedge by which the principle of ID cards would have been established in British society, no doubt to be widened out to the rest of the population at a later stage under one pretext or another. However the official report into the later Hillsborough disaster clearly stated that ID cards would not only not prevent trouble but could actually endanger life, forcing an already under-pressure Tory government to drop the whole idea. Dropped but not forgotten?

Within hours of the events of September 11, assorted experts and spin doctors were again raising the idea of national ID cards. When it became clear that no-one could actually explain how having an ID card would stop a bomber from carrying out his work the idea was pushed to the back - for now that is. In the meantime our caring home secretary has suddenly decided that we urgently need new and yet more restrictive anti-terrorist measures to protect our sacred way of life. Hence the grandly named Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill now being rushed through the houses of parliament. They will be able to arrest people, hold them in internment camps and not have to worry about having to actually prove anything or even justify their actions. We are told that this will, in some magical way, protect us from terrorism, but the reality is that it will give the state incredible powers over us. This is unacceptable and the fact that it is a Labour government pushing this through makes it doubly so. The whole labour and trade union movement should rise up to campaign against this attack on our rights, for there will come a time when it will be used against the organised labour movement.