'Terrorist' Laws - not just for republicans
Militant Irish Monthly, Issue 33, March -April 1975
Arrest without charge. Imprisonment for up to a week without charge or trial. Deportation and detention on hearsay evidence. Extended powers of arrest and search for the police. Power to ban any organisations resting in the hands of the Home Secretary. This is the reality in present day Britain since the passing of the 'emergency' legislation on November 28th last. "There is no question of open hearings or public presentation of evidence…" said Roy Jenkins when he brought this bill before the House of Commons.
At the moment it is, in the main, Irish workers who are bearing the brunt of the repressive measures enshrined in the legislation, not the bombers - because existing laws were adequate to convict proven saboteurs. But ordinary Irish people going about their job. Several have been detained, deported, or both, throughout the country. One man who was released from internment in Northern Ireland decided to emigrate to Germany. On his way through Britain he was arrested, held in Walton jail for three weeks, and then deported under a so-called 'exclusion order' back to Northern Ireland. 20 Southampton people were held over Christmas, even though police confirmed none of them were the people they were looking for.
Before the introduction of the new laws, large numbers of innocent Irish workers had already had their homes ransacked by Special Branch police. Others had spent long periods 'on remand' without a scrap of evidence against them. Attempts were made to find them guilty of 'conspiring to cause explosions'. To be accused of 'conspiracy to cause explosions' all you need have in your house is a length of fuse wire, a chemistry book or a supply of contraceptives and at the same time be engaged in political action on the Irish question!
The building workers in North Wales were convicted of 'conspiracy to cause violence'. The AUEW was fined £100,000 because they refused to bow the knee to 'class law' which served the interests of the employers. Who is to say that the new laws will not be used against building workers or engineers?
When such laws as were recently passed by the Labour Government are placed on the statute books the employing class are pleased. It gets the workers used to the idea of repression. And when the bosses can no longer get their way through 'normal democratic means' they will resort to imprisonment of trade unionists, arrest and harassment of socialists within the working class organisations, even deportation of trade union militants.
'Terrorism' is defined in the Act as meaning 'the use of violence for political ends'. Is on the British army in Ireland to achieve 'political ends'? And does it not employ violence? Are not British officers in Dhofar supporting by violence the sheiks of South Yemen? Were not the miners' pickets who were batoned in 1972 subjected to 'violence for political ends'? The hypocrisy of the British ruling class is bottomless. 'Terrorism', 'violence' and 'political ends' have different meanings for different people.
If only to protect the British Labour movement the new laws must be fought against. Resolutions calling for the immediate repeal of the misnamed 'Prevention of Terrorism' Act and all repressive legislation must be passed through every Labour Party branch, trade union and shop stewards committee.
It was a disaster that such laws should be passed through parliament by a Labour government. For, after all, it is the Labour movement that has ultimately always been on the receiving end of repressive legislation. There was no opposition to Jenkins bill. The 'left' group of Labour MPs were silent and (with the exception of a few like Joan Maynard) trotted into the lobbies after the Tories and the Liberals.
When, on December 5th, the Emergency Provisions Act, under which imprisonment without trial operates in Northern Ireland, was extended for a further six months, a mere 22 MPs voted against it. Leaving out the Tory parties, where were the other nearly 200 Labour MPs during this intolerable attack on civil liberties?
In the debate on November 28th Brian Walden, Labour MP for Ladywood, pointed out that he would 'not listen with much patience to any anxieties about whether this or that civil right may be temporarily somewhat abridged." John Lee, Labour Mp for Handsworth called for the introduction of identification cards coupled with fingerprints. Kevin McNamara MP for Hull Central, spoke of his 'duty' to pass such legislation.
The Bill sped through both Houses of Parliament, literally overnight. What an inspiration to those Labour MPS who protest about the impossibility of getting legislation on old-age pensions, social reform and industrial relations through without several months delay!
The British people were outraged at the bombings in Birmingham. But that cannot be made the excuse for supporting laws aimed against the democratic rights of the working class. Not only will the British working class have to fight against the capitalists, it must also oppose the Provisionals campaign, not just in Britain, but in Ireland too, which has played right into the hands of the British ruling class. They helped to create a climate for repressive legislation, divided English and Irish workers in Britain, and further alienated the organised working class in the whole of Ireland, North and South.
Regardless of whether or not the Birmingham bombs were set by the Provisionals, the vicious backlash of petrol bombings, beatings up and factory marches were felt against the city's 110,000 Irish. Those who would divide the British Labour movement along racial or national lines such as the National Front, can only benefit from such a development.
No socialist can condone the bombing campaign in Britain or Ireland without making a complete break with the traditions on which the Labour movement in both islands is based and without repudiating the works of the great socialist teachers.
But the struggle against the politics and tactics of the Provisionals must never take the form of a resort to the police measures of the capitalist state. In the police swoop that followed Birmingham, Irishmen and women were arrested on a massive scale and held for several weeks. Many have already been tried and convicted by the British press and a big number of politicians.
The methods of the individual terrorists must be fought politically and by action through the organised Labour movement. The Labour Party right wing must not be allowed to make a comeback on the basis of their 'firm stand' against Irish men and women.
The demand must be raised throughout the movement for the withdrawal of the troops: for the setting up in Ireland of a Trade Union Defence Force to combat sectarianism; for a socialist Ireland and a socialist Britain which will abolish oppression and the conditions of poverty from which stems sectarianism.
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