Justice and the law - which side are you on?

On Sunday 27th April, the Glasgow Defence Campaign were proud to host a meeting in Maryhill, Glasgow discussing the role of justice and the law. Here we reproduce the text of the talk which introduced the meeting.

 
Justice and the law – which side are you on?
 
Any serious consideration of current events cannot but notice the contradictions of our times. As these contradictions become more and more acute they will give rise to challenges to the present social order.
 
Working class living standards are facing their biggest decline in a generation, yet we are told ‘the economy’ is recovering. Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain are forced to attend food banks for basic sustenance, while our television screens are stuffed full of programmes dedicated to gourmet food and the promotion of self-indulgence as our neighbours go hungry. Whereas previous food crises have been characterised by scarcity, today supermarket shelves are overstocked with an abundance of food – much of it increasingly priced out of the reach of working class people blamed for their ‘unhealthy lifestyle choices.’
 
Increasing numbers of working class people are being pushed into the margins of existence as a new wave of benefit sanctions leads people into destitution and despair. Every two minutes a young person somewhere in the UK has their benefits stopped by a Jobcentre. Despite making up only 27% of jobseeker's allowance claimants, young people are the recipients of 43% of the sanctions issued. This violence is being played out against a background of a united political class and complicit media telling us that the economy is recovering – that economic prosperity is returning. This is one of the major contradictions of our times. Anyone who switches on the media will hear the manta repeated ad nauseam. Perverse and meaningless statistics are used to justify the new vogue. Those who disagree with this analysis are marginalised and dismissed. Despite this narrative ordinary people in their daily existence know the truth; many here will know someone who is either out of work – or facing punitive benefit sanctions, others will be aware of the vicious attacks on the disabled being waged by ATOS on behalf of the DWP and the widespread deployment of Workfare – modern slavery. You may even be going through this process yourselves. Others will be aware of the increasing phenomenon young people face – called internships – free labour given in hope of a job in the future. For the mass of those in work, job insecurity is now increasing and widespread; the use zero hour contracts are escalating.
 
But there is another contradiction we need to address: while many of us anticipated these attacks as part of the economic crisis, we did not expect the absence of resistance. The ruling class, sensing this, are widening and deepening the attacks to ever increasing sections of the working class and wider population. Those on the receiving end are told there is no alternative but to accept defeat and isolation; poor people are being blamed for being poor, or else told to blame other poor people for their poverty as racism and bigotry stalks. In response, feelings of hopelessness and depression become all the more common; alcohol misuse and drug abuse are increasing as alienation takes hold.
 
We need to confront this reality and begin to understand why this is happening, we need to understand clearly the role of the law in this country and begin to work out how we can fight for social justice.
 
One important point I want to make is that all of these attacks are part of conscious political decision making. It has recently dropped out of the vocabulary of the ruling class and its media, but what we are experiencing is the realisation of the Tory party vision of what they termed the ‘Big Society’. That is the role back of the state, the systematic destruction of state welfare provision for the poor and the vulnerable and the promotion of charity as the solution. What we are seeing is a return to the nineteenth century poor laws – people should read the lead article in the current edition of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! where we discuss the social crisis in more detail.
 
In these times, however, where there is so much injustice and so little resistance it falls on us to understand and explain to people what is happening and begin to work out a solution. We must understand that others before us have faced far worse social conditions and found solutions. We cannot afford to lose inspiration and hope – we need to maintain belief in ourselves and understand that it is working class people organising together who hold the key.
 
The discerning among the ruling class understands all too well the enormity of the crisis facing British imperialism. They know that the economic crisis is producing a social crisis; they also know that a political crisis is inevitable. They may be many things but they are not foolish. Just look at how skilled they are at dividing and ruling people; they have been doing it for generations. This is why they have erected an array of legislation to criminalise increasing swathes of the population; the last Labour government created criminal legislation at a rate of more than one a day – over 6,000 new pieces of legislation! It was the most heavily legislated parliament since parliament was created and more than twice the rate of the previous Tory regime under Thatcher and Major. A recent academic study of the legislative programme of the Scottish Parliament noted how it had created criminal offenses at a far greater rate than its English counterpart; in the course of a twelve month period between 2010 to 2011 twice as many criminal offences applying to Scotland were created compared to those applying to England. Why, we are entitled to ask, is all of this necessary?
 
As we wrote previously in Fight Racism! Fight Imerialism!, the economic counterpart to the social disciplining of the working class is a flexible labour market: freedom for the market is matched by social control for the working class. Or as Larry Elliot wrote of the Blair’s Labour government: having decided it will not regulate the markets, Labour will ‘regulate the people instead, imposing a panoply of social controls to ensure that problems caused by uncontrollable unregulated economy…don’t threaten the lifestyles of its new middle class constituency.’
 
This increasing criminalisation of our communities has gone hand in hand with attacks on our legal rights. I want to discuss two of the major ones, the attacks on legal aid and the moves by the Scottish Parliament to abolish evidential corroboration in criminal trials.
 
To fully understand these measures we need to view them as part of the overall war on the working class. Let us be clear; the rich will always be able to buy the best lawyers. For the working class however justice is increasingly being denied with all of the consequences which follow from inadequate legal representation when faced against a state intent on widespread criminalisation. That the increasing attacks on legal aid are occurring at a time of increasing criminal legislation is no accident. The challenge before those who oppose cuts in legal aid is to go beyond immediate self interest and show how these issues of justice affect us all. As political activists who are subject to police harassment and criminalisation we declare a special interest. To save legal aid it may be pertinent to examine how legal aid came about in the first instance; I know of no serious study which has examined this issue – either north or south of the border. It is perfectly conceivable that its author awaits.
 
We need to also understand the recent moves to abolish corroboration in Scots law. Corroboration – the requirement in criminal trails that for a conviction to be safe there must be two independent pieces of evidence of the crucial fact. The emotive issue of Scotland’s poor conviction rate for rape is often at the fore of the corroboration debate. It is misleading and it is intended to mislead and confuse. We are rarely told that in fact this is the political response to Scots law being brought into line with the rest of Europe following the important 2010 Supreme Court Cadder ruling which upheld the right of an accused person to have consultation with a solicitor – a right long held in other jurisdictions. The ruling means that Scottish police can no longer question suspects without offering the suspect a private consultation with a lawyer; not only before an interrogation but also at any time during the interrogation at the suspects request. On 21 April the Scottish Government announced that it was putting on hold this process; clearly with the pending referendum they have calculated that this could be detrimental to the SNPs independence ambitions. In the final analysis these matters will be dependent on the prevailing balance of political forces.
 
The increasing propensity towards criminalisation, the restriction of access to justice by undermining legal aid and the moves towards abolishing corroboration cannot be separated from the economic and social crisis facing British imperialism. The great contradiction of so much injustice with so little resistance is a temporary state of affairs. These developments show that the ruling class are preparing for a deeper class war than we are currently enduring.
 
Where will the resistance come from? History is loaded with examples of what propels individuals into political action; we say that the contradictions of our times will inevitably give rise to opportunities for revolutionary advances to be made. The Edinburgh born Irish revolutionary James Connolly understood and articulated very clearly the material basis of political action in an important article published in the Workers’ Republic on 12 August 1899. His prophetic words are worth recalling;
 
‘In every case the social condition of the mass of the people was the determining factor in political activity. Where the mass of the people find existing conditions intolerable, and imagine they see a way out, there will be a great political movement; where the social conditions are not so abnormally acute no amount of political oratory, nor yet co-operation of leaders, can produce a movement.’
 
There is no such thing as a problem without a solution; the solution lies within the problem.

What is the role of progressive people at this time? Our primary duty must be to struggle; we must prove ourselves capable of articulating the frustrations and aspirations of our communities. To do so effectively we must constantly be on our guard against our biggest enemies at this time; pessimism, indifference and inaction. We must understand that from nothing comes nothing. We must be able to take each and every particular problem, each instance of injustice to its roots in the general crisis of capitalism and back to the particular solution. We must be vigilant and actively oppose those who would steer struggles into dead ends; those who promote narrow class interests over the interests of working class as a whole. We cannot offer readymade solutions but know that the struggle contains the solution.
 
Today by having meetings and discussions such as this we are rebuilding the revolutionary traditions firmly grounded upon our knowledge of the economic basis of all political action. As James Connolly stated;
 
‘Examine the great revolutionary movements of history and you find that in all cases they sprang from unsatisfactory social conditions, and had their origin in a desire for material well being. In other words, the seat of progress and source of revolution is not in the brain, but in the stomach.’
 
In these times it is absolutely vital that we take hope and inspiration from our revolutionary traditions, as Walter Benjamin once noted, it is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us.

Paul McKenna, chairperson of the Glasgow Defence Campaign.

The rich protest while the poor celebrate!

FRFI's Speaking Tour: 'Reports from the frontline' kicked off in Glasgow on Sunday 6 April as comrade Rafael Ramos- Rafa- joined FRFI Supporters on a march in Govanhill Glasgow on International Roma Day. Chants of 'El Pueblo Unido- Ne vas sera vencido!'- 'The People United- Will never be Defeated!' in Spanish and English, alternated with our calls to 'Unite and Fight!'. We were proud to see our Venezuelan comrade hold the banner of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! on the march.

At the afternoon meeting Rafa detailed the incredibly positive achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela: the international record breaking levels of access to free education from nursery to university, the reductions in poverty and unemployment, the massive house building programs- all of which have pushed Venezuela up into the United Nations' attested higher levels of human development. Rafa was here also to describe how the Venezuelan people, the government and the working class, were dealing with the recent upsurge in 'protest' and 'opposition' organised by the wealthy in the country and abroad- principally the United States. Rafa quoted a poet who had wryly noted that in Venezuela '...the rich protest while the poor celebrate.' Rafa himself had lost a friend in the recent violent attacks of the fascist reactionaries. He assured the meeting that the people everywhere, in particular those in the barrios close to the well-off areas from which the attacks on schools, medical clinics, transport come, advocate a peaceful resolution of the situation. The politically experienced, educated and organised Venezuelan folk are aware of their country's history and of the history of Latin America. The speaker pointed out that Hugo Chavez had himself presented Barak Obama with a copy of Eduardo Galleano's book 'The Open Veins of Latin America'. Clearly Obama has chosen to ignore its truths. The Venezuelans know that the creation of a civil war scenario is the aim of the reactionary violence, to justify imperialist intervention. Having popularly defeated a United States' sponsored coup attempt in April 2002, the people were not about to walk into Uncle Sam's obvious and bloody trap. They are calmly and peacefully defending their Revolution!

To make the point that the Bolivarian Revolution is indeed also popularly recognised and supported throughout the world, comrade Rafa had no sooner entered a Glasgow pub and been introduced as a Venezuelan than we heard the cry of 'Viva Chavez!'. A tablet was produced showing the web page of Venezuela Analysis.com! Our Venezuelan friend and comrade gave FRFI comrades an account of how the party of Hugo Chavez- the United Socialist Party of Venezuela- organises its millions of members. Across the universities and colleges, in the barrios of the working people and in the workplaces, the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution is planned and put into action. It was for us a privilege and honour to hear from the frontline of the struggle in Venezuela and to be part of the battle to bring its victories to the people.

Guilty for using a megaphone against ATOS

 
Today in Glasgow Sheriff Court, a judge sitting alone without a jury found Dominic O’Hara guilty of the criminal offence of using a megaphone on a picket against ATOS and in defence of disability rights in Glasgow on 22 February 2013. Sentence has been deferred until 18 March 2015 pending a 'good behaviour' report. These are the means through which the British ruling class hopes to deal with any opposition voices they deem a threat.
 
Supporters packed the public gallery in court number 20 to hear the third and final day of a trial which has cost in the region of £10,000 to bring to conclusion. From the outset the Glasgow Defence Campaign has been very clear – the trial was a political trial – where the right to effective protest was at stake. The trial can only be understood in the wider context of the undeclared war on the working class which is underway. The attacks on democratic rights cannot be separated from the violence which is currently being reined upon the most vulnerable in society who are being made to pay for the economic crisis.  
 
When placed against a background of almost four years of constant harassment directed against supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! in Glasgow, today’s verdict comes as no surprise. Money and resources was no object. Four crown witnesses were used, three of them police officers. Two supporters were illegally arrested and detained on the protest. The charges relating to this were later to be dropped as the arrests themselves were unlawful. In the weeks following his arrest, one supporter was accosted and stalked at his family home by undercover police officers who attempted to recruit him as an informer. We reserve the right to comment further on the police manoeuvres during this period and will do so at a time of our convenience.
 
For the time being the Glasgow Defence Campaign would like to place on record our sincere thanks to all those who have helped publicise this case and who have stood with us throughout the past year. Tens of thousands of people have read our recent blog postings confirming what we believe to be a growing concern among more and more people about the nature of ‘justice’ in this country. We have held no less than nine pickets of Glasgow Sheriff Court in relation to this specific case to make it absolutely clear to those who oppress the vulnerable we will hold them to account. We would like to salute our comrades from Dundee Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and Dundee Against ATOS who have travelled in support during the trial. We hope you learned something about the nature of the British justice system and how the police react to effective court mobilisations and we hope also to have learned from you about the need to continue to resist.  
 
When faced with injustice we have no option but to continue to resist.
 
Miriam Kelly GDC
Glasgow, Scotland

 

19 March 2014 
 
They've got all their law books and their regulations
They've got all their prisons and fortresses;
Their ‘deterrent measures’ we needn't mention!
They've got all their prison guards and judges
Who are well paid, ready to do anything:
Well, why is that then?
Do they really think they’ll wear us down with all that?
Before they perish (and that will be soon)
They will see how all they did was in vain.
 
They've got their newspapers and printing presses
With which to attack and silence our voices
Their statesmen we needn't mention!
They own Priests and Professors
Who are well paid and ready to do anything:
Well, why is that then?
Is it because the truth’s so frightening?
Before they perish (and that will be soon)
They will see how all they did was in vain.
 
They've got their tanks and their cannon
Machine guns and hand grenades
Their stilted truncheons don’t really count!
Their policemen and their soldiers
Who are underpaid, but ready to do anything:
Well, why is that then?
Is it because their enemy’s so powerful?
They think they must find some support soon
To halt what’s tottering up.
A day will come, it will be soon
They’ll come to see that that’s no good to them at all.
Then they can go on screaming ‘stop!’
Neither money nor cannon will save them!
 
Bertolt Brecht
 
Translated by the Glasgow Defence Campaign

Glasgow Defence Campaign on trial

Militant protest held outside Glasgow Sheriff Court, Monday 6 January 2014

On 22 February 2013 two supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! were arrested during a monthly protest against the benefit cutting multinational Atos. This brought to a head a six-month campaign of criminalisation waged by Strathclyde police (now Police Scotland) to demonise, isolate and ultimately divide and rule the militant and growing opposition to cuts to disability benefit in Glasgow.

The Glasgow Against Atos 2, Daniel McGarrell and Dominic O’Hara, were detained and charged with using a megaphone when instructed not to, resisting arrest and attempting to liberate a prisoner. In October a Sheriff Court judge found that the police had been acting unlawfully having no powers of arrest under the legislation s.54 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.Regardless of this abuse of police powers and the collapse of the case the Sheriff upheld the political charge against Mr O’Hara of ‘using a megaphone’. The trial continues on 28 January and has become a fight to defend protest rights in Glasgow city centre in the run up to the Commonwealth Games in July which are being sponsored by Atos. The Glasgow Defence Campaign (GDC) is mobilising supporters to picket the Sheriff Court on the morning of the trial and is also pursuing legal action against Police Scotland for illegally arresting and detaining these anti-cuts protestors.

The ongoing trial as well as wider changes to Scottish policing and the limiting of access to legal aid representation underline the importance of unifying opposition to ruling class cuts and subsequent criminalisation now. 1 April 2013 saw the introduction of the punitive Bedroom Tax. On the same day a major restructuring of Scotland’s police forces took place with eight regional units, previously autonomous from one another, unified into a single national force known as ‘Police Scotland’. Already major concerns over local accountability and ‘massaging’ of crime figures to meet targets have arisen. A new generation of foot soldiers for the British ruling class are being trained to control and put down effective opposition to welfare cuts in Britain and imperialist occupation and war abroad.

The GDC has been busy at work organising against this under the slogan ‘Don’t Panic – Organise!’. The GDC, established by supporters of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! in 2010, has been consistent in undertaking work in defence of progressive activists and organisations. We have consistently; updated our blogspot with reports of political policing (including our ‘police harassment log’); educated ourselves and others in matters of law by producing ‘know your rights’ bust cards and put this knowledge into action (our youtube video ‘how to deal with police harassment’ has had over half a million views); mobilised supporters and concerned members of the public for free speech rallies and pickets of Glasgow courts to support those facing political charges; wrote to national newspapers to highlight these issues and built support for our campaign on the streets and among well known individuals and sympathetic politicians. We invite all those opposed to the cuts, racism and wars of the British ruling class to stand together in joining the campaign to defend the protest rights we currently have. No Justice! No Peace!

Court Picket: Unite Against The Cuts! Defend Free Speech!
Tuesday 4 March, 10.15am
Outside Glasgow Sheriff Court, 1 Carlton Place
Trial in court 19 (open to the public)

For more info visit glasgowdefencecampaign.blogspot.com; email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; call 07734348065. To join the campaign donate a £5 pledge or standing order to the credit of Glasgow Defence Campaign Sort Code: 08-92-99, Account No: 65685253. Send your contact details to us at; PO Box YI-45, 2nd Floor, 48 West George Street, Glasgow G2 1 BP

Megaphone trial begins in Glasgow

Militant protest held outside Glasgow Sheriff Court, Monday 6 January 2014

The trial against Dominic O’Hara a supporter of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and the Glasgow Defence Campaign began yesterday at Glasgow Sheriff Court as protesters staged a militant protest outside the court. On 22 February 2013 Dominic was unlawfully arrested and detained for speaking on a megaphone alongside another Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! supporter Daniel McGarrell on a protest against cuts to disability benefits being carried out by the multinational ATOS, on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. As we noted at the time, the state were setting out to smash the growing resistance against the cuts and in particular divide and derail the campaign against ATOS.

At a previous court hearing on 1 October 2013 the case in respect of three charges against the ATOS 2 collapsed, in an important victory for the Glasgow Defence Campaign, as the crown was forced to concede that their original arrest and detention was unlawful as they had no powers of arrest under the legislation s.54 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 that they had originally claimed. The flagrant abuse of police powers is currently subject to legal action being pursued by the Glasgow Defence Campaign.

Yesterday’s trial heard from two prosecution witnesses surrounding the events of the day. Speaking outside of the court, convenor of the Glasgow Defence Campaign, Paul McKenna stated that ‘this trial is a political trial which is intended to restrict and criminalise any effective protest against the cuts. The only criminality which took place that day on a wholly orderly and peaceful protest was the police snatch on our two comrades. We are confident that they will be vindicated’.

The trial was adjourned and will resume on Tuesday 28 January at 10am in court number 19 at Glasgow Sheriff Court, before a single judge sitting alone without a jury.

The Glasgow Defence Campaign will again be mobilising for a court protest and reminds supporters of this Sunday’s important meeting on the fight for democratic rights.

Policing the crisis

When the law makers are the law breakers there is no law

Sunday 12 January 2-4pm

Woodside Halls, Glenfarg Street, near St Georges x underground, Glasgow.

Report reproduced from the Glasgow Defence Campaign BlogSpot

For more information visit – glasgowdefencecampaign.blogspot.com

 

Scotland Events coming up..

Get in touch with your local Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! group:

Glasgow; glasgow_rcg@gmail.com

Edinburgh: edinburghfrfi@gmail.com

 

How to deal with police harassment - Glasgow Defence Campaign

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