Monday, 7 March 2011

What is Liberty's role on March 26th?

Liberty has announced that it will be providing independent legal observers for the TUC's march on 26th March. Given the behaviour of police at mass demonstrations, this is definitely something we need. However, that they will be there at the invitation of the police raises many questions.

Recently, a lot more details have emerged on official plans for the day. It is increasingly evident that the accusations anarchists, in particular, have levelled at the TUC for being the "Tories' Unofficial Cops" are true. In particular, as the Guardian reports, "Carl Roper, the chief steward, told MPs on Tuesday that the volunteer stewards would get police guidance on how to defuse conflicts." As part of this, they "will not be asked to deal with violence but are being trained to cope with sit-down protests."

At the same time, the police are deploying a "containment manager." And the TUC and Liberty will both "have a desk in the Met central operation room," as part of this operation, whilst "Met police will have access to the TUC's radio system to issue guidance to the volunteer stewards on the march route."

The TUC is, as ever, fulfilling its role to stage-manage popular discontent. It is as keen as the police to ensure that protests will serve only as a safety-valve, and that no active challenge to the status quo or ruling class can follow from that. Liberty, ostensibly independent observers, have thus also been weaved into this operation to defuse and demobilise class anger. When they declare that "our founders would have been delighted with the kind of cooperation offered by the police and protest organisers of today," we have to question exactly how independent they will be.

The fact remains, as I and others have argued on countless occasions, that a "safe, well-organised and family-friendly event" organised with the agreement of the police will achieve nothing. The cuts are happening because the balance of class power is tipped in favour of capital. If we want to see the government in retreat, we have to tip it the other way.

Within such a struggle, the role of legal observers is not to "gain an overall picture of the protest," but to be on constant watch against the police. They have to understand that the police's role in society is not to "keep the peace" but to uphold the state's monopoly of violence. Most importantly, they have to be there in the interests of those protesting and taking action, not to "have a presence in the Police Special Operations Room."

For genuinely independent legal observation, we should be looking to the likes of the Green and Black Cross.

They not only offer independent observers at events, but also bust cards [1, 2 (both PDF)], legal support, and advice for defendants in the aftermath. Their advice for protesters is practical and for the benefit of participants, rather than encouraging conformity and obedience. This is not to mention the trained action medics whom they also organise for demonstrations. These people are definitely on our side. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Liberty.

Whilst they clearly represent the dovish end of the mainstream spectrum, and are willing to challenge the state in terms of "protect[ing] civil liberties and promote human rights," radical struggle against capitalism is as much a threat to them as to the most vicious and dogmatic of Tories. In this context, Liberty should be understood as just another layer of the police operation.