by Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialist Party national organiser
On Friday 11 March, the High Court found that Scotland Yard had breached the rights of those who wanted to hold a vigil a year earlier, on 13 March 2021, after the death of Sarah Everard. Campaign group Reclaim These Streets pursued the case against the Metropolitan Police’s ban on the vigil. Thousands of women and men turned up in defiance of the ban and faced heavy-handed policing. Organisers were threatened with fines.
The Socialist Party organised to participate in the vigil. We found a very open response to our offer of a programme for fighting to end violence against women and sexism, including the need to organise mass action to defend the right to protest and to fight for democratic working-class and community control of the police.
The judges held that the Met’s decisions and actions were unlawful, because the police failed to give proper consideration to the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. However, this judgement was down to the determination of the protesters.
This victory holds important lessons for the workers’ and social movements. The first thing is that had protesters not defied the ban this finding would not have been made. We can win in the courts only that which has been won through organised collective action on the streets and in the workplaces.
This needs discussion, given how the right-wing trade union leaders capitulated in the face of the anti-democratic aspects of the lockdown legislation. This victory, like when bus drivers and other workers organised themselves, shows that a fight against bosses seeking to prioritise profits over workplace and general safety is possible. There is no such thing as ‘national unity’ with the bosses.
A debate within the workers’ and social movements on the role of the police is also needed. Reclaim These Streets said: “We hope that the police learn some important lessons.” But nothing has changed for women in the last year in terms of the Met failing women when it comes to domestic violence and rape convictions and safety.
There is currently a vacancy for the Met Commissioner post following the resignation of Cressida Dick, who oversaw the vigil policing. However, neither a new face at the top nor this case will transform the Met.
Decisions about operational priorities, firing, hiring, training, and funding of the police cannot be left to the police themselves or to capitalist politicians. London Mayor Sadiq Khan oversees the Met. He is currently driving through enormous cuts to transport and a housing plan based on the market model, not council homes — both of which will exacerbate the situation women face.
Khan and the rest of the pro-capitalist politicians and police tops ultimately reflect and defend not our interests but the capitalist profit system, a system which is based on exploitation and inequalities of power, wealth, gender and race. Ending exploitation and inequality, including the discrimination that is prevalent within the police, includes fighting for democratic working-class community control of the police. But it also points to the need to build the mass working-class organisations and movements capable of the socialist transformation of society.