Public Order Act: latest anti-worker legislation to outlaw protests and strikes

Human rights in Britain? What human rights?

Lalkar writers

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A raft of anti-worker legislation has recently been passed by Parliament, whose collective effect is to render almost any act of resistance or protest a ‘crime’. Clearly, the hope of our rulers is that workers will be cowed into submission as the crisis deepens and the class war escalates.

Lalkar writers

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The Public Order Act (POA) 2023 is another extreme limitation of, and general attack on, the civil liberties of protesters who want to stay within the legally acceptable rules while expressing their displeasure over any aspect of government policy, or who are trying to fight against a bellicose hostile employer.

The truth that has not yet sunk into the psyche of even many advanced workers in Britain is that trying to obey the rules invented by the class enemy is akin to entering a boxing ring with both hands tied behind your back.

If you should move your hands to either protect yourself or, heaven forbid, to strike back, the cry of foul goes up from the massed ranks of your opponent’s supporters – the police, the judiciary, and the assorted mass of media personages and politicians (both ruling and opposition).

So, what are the main points of the new act?

The following is taken from Chapter 15 of the POA 2023:

“An Act to make provision for new offences relating to public order; to make provision about stop and search powers; to make provision about the exercise of police functions relating to public order; to make provision about proceedings by the secretary of state relating to protest-related activities; to make provision about serious disruption prevention orders; and for connected purposes. Be it enacted by the King’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same.” (Public Order Act 2023, UK Parliament, 3 May 2023)

In plain English, if you protest in an effective way than you will be deemed to be breaking the law. The full weight of the state machine and bourgeois media will be against you. And they will be followed obediently by the massed ranks of the Labour party and the leaderships of virtually all the trade unions, even as they claim to be on your side (as long as you obey the law).

Locking on

The newest clauses of the POA concentrate upon actions such as “locking on” – ie, attaching oneself to other person or to object, building, tree etc), which might prevent police moving someone easily. Not only is ‘locking on’ an offence in law now but “going equipped for locking on” is also illegal.

What, one might ask, is ‘going equipped for locking on’? Quite simply, it is being outside of your home and having about your person or in a bag that you are carrying a padlock, chain, rope, some glue or a piece of plastic piping. And how will the police know if you have a lone padlock in your pocket?

The answer is simple: the stop and search laws from the POA 2003 have been tightened so that a policeman will be empowered to stop you and search anyone without the slightest reason to check whether a person is carrying any one of these everyday items.

Stop and search for no reason whatsoever is now just a fact of everyday life, and will become even more so as class contradictions sharpen – as they surely must, given the economic chaos to which the contradictions of the capitalist system have given rise.


Another of the great ‘threats’ to our society, and one which is allegedly likely to cause ‘major distress’ to others, is “tunnelling”. Digging a tunnel, carrying equipment to dig a tunnel, being in a tunnel (even if you have not made the tunnel) are all heinous crimes and, like the much-feared ‘locking on’, could see those practising this dark art receiving heavy fines and/or a six-month jail term.

The ‘tunnel’ doesn’t even have to be a tunnel to get you into legal hot water. According to the section on tunnelling: “an excavation which is created with the intention that it will become or connect with a tunnel is to be treated as a tunnel, whether or not any tunnel with which it is intended to connect has already been created”.

In fact the ‘tunnel’ can be the slightest alteration to an existing natural or artificial underground feature, and does not even have to be big enough for a human to pass into or through.

Incidentally, being in a ‘tunnel’ can be classed as ‘causing an obstruction’. We can only imagine that the answer as to whom one might be obstructing is … other people trying to crawl through the aforementioned passage? Ignoring the absurdity of all this, it should be noted that such ‘crimes’ will be punishable by a three-year prison term.

Key national infrastructure

If a person’s act is deemed to be interfering with the use or operation of ‘key national infrastructure’, if it is deemed to be preventing that infrastructure from being used or operated to any extent for any of its intended purposes, that person will be breaking the law.

“Key national infrastructure” means: (a) road transport infrastructure; (b) rail infrastructure; (c) air transport infrastructure; (d) harbour infrastructure; (e) downstream oil infrastructure; (f) downstream gas infrastructure; (g) onshore oil and gas exploration and production infrastructure; (h) onshore electricity generation infrastructure; or (i) newspaper printing infrastructure.

In short, no action that restricts the extraction of profit, no action that stops scab labour breaking a strike, and no action that seeks to limit the moving of weapons of mass destruction around our streets, towns and cities or across the seas/skies to be used against other peoples and countries.

As with the other provisions, the mere intention to interfere with the use or operation of key national infrastructure will now be a crime.

A police officer will be free to interpret whether or not a person intends to interfere with key infrastructure if they are, say, holding a placard saying ‘Close the 23rd runway’ outside an airport, or giving out a leaflet advising people to stop the government from sending arms to Ukraine.

Where persons in leading positions within protest groups, or even whole organisations, are deemed by the local police chief to have the intent of holding a protest which s/he believes may in turn lead to the law being broken, an application for a ‘serious disruption prevention’ (SDP) order can be made. This will serve to keep the persons and/or organisations out of the relevant area on pain of arrest and a court summons – which in turn could lead to a significant term of imprisonment.

The police may also arrest such people before a demonstration as a ‘preventative’ measure, releasing them again once the protest is over. An SDP order can be varied to take in demonstrations etc in other places, and can be extended many times over. Indeed, the legislation is so full of caveats as to make challenges to SDP orders extremely unlikely to succeed.

There is nothing new about legislation aimed at preventing strikes and protests from being effective. Our social and industrial history are littered with examples. Following the great class battles of the miners’ strike of 1984/5 and the Wapping dispute of 1986, there followed the POA 1986, which created “new offences relating to public order; to control public processions and assemblies”.

That 1986 POA established that: “Where 12 or more persons who are present together use or threaten unlawful violence for a common purpose and the conduct of them (taken together) is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety, each of the persons using unlawful violence for the common purpose is guilty of riot.”

It did not even need all 12 persons to threaten unlawful violence, it was enough for one of them to be deemed to have spoken or moved in a way that could be considered threatening by the aforementioned ‘person of reasonable firmness’ for ‘riotous behaviour’ to be declared and all 12 persons to be liable for a ten-year jail term. Violent disorder under the 1986 POA was basically the same scenario but with between three and 11 persons present.

The latest POA additions come on top of the most recent Police Act, which permits many state bodies, including the police, to break any law of the country if they deem it to be ‘for the greater good’ (ie, for the good of the 0.1 percent who rule over us). This means that workers now face the most draconian prison sentences for even the mildest of crimes, such as being considered to be a noise nuisance while on a demonstration. Added into this for good measure is the recently passed Nationality and Borders Act, which is aimed at widening the racial faultlines in the British working class.

Taken together, we can see the degree to which not only our hands but also our minds are being bound up, our eyes blinded and our ears made deaf to commonsense truths by this plethora of intimidating legislation.

Intimidation and resistance

It is clear that our rulers want to batter us with legislation that aims to transform us into cringing cowards, unwilling to stand up for ourselves, our families, our communities or our fellow workers – of whatever race or colour, and whether at home or abroad.

But stand up we must, in large and united number. More than this, we must learn that merely standing up – even illegally, and in spite of the advice of the toadying leaders of Labour and the TUC traitors – while a positive first step, will not be enough on its own.

The working class needs to put its faith in the science of Marxism-Leninism and to strive for the social revolution that will overturn capitalist society and set us on the path to a life of honour, strength, knowledge, pride and – eventually – peace, as we learn to rule our environment and our economy for the benefit of all. We really do have a world to win!