Britain: Protests grow as Boris Johnson loses his grip

September 6, 2019
Protest opposing the shutdown of British parliament in London on August 31.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of London on August 31 to oppose British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to prorogue parliament and force through his Brexit agenda. More national mobilisations have been planned for September 7–8.

Johnson’s grip on the House of Commons was further loosened on September 3, when the opposition, joined by Tory rebels, voted to take control of government business to bring on a motion to prevent a No Deal Brexit.

The following day, Johnson’s motion to call a snap election was overwhelmingly defeated.

Opposition Labor MP John McDonnell, grassroots voices, concerned citizens and trade unionists addressed the London protest, which blocked Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Waterloo, Westminster Bridge and Piccadilly Circus.

Andy Stowe summed up the London protest in Socialist Resistance like this: “The London event was dominated by pro-remain, pro-Corbyn supporters. This felt like the day that Labour both put itself at the head of the anti-Brexit movement on the streets and energised its supporters for what will be a ferocious general election campaign.”

About 80 demonstrations took place simultaneously in Glasgow, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and smaller cities and towns.

Across the country, protesters engaged in civil disobedience, shutting down roads and bridges.

There have been daily protests after work since September 2.

Another Europe is Possible, Momentum, the Green Party and others have been coordinating the protests, with a new coalition — #StopTheCoup — joining in to help build the protests.

Alena Ivanova from Another Europe is Possible said on August 31: “Today’s protests are the beginning of something huge — they have been inspiring, full of youth and diversity and energy. Over the next few weeks, they must grow into the millions.”

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn endorsed the demonstrations, as did several trade unions. More civil disobedience actions are expected and trade unionists are threatening strike action.

Momentum’s National Coordinator Laura Parker said: “Nobody voted for an Eton-educated millionaire to hijack our democracy in his own self interest. He is part of the same tiny, privileged elite which has been hoarding power at the top and eroding our democracy for decades. We need to rebalance power away from this tiny elite and towards the majority of people.”

Stowe described the political importance of the growing national protest movement.

“Demonstrations took place in several towns and cities, including places like Windsor, Bournemouth and Clitheroe, which don’t usually feature on listings for radical political activity…

“TV coverage of the event switched back and forth between the demonstrations in Britain and the inspiring, increasingly militant protests happening in Hong Kong. It was a good juxtaposition.

“In both cases people were on the streets in defence of their rights, opposing governments they see as corrupt and anti-democratic. And just as the Hong Kong protests have become more intense, so too the British assemblies have changed gear.

“In London, calls for civil disobedience, direct action and daily protests were met with resounding cheers. 

“Michael Chessum, one of the demonstration organisers told the crowd ‘We’re here to force him [Johnson] to back down. That means civil disobedience and being willing to disrupt things’.”

According to Stowe, the “semi-spontaneous” transformation of a static protest into an impromptu march through central London was a “hint of things to come”.

“Extinction Rebellion have [sic] done this sort of thing, but it is a new tactic for the Labour and anti-Brexit activists.

“People understand that the situation needs new methods.

“Saturday 31 August was when the labour movement began to respond on the streets to Johnson’s coup. It’s also shown him that he is much more vulnerable than he thinks in the election.

“The essential thing now is to keep up the tempo of actions in England, Scotland and Wales to exploit a constitutional crisis which has revealed the Brexiteers’ underlying weakness.”

Hundreds of trade unionists have signed a statement calling for strikes to stop Johnson’s coup. The statement calls on “unions, the Labour Party and the whole working-class movement” to “urgently mobilise direct action, including protests, strikes, and occupations”.

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