Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Parliament Square ‘Kill the Bill Protest’: A transcript
Thank you, thank you very much, each and every one of you for being here today! This is one of around 50 demonstrations all around the country today. Thank you. Thank you for speaking up for civil liberties, for justice, thank you for speaking up for the right to speak up! Because what we’re protesting against today is the police bill, but that should also be taken in the context of a series of pieces of legislation that this government is trying to push through that place over there. The spycops bill, the Overseas Operations Bill, all these bills designed to empower a secretary of state of legislate beyond the powers of Parliament, to restrict protest, to organise counter-surveillance operations, and so many other things. This is a very, very dangerous and very slippery slope.
Now people often say to me, “You know, Jeremy, you’ve been on protests all your life.” Well that’s true, absolutely true, and they say “You know what? They never work, they never change anything.” So I say to them: Look into the history of our society and our movement. Look at those who were so brutally mown down in Peterloo, in Manchester, in the 1820s. They fought back. Look at the Tolpuddle Martyrs, deported and came back as heroic trade unionists. Look at the chartists, who marched through this very city in the mid-19th century, in order that we should have the vote, in order that our children should get free education, in order that our working hours should be limited to eight per day. Look at all those protests that made a massive difference. Those that brought about the old-age pension, brought about the principles of National Insurance.
And anyone who protests is denigrated at the time. They’re vilified, they’re attacked, they’re brutally attacked by the mainstream media, day in and day out. They’re vilified and they’re made into pariahs and hate figures. Read the history of the Pankhursts – particularly Sylvia Pankhurst before the first world war. And would you believe it, there’s now a statue up for the suffragettes here. The Daily Mail couldn’t attack her enough. Yet 50 years, 100 years later, they’re treated as national heroes, because they brought about fundamental changes in our society. And so it is necessary to have the right to protest, it is necessary to be able to make your voice heard. And if you don’t protest, things don’t change. Imagine Rosa Parks, in the USA in 1957, she refused to accept the colour bar, she refused to accept the racism, she refused to accept the Jim Crow laws. Her individual act of bravery led to the Civil Rights Movement, led to Martin Luther King, and led to for the first first time, some degree of anti-racist legislation in the United States. Had she listened to the naysayers, she’d’ve got off the bus and gone home shaking her head saying “it doesn’t seem very fair, that a white man can ride on the bus, but me, a black woman, is not allowed on the bus.”
It’s the brave people who have stood up, that have changed things in this world. And a few metres to my right, there’s a statue of Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela, convicted at the Rivonia treason trial, sentenced to decades and decades of imprisonment eventually came out a popular hero and the next president of South Africa. Why? Because the people of South Africa, the black people of South Africa, would not accept Apartheid, would not accept his imprisonment and the Apartheid system was overthrown by popular protest.
So, when we’ve run the right to protest, it’s important that we defend it. But this piece of legislation that’s being pushed through Parliament at the moment, will say that you can only have a demonstration with the agreement of the police if they approve it, and that you’re silent if you’re outside here. Well within the privacy of the small number of people in this square, can I share an idea with you? [Affirmative cheers from the crowd] How about, come Christmas time, if we haven’t defeated the legislation by then, a whole bunch of us meet here, in Parliament Square, and beautifully and in tune sing Silent Night? To see what happens then.
But it’s also about preventing communities standing up. Standing next to me is the wonderful Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry, who has so bravely spoken out on so many occasions against this bill and all other acts of injustice; I am so proud to be stood here alongside her. And also, just near me on this plinth here is Howard Beckett of Unite. Howard, thank you for speaking out for working class communities, whatever vilification is thrown at you all the time.
Because, going back again, not so long ago in history, in the 1970s a Tory government led by Ted Heath, tried to restrict the powers of trade unions to act to represent their members, and was threatened with all kinds of terrible things. They imprisoned five dockers in Pentonville Prison. What happened? A massive and illegal demonstration and strikes took place all over the country. And within four days, the official solicitor appointed a tipstaff who went to the prison and asked for the release of the five dockers. They were released because of popular action, to defend trade union rights. And so, we have to look at what this bill will also do. It will prevent communities speaking out against, maybe unfair planning decisions that are happening to them, maybe all kinds of things.
But one community that is almost always vilified, almost always badly treated, almost always attempting to be silent are the Gypsy and Traveller and Roma people of this country. Well I stand with the Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities in this country! As I do all across Europe. And they have always been the ones under threat. When the Nazis got to power in Germany, they came for the gay community, they came for the Roma community, they came for the Jewish community, they came for the black community, they came for every other identifiable minority, in order to kill them, murder them and destroy them. The road to oppression is the silence of the rest of us. So I do say: “Stand up for your right to protest, stand up for your right to make your voice heard!”
And can we send a message today, here, in Parliament Square. Those people in Myanmar who are now being bombed by the military, and last week I had a long conversation, a call, with one of the leaders of the garment workers’ union, who said to me “the military are coming after the working class organisations, they’re coming after the trade unions, they’re coming after us because we want the right to organise, to improve our conditions, improve our wages.” And what does our government do? Tries to buy PPE equipment from Myanmar from military-owned companies there. So, we are acting today in solidarity with so many other people all around the world. Making our voice heard is very important. And that’s why we on this platform have voted against the second reading of the police bill, likewise the spycops bill, likewise the Overseas Operations Bill, and I voted against the renewal of the coronavirus restrictions, not because I deny corona, I don’t – it’s serious, it’s real, and it’s dangerous – but you don’t have to empower the police on the back of that legislation in order to prevent civil activities, civil protests and all the rest of it. And so, I simply say to you this: Silence would be consent to this piece of legislation. Our presence here, such as our presence at Clapham, when poor Sarah Everard was murdered, and there was a perfectly correct and proper vigil held in her memory.
I want to live in a society where it is safe to walk the streets, where you can speak out, you can demonstrate, and you don’t have to seek the permission of the police or the home secretary to do so. Democracy and democratic rights were never handed down from above. The rich, the powerful, the big businesses, the big corporations never demanded freedom of speech, never demanded freedom of organising, never demanded rights for trade unionists; all they demanded were power and privilege and preservation of power and privilege for themselves. I want to live in a world of peace and justice, I want to live in a world of human rights and democracy, and I’m prepared to make people uncomfortable in that process of defending and advancing our human rights and justice! Thank you all for being here today!
A video of this speech may be found at https://youtube.com/watch?v=FJYmEr8SlFI