An outrageous attack on freedom of speech

THE TUC has rightly condemned proposed legislation that purports to curb payola lobbying that could easily be used to ban national demonstrations and block any union’s political campaigns. The Con-Dem Coalition’s proposed new law will restrict the campaigning activities of trade unions and other groups in the 12 months before a general election which could even and even criminalise next year’s TUC Congress.

The TUC says the plans are “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship”. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s an open secret at Westminster that this rushed Bill has nothing to do with cleaning up lobbying or getting big money out of politics. Instead it is a crude and politically partisan attack on trade unions, particularly those who affiliate to the Labour Party.”

The Tories and their Liberal Democrat allies claim that the new Bill is not intended to outlaw the TUC conference or restrict campaigning activity on policy issues. But they all say that to justify new repressive laws.

When the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was first passed back in 1974 we were told this was solely to combat the IRA, which had launched a bombing campaign across England during the struggle to end the occupation of the north of Ireland. Subsequent acts have been passed to give the police even more powers to combat Al Qaeda and “global terror” but now they’re being used to terrorise journalists who have dared to shed light on the secret and illegal global electronic surveillance systems that US intelligence uses to spy on millions of people all over the world.

David Miranda, the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, was held at London airport under the anti-terror laws as he changed planes on a journey from Berlin to his home in Brazil last Sunday. Greenwald worked with Edward Snowden, who blew the lid off secret US government spy programmes that monitor the emails and phone calls of millions of people in America and throughout the world.

Miranda was interrogated for nine hours before being released without charge. The police confiscated his laptop, memory sticks, camera, DVDs, game consoles and mobile phone. Greenwald said: “It was a failed attempt at intimidation... we spent all day — as every hour passed — worried that he would be arrested and charged under a terrorism statute.”

The police say that Miranda’s detention was “necessary and appropriate” and absurdly claim that Schedule seven of the Terrorism Act 2000, which grants police the power to stop and question people travelling through British ports and airports to determine whether they are involved in planning terrorist plots, was used “appropriately and proportionately”.

Few doubt that Miranda was held at the behest of a vengeful US government determined to frighten and silence any journalist who breaches the bourgeois convention on imperialist secret intelligence work. Snowden is, thankfully, safe in Moscow and beyond the reach of the CIA and their thugs.

But his arrest shows that anyone entering or leaving the country can be arbitrarily held and interrogated for hours under the PTA at the whim of the Government on the flimsiest pretext.

This was never the stated intention of the Prevention of Terrorism Act but the powers of arbitrary arrest were always there from the beginning. In the same way Cameron’s proposed Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill purports to deal with lobbying scandals but it gives blanket powers to suppress the legitimate rights of unions to support and fund the Labour Party or actively campaign in defence of their members against the government of the day.

This lobbying bill is an open attack on free speech — the creeping fascism that takes us a further step down the road to open bourgeois dictatorship. It must be defeated.