“Rather than deal with the causes of the cost of living crisis, the Government are trying to stop people from protesting about it – and they’re attempting to undermine legitimate industrial action, too.”Olivia Blake MP
This article is a published version of a speech given by Olivia Blake MP at the “Defend our right to resist – Oppose Tory divide and rule” discussion hosted by Arise Festival. Read her contribution or watch the meeting in full below:
This meeting raises two important issues that I’ve been very actively campaigning on in parliament – the right to protest and picket, and how the Government use “divide and rule” to push through their agenda.
Both of those issues are linked by the biggest cost of living crisis in recent history. While we’ve seen prices soar, we’ve also seen huge profits – especially for fossil fuel companies.
The Government like to talk about a wages-inflation spiral, but it’s not wages that are driving up prices – it’s profiteering. That’s why I was proud to stand on pickets with rail workers who were demanding a better deal from the rail companies – especially after those companies made £500 million in profits during the pandemic.
The Government’s priority in the dispute is clear – it’s about creating divisions between rail workers and the rest. We need to reject that division and stand with anyone who rightly calls for super-profits to be invested in supporting workers’ pay and conditions.
But rather than deal with the causes of the cost of living crisis, the Government are trying to stop people from protesting about it – and they’re attempting to undermine legitimate industrial action, too. We saw that with the legislation passed last Monday to allow agency workers to break strikes.
This isn’t just about one or two pieces of legislation – it’s about a whole agenda for government. The first thing we saw since I’ve been in parliament was the Overseas Operations Bill. It was about what British soldiers did abroad, but it was the thin end of the wedge in terms of allowing the state to act outside of the law.
Next came the “spy cops” Bill and then the Policing Bill. And now, having defeated the worst bits of the Policing Bill, the Government are trying to put them into law again with the Public Order Bill.
Time and time again, they’ve brought forward laws which are about empowering the state and disempowering people – acting together – to stand up for themselves.
Because, while they’re important, this isn’t just about the rights of individuals. Throughout history, we’ve only had positive change when people have acted together to demand it. This raft of new laws is about stopping people from joining together to make themselves heard – whether it’s on a demonstration or a picket line.
But new laws aren’t the only way the Government are trying to stop us from coming together. I’ve already said that they’re hoping to divide rail workers from everybody else. We need to reject that division – for the workers in rail, telecoms, the post office, teachers, and everyone who’s struggling for a decent standard of living.
We also need to address the other ways the Government try to divide us. One of my priorities in parliament has been to stand up for refugee and migrant rights. The Nationalities and Borders Bill and the Government’s Rwanda policy aren’t about addressing the problems in the system.
If the Government were serious about fixing our broken immigration and asylum system, they’d end the hostile environment.
What these policies are about is shifting the blame away from their management of the cost of living crisis to create a scapegoat.
You can see it happening in the Tory leadership race, too. I feel as if there’s an endless lurid discussion happening somewhere in the media about what makes someone a woman – and that’s being stoked in the contest.
There’s a tendency sometimes to see these as “culture war” issues and say that they’re a distraction from the real problems.
But I don’t think that’s right – for the people being scapegoated, they’re not a distraction; they’re very real.
Whether it’s workers taking industrial action, refugees and migrants, or trans people trying to access basic public services like healthcare or education, we should be completely clear that we stand with people against the demonisation and scapegoating.
And we should be equally clear on the real causes of the crisis in our society: it’s the underfunding of public services and healthcare for everyone, the underinvestment in our economy, and the pursuit of profits over wages and conditions. Not to mention the lack of any serious action on tackling the climate emergency.
Whatever legislation the Government throw at us, we need to reject the divisions that right-wing politicians try to impose on us, and continue to find ways to come together. Because that’s the best way to resist – and it’s the way that we’ll win.
- Olivia Blake MP was speaking at the Arise Festival session “Defend our right to resist – Oppose Tory divide and rule” hosted on July 20th, 2022. You can watch it back here.
- You can follow Olivia Blake on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.
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