Tory home secretary Priti Patel last week ordered the cops to take “decisive action” against climate protesters.
And the police followed her orders, cracking down on protesters who blocked the M25, one of Britain’s busiest motorways.
Cops arrested almost 70 people on Monday morning this week on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance.
They had already arrested more than 120 activists from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) linked group, Insulate Britain.
And cops became even more forceful on Tuesday of this week, when a group of protesters occupied the M25 near Cobham in Surrey.
Socialist Worker photographer Guy Smallman said, “Some of the protesters had their hands glued to the road and the cops just ripped them off.
“It was the TSG riot cops backing the Highway police. Absolute zero tolerance—as if they’d been told get the road opened by whatever means at your disposal.”
Patel said, “This government will not stand by and allow a small minority of selfish protesters to cause significant disruption.”
She promised that the protest-smashing Police Bill, which the House of Lords is currently debating, would hand cops more repressive powers.
Top cops complained that the present legislation prevented police from crushing Insulate Britain quickly. Richard Walton, former head of counter-terror at the London Metropolitan Police, said, “The illegal blockading of motorways is environmental extremism, not legal protest.
“Environmental extremists using planned, illegal tactics of the blockading of main roads need to be dealt with as robustly as Islamist extremists.”
Insulate Britain first blocked the M25 and M3 motorways on 13 September, and then other busy roads later that week. They returned to block the M25 on Monday of this week.
The group demanded the British government “immediately promises to fully fund and take responsibility for the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025”.
One member of the group said, “Unfortunately, 10,000 won’t make it through this winter because of fuel poverty, which is totally avoidable in this country.
“We’ll keep going until the government take meaningful action. We’re causing disruption but we are trying to take meaningful action, and unfortunately direct action is the only way to make the government act.”
In a letter to the Highway Agency, Insulate Britain said their actions were “entirely proportionate to create disruption”. The group is right.
The scale of the emergency that the whole of humanity is facing requires bold actions to save us from climate breakdown.
What are traffic jams compared to the destruction that climate chaos brings? As Insulate Britain said, “In the context of the horror of the climate crisis we believe that it is entirely proportionate to create disruption on the motorway network.”
But the Tories and the right wing press have whipped up a backlash against the “eco mob” and “enviro zealots”.
The left must not line up behind this onslaught and has to defend the need for protests to be disruptive.
With 50,000 people expected at protests for Cop26 in Glasgow and London and tens of thousands more in other cities, direct action will play an important part during these mobilisations.
This kind of action could target corporations and banks that are driving the climate crisis.
It could also create huge disruptions to the Cop26 conference.
It would humiliate world leaders and make an uncompromising statement that ordinary people have the power to disrupt their system.
Direct action is most effective when large numbers of people take part. Thousands participating in this kind of action at the Cop26 protest could not only block a road but have the power to shut down a whole city.
And workers must be part of this. Already a potential strike at ScotRail during Cop26 has got the Scottish government worried.
More strikes and stoppages could create even more disruption.
With the heads of major unions largely silent about supporting protests at Cop26, rank and file union members must take the initiative to organise activities in their workplaces.
Building a mass climate movement is essential in the fight against the climate crisis.
Everyone should throw themselves into building for the global climate strikes on 5 November and mass mobilisations on 6 November for Cop26.