A few weeks ago me and a couple of friends were discussing human rights in the Ram over a drink or two. I raised the right to protest, to which one of our group piped up to say they didn’t believe it was a “proper” human right and more a luxury afforded to those within society who “could control themselves properly”. Now, I would hope that most people will react to reading those words in the same way I did to hearing them. I firstly assumed this member of the group was joking or trying to wind me up. Alas, it soon became clear they were being deadly serious.
That led me to thinking about the right to protest and the general view of it in this country. Now I’m thinking that I was pretty naïve to think people would agree with me that the right to protest is not only hugely important, but is actually a vital human right.
From our political leaders, remember Boris’ water cannons that were deemed unlawful, to those who are meant to protect our protesters- The Metropolitan Police have been in the news numerous times for trying to pass their bill onto the protests, which would almost certainly stop the protest in its tracks.
Others, too seem against the whole idea of protest, you’ll remember famous rent-a-controversy Jeremy Clarkson’s reaction to the public sector strike back in 2011. What shocked me wasn’t the words that came from Clarkson’s mouth (everyone knows the man thrives off controversy) but it was much of the online reaction. While there was certainly condemnation of the remarks, many said they agreed with him albeit in weaker terms. While they perhaps did not want the workers to “be shot in front of their families’ there was genuinely there was genuine anger that the public sector was able to strike and so disrupt people’s days.
But that was the whole point. In the strike of 2011, and numerous strikes before and after, the aim is to show the general public how important the work the profession that is striking does and to put pressure on its employers to give them a fairer deal.
Surely to make it harder for workers to strike – as the Trade Union Bill will- just puts more power in the hands of employers and will make it even harder for those who struggle to survive on low wages to speak up and feel they can get a fair deal.
However, striking is not the only form of protest. Marches and demonstrations are also forms of protest that often get a lot of media attention and usually not for the best of reasons. You only need think of the student protests of 2010 and the name Charlie Gilmour springs to mind- this is probably where my friend’s assessment that only those who can control themselves properly should be allowed to protest comes from. However, the majority of people who wish to protest want to do so in a peaceful and meaningful manner with the aim of improving their lives or the lives of others. Surely in a society which claims to value freedom of speech and self-improvement so highly, protesting is a dream combination.