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Huge public pressure forced Shell to lift an injunction


The Guardian (UK): Don’t be defeatist: the power of protest is alive and well

“…in Ireland last week huge public pressure forced Shell to lift an injunction which had seen five anti-pipeline farmers jailed for 94 days.”

Friday 7 October 2005

The government cannot stifle dissent, say Helen Steel and Dave Morris

George Monbiot looked at some of the wide range of repressive measures increasingly being used to undermine the public’s right to protest (Protest is criminalised and the huffers and puffers say nothing, October 4). The government is exploiting every opportunity to extend its powers over us all. Its aim is to try to protect the status quo so that those who have wealth and power can continue to dominate our world, untroubled by anyone fighting back.

But we are not passive victims, as George depressingly implied. We are all survivors of an economic and political system built on centuries of greed and power, and on exploitation and control of the majority. Protest is essential to promote the interests of those excluded from decision-making. Rather than bemoan the lack of opposition in parliament and the press to the current crackdown on dissent, George could have acknowledged the power that people themselves have when they get together to speak out and stand up for their interests or for the public interest.

Our rights and freedoms have not been handed down by the powers-that-be, but have been won through grassroots movements and struggles over the years – including the Tolpuddle trade unionists and 20th-century strike waves, the suffragettes, millions defying the poll tax (in 1381 as well as 1990), and protests by the social movements of the 1960s and 70s. Oppressive laws can be made unworkable by determination and solidarity among those affected, and by increased protests and defiance. All kinds of totalitarian forms of control have eventually been overcome.

When McDonald’s slapped libel writs on us, it was part of a long-running strategy to stifle criticism. Lawyers advised us that it was almost pointless to resist. However, due to a determined mass defiance campaign and solidarity around the world, the case was turned into a public tribunal on the company’s practices, and the campaign mushroomed with regular leafletting outside hundreds of the company’s stores. Since then companies have been advised against “doing a McLibel” and no similar cases have been brought.

Meanwhile peace activists, environmentalists, trades unionists, anti-racists, animal rights campaigners, anti-capitalists and many other movements have continued their efforts to campaign effectively for a better society, despite the climate of fear being manufactured by the government, police and much of the media. Both the anti-EDO and Lancaster University campaigners George mentioned have been determinedly fighting their court cases and stepping up their campaigns. And in Ireland last week huge public pressure forced Shell to lift an injunction which had seen five anti-pipeline farmers jailed for 94 days.

It is time to stand up for everyone’s freedom to leaflet, picket, strike, assemble and march against injustice and oppression. We’re working with other campaigns and groups to encourage wider opposition to repressive laws. We urge everyone to join in the struggle for a better world – our planet and its people deserve so much more than a system based on environmental destruction, wars, capitalism and power-mad government. We will not be silenced.

· Helen Steel and Dave Morris are the McLibel defendants, and are helping organise a Freedom To Protest conference in London on October 23

· Read George Monbiot’s article ‘Protest is criminalised and the huffers and puffers say nothing’ here

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