POLITICS

John McDonnell Urged Workers To Break Strike Laws As He Backed 'Insurrection' Against The Tories

Ministers should be 'tried' for crimes against poor, he said

28/02/2017 17:22 | Updated 28 February 2017

Jeremy Corbyn’s key ally John McDonnell urged workers to defy strike laws, backed occupation of City buildings and supported “insurrection” that “gets in the face” of business chiefs.

At a series of meetings between 2011 and 2014 McDonnell - who is now Labour’s Shadow Chancellor - advocated radical street action to take advantage of the “classical Marxist crisis of capitalism” in Britain and the US.

Video footage of the meetings, which has been passed to HuffPost UK, show him urging campaigners to mobilise to “bring down” the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition through a combination of sit-ins, squats, protests and strikes.

At the meetings, which were supported by an array of far-left groups such as the Socialist Workers Party, McDonnell:

* urged workers to “defy anti-trade union laws” and mobilise “whatever the law says”

* described Tory ministers as “social criminals” and vowed “we will try you for what you have done” in implementing cuts

* called for Labour to “automatically support” every occupation by protestors, including the takeover of building owned by merchant bank UBS

* said MPs and others had a “duty” to turn up to every “mass action” on the streets

* said “the ballot box will not become available” to Labour without street action first

called on the TUC to back British sympathy strikes to support industrial action in France and Spain

* rallied campaigners against City bosses to “get really into them, in their faces.”

* joked that he wanted to “kettle” the police and make citizen’s arrests on them

PAUL ELLIS via Getty Images
John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn at the 2016 Labour conference

Veteran campaigner McDonnell made his views known at the rallies in the last Parliament, when he was a backbencher and Ed Miliband was leader of the Labour party.

At a Unite The Resistance emergency meeting in January 2012, he urged local trade unionists to defy their leaderships by staging unofficial strikes in their area.

“If we can’t win the national union for industrial action, we are going to have to talk to see whether or not we take branch industrial action at the local level-  and that does mean having that discussion about how we defy the anti-trade union laws,” he said.

McDonnell praised Unite and builders’ union Ucatt workers for coming together in unofficial action, saying “they couldn’t give a toss about industrial relations rules, they’re actually closing down site after site”.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
John McDonnell at the British Chambers of Commerce conference on Tuesday

At a Defend The Right To Protest meeting in March 2012, he urged protestors: “Whatever you do though, you’ve got to recognise you have a responsibility to resist. Otherwise they will break us.

“When individual disputes have happened - whatever the law says - if you mobilise en masse, we win.

“Every time there’s an action, no matter who calls it, whatever the action is … we have a responsibility on us, a duty on us, to turn up and be part of that mass action. That’s it isn’t it? There’s no other lesson to be learned from this.”

Referring to the police ‘union’ the Police Federation, which staged marches against pension cuts, McDonnell joked that they should now be subjected to the same tactics they used on protestors.

“The Police Federation are now starting their campaign, and I’m urging them to have a demonstration,” he said.

“And we should offer to steward that. And when we get near Parliament Square what I want you to do is kettle them in batches…what I’d like you to do is undertake a large number of citizens’ arrests.”

At a Unite the Resistance conference in November 2012, the MP for Hayes and Harlington called for Tory MPs and ministers to be constantly tracked by protestors.

“I want to be in a situation where no Tory MP, no Coalition Minister can travel anywhere in the country, or show their face anywhere in public, without being challenged.”

He also warned that one day Tory ministers would be ‘tried’ for their ‘crimes’ against the poorest in the UK.

“My view is they’re social criminals. And eventually, I warn them, we will try you for what you’ve done.”

At the same meeting, McDonnell suggested British workers should take action in support of those taking industrial action in the rest of Europe.

“When others were on strike, in France and Spain, and other countries, the TUC’s response was to send out a press release. That was it. We became the scabs of Europe.”

And at a Unite The Resistance meeting in June 2012, McDonnell said: “The three methods we use the ballot box, industrial action, what we used to call insurrection but we now politely call direct action.

“The ballot box will not become available to us unless we force the issue through industrial action and through direct action.”

He praised protests by the Police Federation, the BMA doctors’ union and moves by shareholders to curb excess bonuses and pay packages for chief executives. 

“I haven’t lived long enough to see 15,000 police officers march in London, to see the BMA call for action by doctors themselves, and to see shareholders slap in the face, in terms of individual chief executives to prevent them having their salaries,” he said.

“Now I don’t know about you but I think that makes this a revolutionary moment.”

McDonnell said that he was delighted that WWP ad boss Sir Martin Sorrell had seen his bumper pay deal rejected by shareholders.

“Just to see Martin Sorrell’s face when he lost £2.7 million at that AGM was fucking wonderful wasn’t it? Get really into them, in their faces.”

“Some of us have waited for a generation for this. This is a classical Marxist crisis of capitalism. What’s interesting - in government they recognise it now, in Wall Street they recognise it now, in the city of London they recognise it now – why the fuck don’t the Labour Party recognise it now? I’ve got to stop swearing.”

At a Unite the Resistance conference in November 2011, McDonnell praised the Occupy London movement and those campaigners who had set up a protest camp at St Paul’s Cathedral.

“Wherever there’s an occupation we automatically support it. And when those bailiffs come, we go into non-violent resistance in support of those occupations.

“If the bailiffs come to St Paul’s or Finsbury Square, and we know from St Paul’s it’s committed Christians who want to form a ring of prayer around them, what we want to do is surround them with a ring of working-class solidarity.”

He hailed the occupation of an empty UBS bank building in the City, which was taken over by protestors.

“I welcome the occupation yesterday of the UBS bank yesterday, what a fantastic initiative and breakthrough that is. Turning it into a bank not of money but of ideas of how we change the system itself.”

Getty
A protestor occupying the vacant UBS office in the City of London in 2011

McDonnell also said that he hoped the planned demonstrations that month were more than “just a few picket lines” and would instead be a “blockade of the City…and I think we should use organised labour to help them bring the City to a halt”.

At a Right To Work People’s Convention in 2011, he added: “What we’re about, is we’re about bringing this government down. There’s no other way, they’re not going to compromise.”

A spokesman for McDonnell told HuffPost UK: “It is well-documented that John has been a long-time campaigner and activist as a backbencher fighting for workplace rights, and standing up for those workers being overlooked by the political establishment”

Conservative MP Luke Hall said that just as with the Copeland by-election, the Shadow Chancellor’s remarks underlined the gap between Labour and mainstream voters.

“Labour don’t want to help people get on in life they want to bring the country into chaos and disarray,” he said.

“Labour are no longer speaking for ordinary working people, the Conservatives are the only party building a country that works for everyone not just the privileged few.”

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