Socialist Worker

'Now the anti-war majority is on the march. Build the 15 Feb protest'

Issue No. 1834

Landmark conference met as opposition is shaking Blair

Landmark conference met as opposition is shaking Blair (Pic: Socialist Worker)

The Stop the War Coalition conference in London last Saturday was a huge success. It was a historic gathering, reflecting the mushrooming anti-war movement right across Britain. 'The anti-war majority is on the march and determined to win,' said Labour MP George Galloway, giving one of the day's keynote speeches.

The conference was twice as big as anyone had expected, with over 800 delegates from local groups and affiliated unions and organisations. Young and old, socialists, trade unionists, peace campaigners, representatives of Muslim organisations and many, many more all united around the single message 'No war'.

Motions, elections for a steering committee and much else all had their place. But the central thrust of the conference was a determination to build the 15 February national demonstration, and to prepare for mass, militant protest if war breaks out.

Speakers spelled out how the movement had already rocked the warmongers. 'When defence secretary Geoff Hoon announced the military deployment to MPs and was met by a stony silence interrupted only by vociferous opposition to war, you knew something had changed,' argued George Galloway.

'When political journalist Andrew Marr says he can't find a single cabinet minister who would privately support the war, you know we are at a turning point. There are 100 MPs against the war because there are millions of ordinary people on the move, because we have built a united anti-war movement. MPs know the ground has shifted under their feet. 15 February is a red letter day for us-it will be one of the most important days of our lives so far. The whole world will be watching us and millions of others who will be demonstrating around the world. Britain is a key battleground. If we can cut the umbilical cord that links Blair to George Bush, if we pull Britain out of the war, it will have a tremendous impact on the anti-war movement in the US.'

Asad Rehman of the Stop the War Coalition put the movement in Britain in its global context, 'The Stop the War Coalition demonstration last September had a huge impact. We helped to make sure a million people marched against war at the European Social Forum in Florence last November.

We helped to make sure that the meeting of the social movements at Florence adopted a resolution for a united day of anti-war action across Europe. If Bush and Blair can coordinate their action, we have to coordinate ours. On 15 February we will all be marching behind banners that say 'No to war on Iraq'.

This is now a truly global movement. Activists will be discussing building opposition to the war at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. On 15 February we will be marching in Cairo, Australia, Manila, New York, Glasgow, Berlin, Skopje, Athens, Paris, Copenhagen, Rome, Stockholm, Oslo, Amsterdam and hundreds of other places around the world.

On that day all the leaders of the world will quiver in fear at the sight of our movement-black and white, Jews and Arabs, trade unionists and students, all marching together.'

Stop the War Coalition national convenor Lindsey German argued, 'The anti-war feeling is stronger than it has ever been before a war has actually taken place, and the movement is still developing. Events in the last week show we do have the power to stop the war.

Our demos, our protests, our activities have built this movement and forced Tony Blair to say maybe we should delay the war until the autumn. Now is the time to put on more pressure and break Blair from Bush. If Blair comes to think war will split the Labour Party, he will have to think again about supporting Bush.

Our movement is inspiring people around the world. The demo on 28 September showed that demonstrations do make a huge difference. It had a huge impact on the trade unions and gave people a sense of confidence everywhere. This sort of pressure is pushing MPs to come out against the war. 15 February is only a few weeks away. We have to really go for it. Three major organisations-the Stop the War Coalition, CND and the Muslim Association of Britain-have come together to organise this demo because we are a united, diverse, open movement.

We don't know when war will break out, but if it does we want a howl of protest and rage against the war everywhere. Some people can do what the train drivers in Motherwell have done and refuse to move military supplies.

Some can occupy their colleges or hold school assemblies. For others it will be a protest to wear a badge to work. We have to be big enough to make Blair more frightened of us than he is of George Bush.'

Ahmed Ben Bella: There is new hope now'

Ahmed Ben Bella was a leader of the Algerian liberation struggle and the first president of independent Algeria in the 1960s. Now he is a key figure in the global anti-war movement, and addressed Saturday's conference:

'I am 86 years old. I spent 24 years in a French prison. But I liberated my country. I was appointed president of the international movement launched at the Cairo conference in December. Organisations from the South and the North met together to organise common actions to fight against the global system of capital. The world system must be changed. It has had its time.

There are 400 multinational corporations who control the majority of the world's wealth. Bush's policies reflect the interests of these corporations. He is attacking Iraq because of these interests-they include oil.

General Motors has four times as much wealth as a country like Egypt with 70 million inhabitants. The 84 richest people in the world have an income greater than that of China. There is terror in the world. It is that of Mr Bush. There are 35 million people who die of hunger every year. That is terrorism.

The South-Africa-is totally devastated. We in the South are not responsible for this. The global system is responsible. Poverty is endemic in the South and it is spreading to the North. Here, and in France, there is too much poverty.

In the North the movement which is fighting back gives you hope. This movement is very important. I was in Florence-there is hope today, especially among the young. We live in a dangerous situation. Bush has decided to attack. There are one or two ways in which the war machine can be stopped.

The first is if the American people demonstrate in the streets as they did over Vietnam. They can stop Bush.

There is another way. It lies with people here in Britain. If one or two million say no to war, they can stop Blair. I have known war. War is a terrible thing. We must stop Bush and Blair, and it is you who can stop them.'

How can we make the most impact?

During the conference there was a lot of discussion about the most effective way to oppose the war and how to increase the pressure on Blair. Some argued that the focus should be on groups of people taking more militant action.

But the overwhelming number of delegates felt that mass demonstrations were crucial to involving the widest number of people and giving large numbers of people the confidence to take more action.

Chris Bambery, a delegate from Kensington and Chelsea Stop the War Coalition, argued that there had to be a massive turnout on 15 February. He argued, 'If the demo on 15 February is not bigger than the last one, imagine how Blair will smirk and how Condoleezza Rice, who had to comment on the last demo, will crow. Imagine how the people in Egypt facing repression to oppose war, and how the train drivers in Scotland who refused to move military supplies, will feel.

15 February will be the launch pad for a mass campaign of civil disobedience involving workers walking out, pensioners blockading roads and students occupying colleges.

There is no contradiction between demonstrating and direct action. During the Vietnam War the movement went from the streets to the workplaces and the ghettos and back to the streets.'

Most delegates backed this approach. They supported a strategy of organising mass civil disobedience if war breaks out, rather than relying on a few people taking direct action on behalf of the mass movement.

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Sat 18 Jan 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1834
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