HUGE NUMBERS of people marched through the streets of London last Saturday against the occupation of Iraq. Most wanted regime change too-here in Britain. The 100,000-strong protest was called by the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Muslim Association of Britain, and took place on the eve of the Labour Party conference.
Mainstream papers and television tried to play down the size and significance of Saturday's demonstration. But the march stretched all the way from Hyde Park, where it assembled, to Trafalgar Square where a closing rally was held.
In the square tens of thousands of people stood for hours listening to speeches. The demonstration reflected the nature of the movement against the war. Black,white and Asian, young and old, trade unionists and students all marched together. People from different groups and areas of the country blended together as the demonstration flowed through the streets. Sultana, a school student from Birmingham, told Socialist Worker why she was marching:
'People are disgusted that Iraq was attacked. Now we need to get the British and American soldiers out and let the Iraqis decide who rules them.'
Amy, a school student from Leeds, said, 'The occupation is getting worse and as things in Iraq get worse, so do the lies and the cover-ups. We have to get rid of Blair and Hoon.' Andy, a postal worker from Watford, said, 'The question of Iraq is linked to our dispute in the post office. They say they can't afford a pay rise, but they can afford to fight wars on several fronts. Issues like healthcare and the railways are not a priority for Blair. I think he should go.'
Mick Rix is the outgoing general secretary of the Aslef rail union. He spoke at the Trafalgar Square rally and won a big response, arguing, 'Let's give thanks to the people who have carried on fighting the US, colonialism, injustice, wars and terrorism. The real terrorists are the governments of the US and Britain. They have supported this illegal war and all the injustice in the world. There should be an international coalition force to remove Israel out of Palestine. We see the lies, the treachery, everything they throw at us. We are not going away. Looking at the banners and placards here today, I feel for the first time part of the majority. Blair must go.'
Saturday's London march made news across the world, with papers from Italy to Bangladesh running it on the front pages. And demonstrations against the occupation of took place on Saturday in many countries too.
Thousands marched in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Austria and South Korea, and there were smaller protests in countries from Cyprus to Uruguay.
Now make a date with Bush
SATURDAY'S demonstration showed that the anti-war movement in Britain is very much alive. After the fall of Baghdad to US forces many commentators thought the anti-war movement would go away.
Some within the movement thought there was now little point in demonstrating and pulled instead towards a focus on direct action by a small minority. The success of last weekend's protest shows instead that we can mobilise massive numbers to keep the issue of the war and the occupation of Iraq at the centre of the political agenda.
It also shows the possibilities of mobilising on a big scale when the chief warmonger, George Bush, visits Britain on Wednesday 19, Thursday 20 and Friday 21 November. Everywhere we need to begin now to organise and make it clear to Blair that if Bush comes he will be met with another storm of protest, and one which will bring his own departure from Downing Street even closer.
...And if Blair goes?
Looking for a political voice
THE VAST majority of people on Saturday's demonstration agreed that Blair must go. But there was real discussion of what the alternative to Blair is. Few of those marching looked to the Liberal Democrats as the answer. When a Lib Dem speaker at Saturday's rally tried to claim the party was the alternative to Blair it won little response from the crowd.
A group of Labour Party members from Brent East, who had seen their candidate defeated in the recent by-election by a Liberal Democrat who was able to capitalise on discontent with New Labour, were furious with Blair. Jaqui told Socialist Worker, 'We lost in Brent because of a lack of trust, over the war but also over privatisation and other issues. I think Blair should go. But it's a wider question than just the leadership of the party. We have to reclaim the party.'
Some demonstrators thought that the idea of 'reclaiming' Labour was a dead end. Martin from Liverpool explained, 'I left the Labour Party when they bombed Afghanistan. The anti-war movement has had a big impact on my political views. I have radicalised and I've learnt a lot from the movement. Now I've joined the Socialist Alliance. I think we need a socialist solution, not a choice between Blair or Brown.'
Film-maker Ken Loach spoke at the rally in Trafalgar Square and argued, 'If now is not the time to build a party of real socialism, then when is the time? If anyone thinks replacing Blair with Brown would make a blind bit of difference they are living in a different world. There are three demands-end the lies, end the illegal occupation and let's organise a movement to represent the interests of people, not big business.'
Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, told the crowd, 'My union set up the Labour Party. It's not about running away from it. I think some people need to examine their conscience if George Galloway gets expelled on 22 October. Will they still be saying, 'Save the Labour Party'? Unless New Labour changes its ways dramatically on foreign policy and every policy against working people, we'll be supporting other parties.'
'We represent the majority'
'YOU ARE here representing the consciences of millions of people-the majority in Britain. The latest opinion poll shows that 52 percent of people don't think the war was justified. This is our fourth demonstration in a year. We have had the biggest demonstration ever in Britain in peacetime and the biggest ever demonstration during a war. The war and the occupation are not over. Tony Blair said the war would be over quickly, that the Iraqi people would welcome us. They are demonstrating every week against the occupation. George Bush declared the war was over. Since then there have been 1,000 Iraqis killed every week. More US soldiers have died than during the war.
We have a message for Bush and Blair. The Iraqi people have every right to run their own country. This is an illegal colonial occupation. End it now. To add insult to injury Tony Blair has invited George Bush to Britain. The chief warmonger will be staying at Buckingham Palace at our expense. If Blair wants bigger demonstrations keep inviting George Bush to Britain. We are going to bring London and Britain to a standstill. We have created the biggest political crisis this government has seen. We are out to end the occupation of Iraq and win peace and justice.'
LINDSEY GERMAN, Stop the War Coalition convenor
'Let's make our voices heard'
'WAR HAS been a disaster for those who waged it and those who are occupied. It is the armed robbery of Iraq. The first time I came to this square was 50 years ago when Eden launched war against Egypt. A few months later Eden was out. I was here in 1964 in support of 'terrorist' Nelson Mandela, and here for the poll tax, and many other demos. Trafalgar Square is the real parliament of the country. Let's see to it our voices are heard.'
'The UN is not the answer'
'MANY PEOPLE who are opposed to the occupation by US and Britain call for UN forces to replace them. This is a very bad mistake. It makes the UN the dustbin where the US drops its failed colonial adventures. If it is prepared to mop up, it allows George Bush's perpetual war to go to one country after another. Tough as the current arrangement may be, the best place for soldiers is pinned down in Iraq. They can't go on and invade anywhere else!
The UN is no more legitimate than the US in occupation. It gives retrospective legitimacy to an illegal US occupation. What is the answer? It is obvious. The transition to democracy should start right away, run by Iraqis, not occupying powers. Let George Bush go down. Let his imperial ambitions swallow him.'
GEORGE MONBIOT, Journalist
'Iraq will be like Vietnam'
'TALK ABOUT the UN is a very dangerous diversion. Iraq controlled by foreigners wearing blue helmets or stars and stripes is still foreign occupiers. It is not the solution to Iraq's problems. They are Iraq's problems. I have watched the film Platoon. You see the horror and the degradation that inevitably accompanies foreign invasion and occupation. That is under way in Iraq now.
US forces rampage through Iraq. This is the road the US has taken. If the US does not leave Iraq of its own volition, it will leave like the US was forced to leave Vietnam. George Bush has been invited to Britain. We can turn those days into a festival of opposition to British and US imperialism.'
George Galloway MP