A WEEK of protest against a huge government-sponsored arms fair kicked off with a march through central London last Saturday. On Tuesday morning there was a lively protest outside the arms fair itself in east London's Docklands, and yet more protests were set for Wednesday. The British government is pouring hundreds of thousands of public money into the Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi) arms fair.
Thousands of representatives of governments and arms firms from around the world converged on east London to discuss the buying and selling of everything from tanks and guns to missiles and cluster bombs. At least two producers of depleted uranium shells are exhibiting at the fair. The last time the DSEi arms fair was held in 2001, undercover reporters found illegal land-mines being sold.
Also during the last arms fair, the events of 11 September took place. While in colleges and workplaces across the country millions of people stopped work out of respect for the victims, the arms manufacturers continued their trade. You can imagine the excitement with which they greeted the proposed 'war on terrorism'.
A top police spokesman said last week that their 'aim is to provide a safe environment for all those involved with DSEi.' No such 'safe environment' will be there for the thousands of men, women and children who will face the weapons on sale at the arms fair. Regimes with some of the world's worst human rights records such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and Colombia will be attending the arms fair.
They were all invited by Tony Blair's government. Defence secretary Geoff Hoon was to open the event. Anger at the arms fair and New Labour's support for it saw thousands of people travelling to Docklands to join a week of protests, vigils and blockades. Last Saturday the Campaign Against the Arms Trade brought almost 1,500 people together to march through central London.
Greens, peace activists and stop the war campaigners marched with anti-capitalists and others on an entirely peaceful march. Tuesday and Wednesday were to see a whole variety of protests. Globalise Resistance brought a huge pink tank on Tuesday. There was to be a Critical Mass cycle ride.
The movement against the war on Iraq united millions in their opposition. That unity was also evident in the streets of east London this week, opposing New Labour's trade in blood.