THE DEMONSTRATIONS last Saturday have plunged Tony Blair into the biggest political crisis of his life. Every commentator knows it. Blair knows it. For days the media has been filled with attempts to understand the demonstrations, and speculation about whether Blair can ride out the storm. Now we have to cause such turmoil that Blair is forced from office. If we don't shift Blair, we allow him to ignore democracy.
An opinion poll this week showed a huge leap in the number of people against military action on Iraq. It is, as the Guardian said, 'a significant personal failure for Tony Blair in his attempt to persuade British public opinion'. Over the same period support for the war has slumped to 29 percent from 39 percent.
'What was a one-point gap has become a 23-point chasm between the two sides of the debate,' says the Guardian. One Labour MP told newspapers last weekend, 'It is now a firm view right across the Labour Party that Tony Blair is finished because of his refusal to listen to overwhelming opposition to war with Iraq.'
Most of the media claimed that Blair and Prescott's calls for the party to back war were well received at Labour's spring conference in Glasgow. But the Financial Times reported, 'Labour activists greeted John Prescott's call to rally round the party line on Iraq with the same stony silence accorded to Tony Blair's defence of military action the day before.
'Ministers looking out through the glass walls of the conference centre at the thousands of anti-war marchers chanting outside admitted the mood of the country was against them.' Foreign secretary Jack Straw admitted this week that it would be 'very difficult indeed' to go to war if most people were against it.
We need to make the opposition even more terrifying to Blair and his circle. We can't rely on anyone else to oppose the war. Leaders of other countries may cynically change their position at any time.
Most MPs will focus on the next party conference or after the next general election as the time to challenge Blair. Action is needed now-on the streets, in the workplaces and the colleges, as we detail on page 5.
The trade union leaders must be pressured to start acting, not just talking, against the war. After the First World War the TUC passed a rule which states, 'In order that the trade union movement may do everything which lies in its power to prevent future wars, the general council shall, in the event of there being a danger of an outbreak of war, call a special congress to decide on industrial action, such congress to be called, if possible, before war is declared.'
That should happen immediately. The trade union leaders should cut off all funds to the Labour Party and withdraw all resources for the forthcoming elections. They should encourage and organise militant action by their members.
Many union leaders have rightly said that war on Iraq would be mass murder. That is surely enough of an emergency to go beyond the limits imposed by the anti-union laws. Last Saturday was a watershed. It is time to go even further. We need a more powerful movement and a stronger political alternative to New Labour.
WHERE WERE anti-war protesters banned from marching and threatened by riot police? In New York, within sight of the United Nations headquarters. Police hemmed protesters in. At one point officers charged with batons into a group because they weren't staying on the pavement. Brian Campbell, from Left Turn, was at the protest.
He reported, 'Over half a million people converged on the freezing streets of New York City to tell Bush that ordinary Americans want no part of his war on Iraq. The numbers were so large that after a few hours the New York Police Department's elaborate barricade system that forced protesters to walk for miles before they could join the protest was torn down and protesters took over the streets. Protesters enjoying the carnival atmosphere merged with groups representing political causes and trade unionists. A large contingent of Palestinian supporters rallied at the Israeli consulate before joining the demonstration. There were 71 feeder marches. All were in violation of the police department's no-march order - but it was powerless to stop them.'
A growing movement
THE MASS protests last weekend across the world were a turning point in global politics and the birth of a new movement. Over 20 million people were so enraged and horrified by the threat of war on Iraq that they took to the streets.
In country after country they stripped away the pretence that government leaders have any sort of popular support when they back war. The demand for peace came from every continent.
It gave a glimpse of how people can be united across boundaries and how we can overcome all the divisions that our rulers try so hard to impose. This is the power that can stop war.
But the protesters' strength, imagination and determination also gave a glimpse of a movement that can reshape the world so that people come before profit. That's why we have devoted the bulk of this issue of Socialist Worker to those protests, and how we can build that movement.
WAR ON IRAQ... FIREFIGHTERS...
Where is New Labour going?
Speakers: George Galloway MP, Bob Crow RMT general secretary*, Christine Blower former NUT president*, Mark Serwotka PCS general secretary*, John Rees Socialist Alliance, Linda Smith London region FBU treasurer (*personal capacity)
Monday 3 March, 7.30pm, Friends Meeting House, Euston Road, London