Socialist Worker

Thousands gather in anti-war protests

Issue No. 1841

'I AM 50 years old and have never taken part in any sort of political activity. But this is about life and death and nothing is going too far.' That comment came from Angela Wilson, who joined the anti-war demonstration in Swindon last Saturday.

It was one of many protests which took place last weekend including Birmingham, Swindon, Swansea, Southport, Nelson, Brighton, Northampton, Stafford, Harlow and elsewhere.

Some 1,500 people took to the streets of Canterbury for an anti-war protest on Thursday of last week.

It marked Blair's visit for the enthronement of the new archbishop. Jon Flaig reported, 'It included local people from every school, college and many workplaces in the area. People who came along during their lunch hour decided to skip work and stay all afternoon! The protest was full of music, whistles and voices against the war that reached into the cathedral as the door opened to admit the new archbishop.'

More demonstrations are planned this weekend and next across Britain, including what looks set to be a huge protest in Manchester on Saturday. All reports stress the numbers of young people and school, further education and university students taking part.

That mood was reflected last week in Glasgow where around 800 school students walked out of classes to join a militant protest against war (report on page 3). In Portsmouth, university students were joined by local school and further education students to stage an anti-war occupation.

Trade unionists and workers have also been organising against war. The CWU post and telecom workers' union has officially agreed that it 'will campaign for all members to take protest action' if war breaks out. CWU executive member Jane Loftus told Socialist Worker, 'The vote was passed unanimously. Now we need to campaign to turn this into reality in local offices and depots. 'It would be great if members locally held meetings to discuss the war and how to implement opposition to it.'

Oli Rahman is branch chair of the PCS civil servants' union for job centres and benefit offices in east London. He reports, 'We had our branches annual general meeting last week with a speaker from the Stop the War Coalition. The 60 people there debated an emergency resolution on the war. We passed it, with only two votes against. It said 'If the war does break out we agree to organise work stoppages and members' meetings in protest'.'

In scores of areas local anti-war meetings have been taking place, with many more planned in the coming week. Gareth Edwards reports from Portsmouth University that, 'Around 200 people joined a demonstration outside Portsmouth students' union last week.

'Not only was it well attended by university students but there were delegations from two local schools and two further education colleges, as well as support from lecturers. The vice-chancellor had walked past and said he was happy to hear our concerns and that we should e-mail him. We thought it easier to pay him a visit and explain ourselves face to face!

'So for two hours the 200 students occupied the main university admin building, demanding that the university take an anti-war stance. People have been buzzing since the occupation. It is the ideal springboard for us to push for further direct action when the war breaks out.'

Iain Ferguson from Stirling University in Scotland reports, 'More than 250 students and staff attended an anti-war meeting last Wednesday. After listening to powerful speeches against war those present voted to walk out of classes in the event of war.'

From Birmingham Matthew Cookson reports that 'the city saw a noisy, lively protest of up to 5,000 people last Saturday. The demonstration included many white, black and Asian people marching alongside each other. Hundreds of young people from the city's schools, colleges and universities joined the march. Rachel, Abeer and Emily came from their sixth form college in Edgbaston. 'I have family who live in Iraq,' said Abeer. 'I am sure they want Saddam Hussein to go but war is not the way to go about it.'

'A number of angry Labour Party members protested against the war. 'Mark Wood, a Unison union member in Sandwell, said, 'I won't be a member as soon as Blair decides to go to war, but I certainly wouldn't be leaving politics. If they go to war we have to mobilise against its continuation'.'

From Daniel White reports, 'Some 200 anti-war protesters greeted foreign secretary Jack Straw as he arrived last week to give a speech to the North West Regional Labour Party conference. An anti-war demonstrator was able to gain access to the hall and interrupted Mr Straw twice before being carried out by two policemen.'

Alison Gander from Nelson in Lancashire reports, 'We held a rally of around 50 people in the town centre on Saturday. We encouraged people to come to the Manchester demo next Saturday, and to protest at the local war memorial on the day war starts.'

From Swindon Charlie Kimber reports, 'Around 300 people protested on Saturday against the war. Terry Marshall, a factory worker, said, 'I have arguments with my mates about whether to support a war. But every week a few more people are against it. 'The demonstration in London on 15 February was the first time I've done anything like that. I came back full of confidence and full of anger at the war.

'It's great to see so many young people involved in the anti-war protests. I'd like to see the trade unions taking up the campaign with as much energy and determination.' A rally at the end of the march saw a debate between local MP Julia Drown (who backed Blair in last week's vote) and Andy Newman from the local Stop the War Coalition.

Drown was loudly booed when she said that she was working through the United Nations and Tony Blair had been an important restraining influence on Bush. Andy Newman who pointed out the hypocrisy of Bush and Blair and talked about democracy was cheered. Drown was left in no doubt about what her constituents felt.'

From Swansea Martin Chapman reports, 'The Welsh Labour Party was rocked last week as the anti-war campaign targeted its annual conference. On the Thursday of conference some delegates tried to get the agenda changed to include discussion of Iraq, but to no avail. MP Llew Smith actually had the microphone switched off on him as he was trying to speak. Many delegates then joined Friday's hundreds-strong Stop the War Coalition protest outside the conference. There was a contingent from Olchfa School and a further 50 students from Bishop Gore School. Thirty students came from the art college and around 100 Swansea University students marched to the protest.'

Manus McGrogan from Brighton reports, 'On Saturday up to 500 people demonstrated here against an attack on Iraq. The protesters made a big impact, and brought traffic to a halt.'

Tom Sullivan from Northampton reports, 'Despite very short notice around 150 marched through the town centre in a vocal demonstration on Saturday.' From Harlow Tony Sullivan reports, 'Around 100 people joined an anti-war march through the town centre on Saturday. It reflected the widening base of the anti-war movement locally.'

Siegrid Prasad from Stafford reports, 'Around 200 people marched against war from Stafford town centre to a local RAF base on Saturday. It was the biggest demonstration seen in Stafford for many years.'

Join the anti-war protests

  • Manchester Saturday 8 March, demonstration, 1pm, three assembly points: All Saints Park, Oxford Road; Salford Crescent, outside university; and Heywood Street, Cheetham Hill. Rally and anti-war festival, 3pm, Albert Square and surrounding streets.
  • Sheffield Saturday 8 March, demonstration, assemble 11am at local sites, then 12 noon Barkers Pool, outside City Hall.
  • Nottingham Saturday 8 March, demonstration, assemble 12 noon, Forest Recreation Ground, march to Market Square.
  • Barnsley Saturday 8 March, demonstration, assemble 10.30am, Churchfields.
  • Sunderland Saturday 8 March, demonstration and rally, assemble 10.30am, Mowbray Park.
  • Newcastle Monday 10 March, rally, 7pm, Tyne Theatre, Westgate Road.
  • Newcastle Saturday 15 March, assemble 10.30am, Civic Centre.
  • York Saturday 15 March, assemble 12 noon, Clifford's Tower.
  • Exeter Saturday 15 March, assemble 12 noon, Belmont Park.
  • Leeds Saturday 15 March, 12 noon, Dortmund Square, Headrow.

    Plans for more global action

    DELEGATES FROM the anti-war movements in 26 countries and three continents met together in London last Saturday to discuss the next steps against war. Everyone who spoke reported on the rapidly growing opposition to war. An Italian delegate caught the spirit of the meeting when she said, 'From now we need permanent, daily mobilisation against this war.'

    Everyone agreed we need to escalate resistance. The amount of action planned is impressive. Already in Italy dockers in Genoa and Livorno have voted to refuse to load military supplies, and students in the US and many other countries are set to strike or occupy on Wednesday of this week.

    Delegates from Greece and Belgium reported that trade unions in their countries were already organising national strike action against war on 21 March. The Greek trade union confederation has called a four-hour strike on that day to coincide with the European Union summit in Brussels.

    The meeting called for the 21 March to become an international day of workplace action against war. Trade unionists were encouraged to organise whatever form of action they can - workplace assemblies, half-hour stoppages or longer walkouts if possible.

    It could even include a protest like everyone wearing a badge, if that is what is appropriate. Many countries are organising demonstrations on International Women's Day on 8 March. Others are calling demos on 15 March to coincide with action in Washington. The meeting warned the masters of war that if they attack Iraq there will be two massive coordinated global days of protest. One delegate said, 'On the day they start a war we want the world to stop.'

    Where possible people should simply stop what they are doing and go straight to the protest. The next Saturday there will be mass demonstrations as a follow-up to 15 February in as many capital cities as possible.

    Entwined in the movement against war there's a desire to reinvent democracy, to assert different priorities. That was one reason why many activists welcomed the idea of popular assemblies suggested by British delegates.
    Chris Nineham

    100,000 in Egypt

    EGYPT'S CAPITAL city, Cairo, saw its biggest anti-war protest on Thursday of last week. Over 100,000 people rallied in a huge stadium. The police had to turn thousands of people away. The rally was organised by trade unions and opposition parties.

    The pro-US government sanctioned the protest, as it is becoming more worried by the feeling against war on Iraq. The National Democratic Party of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, has even announced that it will organise an anti-war demonstration.

    The authorities have arrested a number of anti-war protestors in recent weeks. An international campaign has been set up in support of them.

  • For further information, or to register support, e-mail Jonathan Neale of the International Campaign Against US Aggression on Iraq at or phone 07986 220 641.
  • Register your protest with the Egyptian embassy in London. Phone 020 7499 2401.

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    Article information

    Sat 8 Mar 2003, 00:00 GMT
    Issue No. 1841
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