Socialist Worker

The people's assembly

'We're going to express the anti-war views not properly represented in parliament.' Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, talks to Socialist Worker about next Wednesday's People's Assembly for Peace

Issue No. 1841

'THE IDEA for the assembly comes out of the historic demonstration on 15 February when two million people marched against the war. That protest made it clear that people are not only opposed to the war but that they also want to do something to stop it.

These views are not being properly represented in parliament. Last week's vote in the Commons was excellent, a real sign of how strong the anti-war mood has become. Far more MPs rebelled than had been expected. But it is still the case that the majority of the House of Commons is backing a policy which has very little support in the country as a whole.

On 15 February there were many people who made it clear that the government should listen to the people, not to George Bush or the oil companies. But the government is still not listening. The concept of the People's Assembly is to speak for the British people on this supremely important issue at this supremely important time.

It will be built on a democratic and representative basis as an additional form of pressure on the government. We are in an unprecedented position. There has not been such an attempt to take Britain into a war with so little popular support since politicians first had to submit to elections.

In normal times people are prepared to accept a certain dislocation between political representatives and the represented. They put up with the fact that their MPs don't fit in with the public mood on a range of issues and take their revenge at the next general election. But this is not one of these circumstances. It is a matter of war and peace and the issue is so urgent. We cannot tolerate a democratic gap of this nature.

The government has had a whole year to attempt to persuade us that war on Iraq is necessary. At the end of it there are fewer people supporting the government than at the start.

I hope the assembly will be as broad as the people who marched on 15 February. Local Stop the War Coalition groups may be the core of it. But there are hundreds of thousands of people who have taken part in marches against the war who have no direct contact with the coalition as yet, and they need to be brought in.

I would expect to see from every area trade unionists, representatives of the Muslim community, Labour Party people, Green Party people, Liberal Democrats, representatives of Christian churches where they're against war and of course people who have had no previous political involvement at all.

It would be good if black and Asian organisations, pensioners' groups, youth groups and women's organisations which marched in London sent delegates. If you marched on 15 February or if you would have liked to have marched, then you should have a representative at the assembly.

This will not be just another rally or another conference. It is something new, and seeks to be representative of a movement that is expanding very, very rapidly. The assembly will be a democratic body and when it comes together it will be in charge of its own agenda.

The coalition will put forward ideas of what to do and there are two things which come immediately to mind. First there will be a clear, unambiguous and powerful declaration of opposition to war. The precise formulation of that will depend on the assembly and the domestic and international situation on 12 March.

Second there should be a call to action. The assembly won't be sitting in isolation in London. It needs to be connected through mass action with people around the country who are not simply opposed to the war but want to do something about opposing it.

The assembly can be a great forum for legitimising such action. It will, we hope, be over 1,000 people and therefore will be able to unify initiatives and give some guidance to the movement as a whole.

All the ideas that people have of how to make the anti-war movement most effective can and should be discussed. Wherever the idea of the assembly has been raised the response has been immensely positive.

I've discussed it personally with a number of people in the trade union movement and there is a real enthusiasm about it. It is a logical development of the mass protests. We need to make it as big as possible.'

THE People's Assembly is receiving enthusiastic backing from local anti-war groups, trade unionists, community and many other groups.

AT AN anti-war rally following a lively demonstration of 100 people in Harlow in Essex last weekend, protesters voted for five of the demonstrators to be their delegates to represent them at the assembly. The London Transport Regional Council of the RMT rail union passed an emergency motion backing the People's Assembly.

It agreed to send five delegates from the regional council and two delegates from each RMT branch in London, making a total of 40 delegates. Unjum Mirza, a tube worker and the RMT political officer of the region, told Socialist Worker:

'There was widespread support for the idea of an assembly which will represent rail workers' views in a way they clearly aren't being represented by official channels. As well as backing for the People's Assembly we backed a motion supporting all members who protest, up to and including industrial action, in the event of war. This is an excellent chance for trade unionists to play a central part in organising and building the anti-war movement.'

Sheffield Trades Council also selected two delegates last week. Support for the assembly has taken off in Liverpool. Delegates have already been elected from two local schools - Calderstone and Wallasey High Schools.

There are two delegates elected from Liverpool NUT teachers' union, two from the PCS civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions, two from the RMT and two from Unison Community Health Branch.

This week workers at the Vauxhall car plant, the AC Delco factory, and firefighters along with a host of local anti-war groups in Liverpool will also be selecting delegates.

Over the next week these kind of examples need to be taken up in every city, town and area where the anti-war movement has taken off.

THE ASSEMBLY meets at 10am on Wednesday 12 March. The Stop the War Coalition is calling for delegates to be elected as soon as possible at the biggest and most representative meetings that can be convened in time.

If there are mass rallies and demonstrations planned between now and 12 March, these could endorse the delegates who have been elected. Local union branches, mosques and other groups could elect representatives. There will be a fee of £10 per representative.

Even if all reps cannot make 12 March this should not necessarily be a barrier to election. The assembly may continue/reconvene at a further date. Numbers attending at meetings which elect the delegates should be accurately recorded.

Phone or e-mail the names of your delegates through to the coalition office. E-mail office@stopwar.org.uk or phone 020 7053 2153/4/5/6 or 07951 235 915

'I support the call for the assembly. It can give real expression to people's desire for peace which is still not adequately represented in parliament. It is breathing life into the democratic idea. I hope the assembly wins very wide support and that everybody who can come will be there'
Tony Benn


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