Socialist Worker

The movement that is changing politics

Issue No. 1846

THE BBC's political editor, Andrew Marr, last week tried to claim that the anti-war movement had melted away. His 'proof' was that the day before war started thousands of protesters filled Parliament Square but a few days later the square was empty. What he didn't mention was that no demo had been called for that day! A meeting of Socialist Workers Party members last Sunday discussed building the anti-war movement.

Lindsey German, the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, outlined the prospects for the movement.

'THE achievements of the Stop the War Coalition have been immense. The demo on 15 February of two million was the biggest ever in this country. The demo on 22 March of 500,000 was the biggest ever in wartime. We helped kick off the school students' walkouts, industrial action against war, and the People's Assembly.

'The level of activity remains very, very high. Two weeks ago there were 15,000 people demonstrating in Edinburgh. Last Saturday there were 3,000 at the US embassy in London, 500 in Bedford and demos elsewhere. The anti-war meetings are as big as ever.

'When the press interviews me they always ask why no one is marching. I have to keep explaining that we don't organise demos every day! Lots of new people are still getting involved in the movement. The opinion polls are always shifting but they all show at least one third of people still oppose war.

'Everything we said about this war has been proved to be true. It is not about weapons of mass destruction and it is not a war of liberation. Of course, the outbreak of war had an impact. Before the war there were divisions in the ruling class that made it easier to put the anti-war arguments. Papers like the Daily Mirror were firmly anti-war. Now the government and the media put the line that, now we are fighting, we must support 'our troops'.

'Some politicians like Charles Kennedy and Mo Mowlam have jumped ship, but many other people have not. This is particularly true of the unions. Unison, for example, offered to provide stewards for the 12 April demo. The trade union leaders have a closer relationship with their members than the MPs do.

'Some people have been intimidated by the barrage of pro-war propaganda. The lies the US government gets away with beggar belief, and without journalists like Robert Fisk they would get away with even more. The attack on George Galloway in the Sun was almost certainly encouraged by Downing Street to shut George up and intimidate the rest of the anti-war MPs. Much of the revulsion against Blair that has been suppressed for the duration of the war can break out when it ends.

'There is an argument about whether to keep coming to mass demonstrations in London. A few people talk about 'demo fatigue'. This is not about people being tired. Lots of people are active all the time against the war. This is a political argument, and a vital one. National demonstrations are a chance to regroup and build up our confidence. They prove we have not gone away.

'They have a huge impact internationally. We know our big national demonstrations prove to people opposing the war in repressive regimes in the Middle East that they are part of a global movement. We are marching in solidarity with them. And we have to keep hitting at the heart of government.'

Look at this example

By Michael Lavalette, Preston Stop the War Coalition

COMMENTATORS WHO pretend the anti-war movement has disappeared should come to Preston. More people have opposed or questioned the war the longer it has gone on. A group, mainly of white women from one council estate in Preston, has formed Families Against the War. They contacted our local Stop the War Coalition because they 'wanted to come under our umbrella'.

They organised a successful parents' and children's protest against the war in a park. We have been holding fortnightly steering group meetings of the Stop the War Coalition in Preston for the last three months.

The group has tried to ensure that everyone we have been working with is contacted about these meetings and not just the public activities we organise. The result is that the steering meetings draw between 60 and 90 people. In the week running up to national demonstrations we have had up to 120. I phoned people beforehand to ask them to introduce particular topics - the People's Assembly, school strikes, bus details, and so on.

Many of the people I've asked to speak are new to political activity. Some are nervous at first and take some persuading. But now large numbers have become confident and good anti-war speakers. These steering groups have reflected the Preston community as a whole. Our youngest activists are some school students, but we have two people in their eighties.

There are lots of people from the Asian community - but most people at the meetings are white, again a reflection of Preston. We have three councillors who regularly attend - Elaine Abbot, and Joyce and Terry Cartwright. There are several local union officials and officers involved.

Recently we set up a separate school students group, university group and a group in Broadgate (a district in Preston). All these are functioning in their own right. We have stalls every Saturday. We elected delegates from each of the groups and communities for the People's Assembly, so we had a delegation of 16.

The school students worked hard to get a strike on the day war broke out and sent out flying pickets to get 600 out. It was a very lively day. They sat down in the roads. The following day about 300 school students came back, joined by about 600 students from the university. Again it was a great day.

That night about 300 older people came to the 6pm rally. The evening rally included handing over a petition to the local MP. He refused to meet us or take it. This petition had originated in the Muslim community but they came to us to work with them. They gave themselves one week to get 10,000 names. Hendrick, the MP, has a majority of 12,000, and they wanted to put pressure on him. The petition called for opposition to the war with or without a second UN resolution. We handed the petition to the Constituency Labour Party meeting that Hendrick was at. They wouldn't allow a delegation in.

Hendrick scoffed at our claims and said it was never 10,000 names. He got someone to count them. There were 10,253. Two weeks ago we organised a local march after the police tried to restrict us to having a static rally. We had a great turnout. Even the police said there were 500 protesters - big for Preston.

Two days later we held the biggest meeting for many years in the town with former Express journalist Yvonne Ridley and John Rees from the Stop the War Coalition. About 600 people packed into the hall to listen. Everyone was determined to keep on fighting and get to London for the demonstration this Saturday.

Support from every section of society

GHADA RAZUKI left Iraq in the late 1960s and has lived in Britain since. She has worked as a firefighter and is now working in the Stop the War Coalition office. Ghada talked to Socialist Worker last week about the calls and e-mails the office was receiving from across Britain.

'LBC RADIO assumed the coalition had shut up shop after the war started. One of their journalists couldn't get through on the phone. I had to explain to them that that was because the phones have been going non-stop as people have rung in to ask what they can do to oppose the war. It's very hard to get out of the office in the evening as the phones are going with people ringing up after work.

'Despite the propaganda blitz, more and more people understand the truth about this war. The gung-ho coverage has really angered the millions of people who were already anti-war. And we are also getting calls from people who have not taken part in activities before.

'A lecturer from Harrow has just rung up to say she has organised a group of people and wants to block the M25. The calls are coming from all sections of society, from pensioners to school students. There are over 500 local Stop the War Coalitions that we know about and more are springing up all the time.

'People want a focus so they can show their opposition to the war and what Bush and Blair plan for Iraq.'

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Article information

Sat 12 Apr 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1846
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