PEOPLE PACKED into the council chamber in Birmingham last Sunday evening. But this was a very different type of meeting from the usual stuffy, bureaucratic gatherings of councillors. The chamber was filled with over 250 Birmingham residents - young and old, black, white and Asian.
There were Labour Party members, veteran CND and peace activists, school students, people from local Stop the War groups and trade unionists, including council and hospital workers. They were united by their hatred of Bush and Blair's war in Iraq and by the desire to construct an alternative to the mainstream parties.
The meeting, titled 'British politics at the crossroads', was a brilliant first step to bring people together to discuss that process. The main speaker, George Galloway, received a thunderous welcome and support for speaking the truth about the war.
He stressed that the key question facing the movement is, 'What is to be done?'
'The question might be answered for me,' he said, referring to his suspension from the Labour Party. 'But all on the left, in all parties and none, have to consider urgently how to take the great movement which rejected war and imperialism forward in a progressive political direction.'
John Rees from the Socialist Alliance also stressed that the movement against the war was not a passing mood. 'We've built the huge mass movement, and we have to begin the work of constructing an alternative,' he said.
Dr Nasim, chair of the central mosque in Birmingham, said that however hard it was to break with mainstream parties like Labour, that the decision had to be made. 'Don't forget,' he said to applause, 'it is us that have been betrayed. No one asked the rank and file of the Labour Party if they wanted to change and become New Labour.'
Contributions from the floor ranged from a report on the US's disaster in Afghanistan to practical questions on what the movement should do now. Salma Yaqoob from the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition said, 'We have to consolidate the existing groups opposing the government. We need a coalition of groups that can stand up in opposition to the mainstream parties.'
She added, 'We have to agree on a set of unifying principles. We need more meetings like this. We need to go round street by street, talking to people.' George Galloway summed up the meeting by stressing the importance of the reconvening of the People's Assembly on 30 August and of the next Stop the War national march on 27 September.