People from across Britain joined the march for peace and liberty in central London today. The demonstration of around 100,000 was organised by the Stop the War Coalition, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB).
The diversity of the protest was impressive, as groups of people widely differing in age, race and background marched together in the sunshine united against war, racism and attacks on civil liberties.
Protesters were determined not to allow the government to use the bombings in London on 7 July to scapegoat Muslims and push through attacks on civil liberties.
Events in Iraq this week — where British soldiers who were arrested after shooting dead an Iraqi policeman at a road-block in Basra were then freed from prison by a raid with tanks — confirmed many people’s view that the occupation is only bringing chaos to Iraq.
The mass demonstration, like the one in Washington in the US on the same day, was also demanding the troops get out as soon as possible.
The lively and colourful march made its way from outside parliament to Hyde Park.
A large number of Gate Gourmet workers, whose campaign for justice after being sacked from their jobs at Heathrow airport has won huge sympathy, joined the demonstration chanting, “Troops out, workers in”.
One sacked worker told Socialist Worker, “We want to let the world know about what’s going on. Our management is ruthless and it is trying to get away with sacking permanent staff and replacing them with scab labour.
“Everyone should worry about this. There is also a feeling against the war.”
Another worker said, “We are here to support the people on the demonstration, and we want their support.
“What is going on — in Britain and Iraq — is wrong. The troops should come home.”
Susan Smith, whose son Philip Hewitt, a British soldier, was killed in Iraq ten weeks ago, handed a letter in to Downing Street calling on prime minister Tony Blair to bring the troops home.
She read it out at the rally in Hyde Park which concluded the march. Part of the letter said, “The Iraqi people see our soldiers as invaders. How many more must die before you listen?
“It is ten weeks today since my son was killed. Please listen. There shouldn’t be any more.”
Tony Benn, the president of the Stop the War Coalition, said, “The world is aflame with war. But today we are keeping alight the flame of anger against injustice and the flame of hope that we can build a better world together.”
Ismail Patel, of the Friends of Al Aqsa, which defends Palestinian rights, said, “Tony Blair says we have race relations problems in Britain, but he should come and see us here in Hyde Park. There are no problems here.
“There is a drive to make Muslims third class citizens, like the black people in New Orleans in the US. But we are here to stay and here to fight to retain our freedom and our civil liberties.”
John Rees, the national secretary of the Respect coalition, said, “The government is lecturing us about civil liberties and how the Muslim community has to integrate.
“I was born and breed in this country but I won’t integrate into Tony Blair’s pro-war, pro-privatisation and authoritarian Britain. This protest is the most integrated Britain there is — Muslims, black, white, gay, straight, all marching together.
“We want peace. Stay together and stay fighting.”
Vivian de Menezes, a member of the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian who was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police in a botched anti-terrorist operation at Stockwell tube station in July, also addressed the rally. She called on everyone to support the family’s campaign for justice.
Veteran anti-war campaigner Tariq Ali said, “The Labour Party conference begins tomorrow in Brighton. It is a neutered conference, denied of all power to change policies.
“This demonstration is more representative of the feeling of the British people than the Labour conference. Ever since Bush and Blair conspired to go to war in Iraq the majority of European people have opposed it.
“In Britain there is now a large majority opposed to it, and that blames the bombs in London on 7 July on Bush and Blair’s bombs in Baghdad.”
Lindsey German, the national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, said, “George Bush says he cares about democracy. But what kind of government is it that can deliver shock and awe to the people of Iraq but can’t drop food and water to the people of New Orleans?
“We have to work even harder after this demonstration. This is a matter of life and death. We care about life and we are fed up with all the needless deaths.”