The International Peace Conference is now just weeks away. Delegations from around Britain are organising for what promises to be the largest ever gathering of anti-war activists from Britain, Iraq and the US.
As people gear up for the event, which takes place in London on Saturday 10 December, Socialist Worker spoke to some of those organising and building for it.
“The International Peace Conference will feature the broadest representation of Iraqis that we’ve seen since the beginning of the war,” said John Rees from the Stop the War Coalition steering committee. “It will provide these voices with a platform and give people the opportunity to hear them directly.
“In the wake of announcements from Tony Blair that British troops will be withdrawn from Iraq some time next year, this conference will be a chance for those who live under occupation and resist it daily to be heard more loudly than before.
“There will also be representatives of military families from both Britain and the US. Both countries have seen dramatic drops in the numbers of people signing up for the armed forces — and this is a direct consequence of the Iraq war.
“To have people at the heart of resistance to war from Iraq, Britain and the US on one platform will be an amazing opportunity.
“And to have speakers who have lost family to this illegal war, such as Cindy Sheehan and Rose Gentle, will reinforce the opposition to Iraq’s occupation.
“Trade unionists and community groups from around Britain will be sending delegates and representatives. It’s important that these people have a voice as well, and there will be a platform during the conference to allow delegates to speak.
“Hopefully, from the conference we can move to come together internationally to continue our resistance to the war.
“The more the government’s resolve is weakened, the more important it becomes that the action taken to end the occupation grows in strength.
“This will be a controversial event. It will be the first meeting of its kind, where those opposed to the war from all sides—those connected to the military, those whose governments are occupying Iraq and those who live under occupation — will come together and speak with one voice.”
Across Britain student groups and trade union branches are voting to back the conference or preparing to discuss it.
The Birmingham branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) last week voted unanimously to back the conference.
“There was no opposition and the strength of feeling of people was to back the conference,” said Judy Rafferty, a Birmingham NUT member.
“We will now send a number of delegates to the conferenceand distribute leaflets about it to the hundreds of schools in the Birmingham area where there are NUT members.”
Sitara Amin Tilly, a school student in north London, told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been delegated to go to the peace conference from my local Stop the War group in Haringey. Now I’m planning to try to get people from my school to come.
“There’s a ‘parliament’ in my school every few weeks. I want to get an anti-war speaker into the school and get loads of students to the peace conference — everyone should be part of it.”
Ron Senchak is a trade unionist in Manchester and a former US serviceman. “I’ve been visiting union branches asking to be able to speak at their next meetings,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We’ve been invited to speak at the next regional meeting of the CWU communication workers’ union. They’ve been very supportive.
“The T&G union is going to circulate leaflets advertising the peace conference to every branch in the region. This is a real breakthrough for us.
“I am planning to visit representatives of the Fire Brigades Union this week. People are really into the conference — especially as they see that Tony Blair is very weak now.”
Emma Boyd is a member of the PCS civil service workers’ union at Defra in London. “Our branch was set to discuss the International Peace Conference on Tuesday of this week,” she told Socialist Worker.
“Our branch has supported the Stop the War Coalition and we want to reaffirm our support for the anti-war movement.
“We want to send official delegates to show our support for the Iraqi people, the military families opposing war, and other peace organisations.”
More military families speak out against war
As problems in Iraq intensify, more and more military families are beginning to speak out and demonstrate against the war, demanding the return of their loved ones from Iraq.
Joshua Brown, a Military Families Against the War activist in Aberdeen, spoke to Socialist Worker about the burgeoning campaign.
Joshua said, “After a meeting at the beginning of November in Aberdeen with Rose Gentle and Yvonne Stewart we made contact with two other families in the area.
“One of them was the Gauld family. Ten year old Lisa Gauld and her mother came to the meeting. Lisa wrote a letter to Tony Blair that has featured in every Scottish newspaper. She doesn’t want her brother Craig to be sent to Iraq.
“Craig’s father Douglas told local papers, ‘British troops shouldn’t be there. It is causing more unrest in Britain. The London bombs were probably caused by the British presence in Iraq.’
“We are hearing from a lot of families in the area. They identify with Rose Gentle and other military families. They know that Tony Blair doesn’t have a plan and Rose Gentle does—to get the troops out.
“Some 1,500 people demonstrated to get the troops home in Edinburgh on Saturday of last week. I met three new military families, people whose family members in Iraq and are now finding the courage to participate in our activities.
“The next step is the International Peace Conference. Cindy Sheehan is coming to Scotland to demonstrate at the Scottish parliament on 8 December.
“We plan to meet up with her and travel to the conference together.
“The International Peace Conference is our chance to bypass the warmongers. It is old fashioned, DIY democracy.”
Greek anti-war group joins mobilisation
A delegation from the Greek Stop the War Coalition will participate in the peace conference, including Gregoris Fellonis, the president of the Athens Labour Centre (EKA).
EKA is very active in the anti-war movement. During the 1999 war in Kosovo its members and activists were at the heart of the anti-war movement in Greece.
They opposed the war in Afghanistan and have long campaigned in support of Palestinian rights.
At the beginning of the war in Iraq, together with the Greek TUC, EKA organised three general strikes against Bush and Blair’s war. Since then they have worked together with the Greek Stop the War Coalition in every anti-war event.
We are starting a campaign against the active participation of the Greek government in the war in Afghanistan and we are working together for a big, inspiring and anti-war European Social Forum in Athens next April, where we are planning a demonstration against the occupation of Iraq.
Gregoris Fellonis, summed up the approach of EKA when he met with Salma Yaqoob in Athens last September.
“An ancient Greek historian said that during periods of peace it is the children who bury their parents, while during war it is the parents who bury the children,” he said.
“War creates poverty, misery, destruction and unemployment. It affects countries all over the world either directly or indirectly.
“Every person has a duty to oppose the current war in Iraq and we hope, through our trade unions, to support the international peace movement and make our rulers understand that we want a war on poverty instead of a war on people.”
Yiannis Sifakakis, coordinator of the Greek Stop the War Coalition
International Peace Conference
with delegates from Iraq, the US and Britain
Saturday 10 December, Royal Horticultural Hall, 27 Vincent Square, London SW1
For more details phone 020 7278 6694 or go to www.stopwar.org.uk
called by Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Alan Simpson MP, Caroline Lucas MEP, John Pilger, Tommy Sheridan MSP, Billy Hayes (general secretary CWU), Hans von Sponeck (former UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq), George Galloway MP, Lindsey German (convenor StWC), Kate Hudson, (chair CND), Tariq Ali, Andrew Murray (chair StWC), Sami Ramadani (Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation), Mark Curtis, Tony Woodley (T&G), Sabah Jawad (Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation)