What were armed cops up to?
The anti-war demonstration in London on Saturday 18 March was a magnificent reminder to Tony Blair that we will not disappear.
But maybe the warmongers were hoping to intimidate us. Two cops armed with pistols and machine guns (see picture) were placed 200 yards past Westminster Abbey.
When I began to photograph them they sharply turned to face the wall and shielded each other from my camera’s prying gaze. One cop told me to “get a life”.
This is the first time I’ve witnessed armed cops on a demonstration in Britain.
Perhaps Blair’s police don’t want us to have a life at all, and police machine guns on demonstrations is the proof.
Name and address withheld
The real unholy alliance
The organisers of the protest for “freedom of expression” in Trafalgar Square last Saturday claimed to be standing up for free speech after the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in Denmark.
But what they were really doing was standing up for their rights to insult and offend Muslims, and increase Islamophobia in Britain.
The organisers had originally asked people to bring placards containing the cartoons to Trafalgar Square. But the day before the protest they had had to backtrack on this. One of the organisers admitted that many Muslims, including secular ones, were extremely offended by the cartoons that depicted all Muslims as terrorists.
The call to protest over this issue had opened a Pandora’s Box of racism and nationalism. The Civil Liberty website, run by Nazi BNP member Kevin Scott, had urged people to demonstrate on the day.
A strange mix of right wing libertarians and middle class liberals joined the rather small protest – which unlike the multi-racial anti?war protest that had filled Trafalgar Square the previous week, was mainly white.
I was particularly disappointed with gay campaigner Peter Tatchell who happily spoke alongside right wing nutcases from the Libertarian Alliance and the Freedom Association. Tatchell continually criticises the left, including Socialist Worker, for forming alliances with supposedly “reactionary” Muslims.
He told the rally, “Free speech does not include the right to incite hatred and violence against other human beings.” But that was exactly what the cartoons were published to do – to make people see Muslims as the enemy within.
Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance defended the rights of BNP leader Nick Griffin, Holocaust denier David Irving and disgraced racist lecturer Frank Ellis to “speak their mind”. The crowd cheered him.
Mark Wallace of the Freedom Association also spoke. This is a notorious right wing group that campaigns for the “freedom” to speak out against the “tide of immigration”.
The real undercurrent of this rally was the racist idea that the main threat to all of our liberty is “reactionary Islam”.
While some speakers denounced the “war on terror” most of the focus was on Muslims. Everyone involved with this “unholy alliance” should be ashamed of themselves.
Katherine Branney, East London
Draw a line under this
I am sure that Helen Curley wrote her piece in good faith based on information supplied to her from anonymous sources from within the GMB union (Cleaning up our union, 4 March). I am equally confident that in the spirit of comradeship that I be allowed to put the facts to your readership.
I have never “refused to condemn the moves” of members away from the GMB into a staff association. Indeed when I was general secretary I met the AA management to try to head off the attempt.
It might be more useful if comrades and trade unionists tried to find out why all 130 plus shop stewards and thousands of ordinary members walked away from their union.
I have never issued any writ against the union and never used GMB money to pay for legal advice on how to sue the union.
No law firms or printers offered me cash in return for union work.
As regional secretary in the northern region all expenditure had to be authorised by me and during my period of office no GMB money was spent on “campaign material”.
I did not “protect any senior manager found guilty of sexism and harassment to gain electoral advantage”.
And of course the tribunal proceedings took place in 2004 well after I was elected.
Some will remember the lurid headlines that GMB “sources” fed to those well known labour movement supporters the Times and the Independent. Fantastical claims were made about ballot rigging and criminal allegations, which were used as propaganda and then quietly disappeared.
The independent inquiry that I was the first to call for was scrapped on the advice of the acting general secretary, Paul Kenny and president Mary Turner and replaced by an “internal” inquiry.
I suggest that everyone concerned draws a line under all this and concentrates on the job in hand – staunching the flow of membership loss and organising among working people who need strong trade unions now more than ever.
Kevin Curran, former GMB general secretary,
A naval city that has turned against war
Portsmouth’s local paper, The News, has always been sensitive to military concerns because of the city’s strong naval tradition. This makes last Monday’s edition remarkable reading.
A recent front page headline, next to a photo of Blair, was “He Lied To Us – I Can’t Bear Him”, a quote from a Royal Marines officer.
This was followed by a full page article describing the “bitter resentment aimed at Blair over Iraq conflict” by members of the armed forces, and a double page spread of comments made by service personnel.
These included statements such as, “My friends came home in coffins. They died on the altar of Tony Blair’s arrogance” (from a lieutenant commander).
Others read, “Our government manipulated the facts. Impeaching Blair is the nicest thing that could happen to him,” and “Tony Blair should be charged with being a 24?carat liar... the time is ripe for withdrawal” (from a royal fleet auxiliary officer).
Finally The News rounded off with an editorial saying “the anger is overwhelming and cannot be ignored”.
Having been an anti-war campaigner in Portsmouth through five wars, I can tell you that such coverage is unprecedented and without doubt highly significant.
John Molyneux, Portsmouth
Should the parties get state funding?
New Labour and the Tories – who are effectively in coalition over the implementation of free-market ideology – have suddenly issued a call for the state funding of political parties.
This has only emanated from the recent revelations about Labour’s corporate funding. Prior to this it was easy to turn a blind eye to the influence corporate donations have had on British politics.
But now that it is clear that the Labour Party, formed out of the trade unions to challenge the worst excesses of the capitalist system, relies so heavily on business cash that the pro-capitalist bias in a supposedly democratic system is hard to conceal.
Corporations began funding New Labour so that “modernisers” such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown could tame the party.
However, the idea that political parties should be state funded is quite preposterous. A political party should be funded in accordance with its ideology, without any commercial or state influence.
Introducing state funding would impose an even greater constraint on political parties that challenge the prevailing economic order.
Nick Vinehill, Snettisham, Norfolk
Don’t trust police figures
The London Socialist Historians Group has said that the police estimate of 15,000 people at Saturday’s London march against the occupation of Iraq lacks credibility.
Organisers have claimed an attendance of between 80,000 and 100,000 people.
Police have consistently offered low estimates for marchers on Stop the War protests.
But even they had to admit that the march just prior to the outbreak of war on 15 February 2003 had over a million in attendance.
Historians say that police counting methods deliberately underestimate numbers by taking a poll of those attending at only a few points.
In reality, particularly on a bitterly cold day like Saturday, protesters come and go from the march all the time.
Trafalgar Square, which holds around 30,000 people in its new enlarged area, was rarely less than full for several hours while speeches were made.
People were joining and leaving the protest, making an estimate of over 80,000 entirely credible.
Keith Flett, Convenor of the London Socialist Historians Group
Crimes of the Croatian army
Chris from New York claims that Slobodan Milosevic’s crimes were worse than those of former Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, on the grounds that they were backed by the Yugoslav state and army (Letters, 25 March).
This ignores the fact that the Croatian army was also massively involved in ethnic cleansing.
One of the worst crimes of the whole civil war was the ethnic cleansing of Serb civilians from the Krajina region by the Croatian army.
Milosevic was indeed a mass murderer and a tyrant, but he was not alone.
Richard Sunderland, Leeds
Britain’s DRC rights abuses
May I, on behalf of the Congolese community, congratulate you for the brilliant article explaining the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (Victims of the power, 18 March).
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and many other campaigning groups have alerted the world to the human rights abuses going on in the DRC.
But widely unknown is the British government’s violation of human rights, through its harsh and racist immigration laws.
We want to put political pressure on the government to end deportation back to the DRC.
As I write, a 70 year old man with diabetes and high blood pressure is locked up in detention centre unsure if he will return to the DRC and face torture or stay here with his wife and family.
Makola Mayambika, East London
Should we boycott Sats?
I am furious with the new education bill, which supports the selective education system.
My son is currently in year six, and is due to take his Sats test shortly.
The pressure that children are under is immense.
Time that should be spent helping children to learn is instead used to coach them for their Sats tests.
Children are being taught like parrots, and not as people.
I am looking into starting a national campaign to get all parents to boycott the Sats by keeping our children at home for the duration.
Maybe that way we can teach the government what we think, as the league tables would then become meaningless.
I would like to set off this campaign, but have no experience in this kind of thing. What do readers of Socialist Worker think?
Kirsten Frederiksen, by e-mail