“We must flood Manchester with people saying that they are not prepared to let Bush and Blair attack Iran.” This was the message from Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn as he called on people to mobilise for a national demonstration at the Labour Party conference in Manchester on 23 September.
Speaking at the fifth annual Stop the War conference last weekend, he told delegates, “Labour MPs need to understand that they are losing support as long as Iraq goes on, that the Labour Party is damaged, that politics as a whole are damaged by the occupation of Iraq.”
Delegates from across Britain were enthusiastic about the chance to protest at the Labour conference.
Dod Forrest, a Unison union steward from Aberdeen City Council, told Socialist Worker that he thinks the trade unions will put on several coaches from the city.
He said, “I’ve been talking to friends who haven’t been active in the movement for a few years.
“Many of them are planning to come to Manchester. They are angry with Tony Blair over many things, but the war brings it all together.”
Respect MP George Galloway told the conference that the Manchester protest must be a demo of a new kind. “We should circle every hotel, lobby every delegate” he said.
“The Labour conference will be resounding with the question of time to go for Tony Blair. This will be analysed by the world’s media and everyone will be listening.
“When the epitaph of Blair is written, no one should doubt he went because of the war.”
Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, called on delegates to organise transport from across the country to turn Manchester into a mass demonstration.
“Demonstrations do make a difference,” she told the conference, “They are not just about making the news – they also strengthen our movement internationally and across Britain.”
Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed in Iraq, told Socialist Worker why many millitary families will be taking part.
“We need to show that we are not going away until Blair brings the troops home,” she said. “We have seen too many killed or coming back mentally or physically wounded.
“There are a lot of mothers speaking out now who have sons still fighting in Iraq. At the Labour Party conference we can make sure that Blair hears us.”
Manchester has more students per square mile than any other city in Europe.
Simon Byrne, co-convenor of School Students Against the War, said “Lots of school students made the effort to get to Gleneagles for the G8. I think that lots will get to Manchester. We are planning events and protests throughout the week.”
John Cooper, a student at Liverpool university who was recently involved in the demonstrations against Condoleezza Rice, said, “We brought Liverpool to a standstill and alerted people to the size of the Stop the War movement both in Liverpool and across Britain.
“Manchester will have an even bigger impact. We need to be mobilising for this now.”
Families of serving soldiers denounce the Iraq war
Last Saturday’s Stop the War conference in London was the largest since 2003, attracting over 600 delegates and observers to take stock of the year’s activities and discuss the way forward.
The highlight of the day was a session hosted by Military Families Against War, which for the first time involved families of soldiers currently serving in Iraq.
Lynda Holmes, whose son is a guardsman in Iraq, addressed the conference. “I work as a medical secretary – we’re facing 720 job losses and my department is under the threat of closure,” she said.
“Given the amount of money they’ve spent on this war, I’d like to know why that money could not go into the NHS and into schools.
“But I know why – it’s greed. The reason is oil and anything else they can get out of that country. This war is unjust for the people of Iraq who are now living in worse conditions than when the army went in.”
Dani Hamilton, whose 18 year old son has been deployed to Basra, was one of several speakers to mention how the “mum factor”, as army officers call it, is severely hitting recruitment to the military.
The army has recently announced that it is paying a £1,300 “finder’s fee” to serving soldiers if they persuaded friends of theirs to join up. This move was angrily denounced as a “bribe” by Rose Gentle.
But the military crisis for Bush and Blair in Iraq is generating new dangers as well as opportunities. In particular, several speakers warned anti-war activists not to underestimate the threats against Iran from the US administration.
The author Dilip Hiro spoke on the background to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme, while Elaheh Rostami Povey argued that any attack on Iran would weaken the grassroots democracy movements in the country.
Mohammad Anoshehpour, an Iranian student at Leeds Metropolitan University, told the conference of his recent visit home. “I talked to lots of friends of mine – they all agreed that if there was an attack by the US they would resist it,” he said.
“We’re not going to accept any foreign interference in our country. And that’s because of our history – we’re not going to forget 1953, when the US overthrew the only democracy that we’ve had.”