With just two weeks to go until the 23 September “Time To Go” demonstration in Manchester at the Labour Party conference, momentum is growing in the north west of England.
Activists across the region are gearing up to make this the biggest demonstration seen in Manchester for decades, and to pile on the pressure for Tony Blair to bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Greater Manchester there are weekly vigils, stalls, leafleting, placarding, banner making sessions and a series of public meetings set up.
Míchéal Macuidhir, a sixth form student, is planning to leaflet his college in north Manchester on the first day back.
He said “This is the best chance we have had to get people in Manchester involved. We can make a difference here more than we ever have.”
A new Stop the War group in Stockport, south of Manchester, has just got off the ground.
Alex Naysmith told Socialist Worker, “We have got Rose Gentle from Military Families against the War and Craig Murray coming to speak in Stockport.
“We have had a lot of interest on stalls and out leafleting, and we are pooling together all the people we know in the area.
“Blair is under pressure - this demo should be the straw that breaks his back.”
Derek Fraser is president of the Rochdale NUT teachers’ union and he is involved in the Stop the War group in north Manchester.
He told Socialist Worker that he spent a couple of afternoons driving around local workplaces mobilising for the protest.
He said, “People were very friendly and whether we found a union rep or just talked to whoever was in, people were really pleased to find out more about the demo.
“We met up with the CWU communication workers’ union rep who said that he is going to raise support at their next union meeting.
“When we went to the bus garage on Queens Road, north Manchester, we were invited to speak at the next T&G union meeting.
“The PCS union at the local job centre also invited us to come to their next workplace meeting. We have been to a few fire stations and left publicity for them to distribute.”
In Bolton the NUT is backing the demonstration. The Unison city council branch has donated £100 towards a local meeting, and given another £200 to the Stop the War Coalition nationally.
Martin Challinder, a member of Bolton Unison and secretary of Bolton trades council, told Socialist Worker that the trades council is mailing union branches in the area.
He said, “It is important that the unions are arguing for people to come to the demo and make their views known to the Labour Party leadership.”
There is very broad support for the demonstration. Afzal Khan, the former Labour mayor of Manchester, is speaking at a local meeting in north Manchester and another local councillor is speaking at the public meeting in Bury.
John Deas, a Liberal Democrat councillor and postal worker in Salford, said, “Everyone has an opinion about what happened in Iraq and Lebanon - and it cuts across parties. It is time for Blair to stop telling us what our opinion is.”
In Liverpool, Mark Henzel, the secretary of Merseyside Stop the War Coalition, said that they are building on the successful protests against US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the city.
He said that lots of new people have been getting in touch asking how they could help build for the demonstration.
“The focus of Labour conference has meant new groups getting off the ground,” he said.
“There was a group in Aigburth, Liverpool, in the run up to the two million strong protest on 15 February 2003, but it hasn’t really met since then.
“It’s up and running again now, and building for Manchester. New groups have set up in Southport, Wigan and St Helens.
“We organised a fundraising dinner with Bruce Kent and others. We sold out of 100 tickets before we even advertised it.”
Lucy Gettings is a school student in Liverpool. “We set up Liverpool School Students against War a couple of months ago,” she told Socialist Worker.
“The Manchester demonstration is a great focus for us - I think loads of young people will want to be there.
“We are organising a gig in Liverpool with five different bands to help build the demonstration. We want to help get the school students’ group known and we want to tell more people about Manchester.
“Some of the bands are people we know. Two are local bands that we like so we contacted them over the internet and they said that they would be happy to help.”
Activists mobilise across the country for the protest
Stop the War groups from across Britain are organising coaches to Manchester. There is also a “peace train” coming from London.
The Unison union’s London region has booked two carriages on the train. The GMB and PCS unions have also made block bookings.
Wandsworth Stop the War have booked a carriage on the train. Isabel McMillan, chair of the group, told Socialist Worker, “Blair’s foreign policy has caused thousands of deaths across the Middle East.
“The demo is a chance to say we’ve had enough and that British troops should come home.
“Our local theatre has invited us to address the audiences to tell people about the demonstration.
“We have also organised a cavalcade - with a lorry and cyclists - around the borough in the second week of September.
“We are following this with a public meeting with John McDonnell MP, who has said he will stand for the Labour leadership, Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German, journalist Mark Steel, a local imam and others.”
Sue Davis, a member of Tower Hamlets Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said she is traveling to the demo with her local Stop the War group.
She said, “We are concerned about all the issues being raised at the demo, such as Iraq and Lebanon.
“CND also has a particular emphasis, which is to oppose the Trident replacement programme. I think that the next six months are crucial to this - if we can force a proper debate on this then we can stop it.
“It is a huge hypocrisy that we are maybe building up to bomb Iran because they may want to have nuclear weapons, when we have them already.
“The government says nothing about Israel’s nuclear weapons which are the real threat in the Middle East.
“The threats to bomb Iran are really about oil and imperialism.”
In Selly Oak, south Birmingham, 30 people came to a meeting to hear a discussion about the war in Iraq with Lynne Jones, the Labour MP for the area, and Chris Nineham from the Stop the War Coalition.
Lynne Jones told the meeting, “I can’t believe that the Labour government has gone along with these crusades.
“I now belatedly believe the only option is to leave Iraq.”
She called on people to attend the 23 September demonstration, adding, “A big demonstration at the Labour conference will influence what goes on there.”
Thirty five people came to a meeting last week in Alum Rock, Birmingham, an area where a couple of people were arrested in the recent terror raids.
Birmingham trades council and the city Unison branch are both sending coaches to Manchester.
Birmingham NUT teachers’ union is backing the protest.
The PCS civil service workers’ union regional secretary, and the T&G general workers’ and UCU lecturers’ unions are all circulating details of the 23 September protest to their members.