A mass of anti-war protesters packed the streets of London last Saturday. Exactly one year after the invasion of Iraq, 100,000 people had come to tell Tony Blair that the movement is here to stay. They stretched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square chanting 'No justice, no peace' and 'Blair out'.
The demonstration was incredibly dynamic. There were large numbers of young protesters. Many wore costumes or carried giant puppets of Bush or Blair, which have become a feature of anti-capitalist and anti-war protests across the world. Despite the attempts by Blair and by some in the media to 'draw a line under the war', the protest showed that people have not forgotten the horror inflicted on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nor have they forgotten those held in Guantanamo Bay or imprisoned by Blunkett in London's Belmarsh prison. The demonstration was called by the Stop the War Coalition, the Muslim Association of Britain and CND-forces which over the last year have organised some of the biggest demonstrations ever seen in Britain.
The scale of this movement, and the level of discontent with New Labour, is starting to raise big political questions. Saturday's demonstration was given a huge impetus by events in Spain. Spanish people protested when pro-war prime minister Aznar tried to use the terrorist attacks in Madrid to win votes. Then they voted out Aznar's right wing Popular Party in the election.
George Galloway MP received a huge round of applause at the closing rally when he argued that the movement in Britain should do the same to Blair. 'We have to take two lessons from the people of Spain,' he said. 'They showed that they reject the false dichotomy between terrorism and war. War is terrorism. Just because the people giving one set of orders call themselves politicians, it does not make the death of their victims any less obscene. And the people of Spain showed something else-that after you march, you vote. We have to turn the 10 June elections into a referendum on Blair. I will be standing as a candidate for Respect: The Unity Coalition in London in the European elections. I hope that thousands of you will join our campaign to make that election the last nail in the coffin of Tony Blair and the war cabinet around him. Blair says that he wants to 'draw a line' under the war and 'move on'. We must draw a line through the name of Tony Blair and move on so that he is the ex prime minister of Britain.'
Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT rail workers' union, told the crowd, 'Unlike those who say you have to oppose Labour 364 days of the year and then vote for them, the RMT will support any party that backs our members. 'It isn't just Blair who should go. The whole cabinet are war criminals-they should all go.'
'Respect is what we've been looking for'
Anti-war protesters gave Socialist Worker their views on the new Respect coalition
Margaret Loftus was on the demonstration with her two young children. She said, 'There is no party for the working class to vote for. Labour says, 'If you don't vote for us, you'll let the Tories back in!' But you can't get more right wing than David Blunkett. Now is the time to set up an alternative. That's why I became treasurer of Derbyshire Respect.'
James Button and Claire Bloodworth are university students from Nottingham. James said, 'We need to get Blair out and change the way things are done in Britain. The only time I've voted was in the recent local elections, and then I voted for an independent because I didn't want to vote for the mainstream parties. The great thing about Respect is it is a national alternative. We've been raising it among students at university.'
Claire said, 'I've never voted before. I wasn't really interested in politics until the war happened. Now Respect has come along and it's something people can believe in.'
Nick Locke is a foundry worker in Lydney, Gloucestershire. He said, 'It's about time we had an alternative to the Labour Party. I used to be a Labour councillor for the Lydney area from 1997 to 2000. But I was so disillusioned with them attacking Iraq and privatisation that I ripped my membership card up. I have since joined the Socialist Alliance and now Respect.'
Farhad Farzaneh is a clerical worker in Brighton. He said, 'It's time for Respect to be out on the streets. There's no other alternative to the Labour, Conservative and Liberal agenda. I have spent so many nights watching the news and getting distressed. Now I have found something that I can belong to and can go out and do something about injustice. Respect is a viable alternative for all those dissatisfied ex Labour voters. At the June elections people can vote against war and for Respect.'
Dave Knight is a tube worker in London. He said, 'There has been a real uprising against the war. The Spanish government got its just deserts. Maybe it's Bush and Blair's turn next. The Respect coalition is something new. I agree with 95 percent of its aims. New Labour is not for working people. It has not restored the rights of people to strike and support others.'
Cathy Pound is a community activist from Camden, north London. She said, 'One of the things that has focused anger against Blair has been the war. People can't carry on voting Labour just because the only alternative is the Tories. I'm an ex Labour member. I left in 1997 because we had petitioned locally against privatisation then when Labour got elected they said they would impose privatisation. I was seven years in the Labour Party and a ward organiser. Respect is something I have been looking for. I voted for Ken Livingstone when he stood as an independent for London mayor. I am so disappointed that he is back inside the Labour Party. I'm really hoping Respect will stand for London mayor.'