Anyone who was on last Saturday’s 20,000-strong demonstration will have been delighted at the size of it. It showed that there is an impressive movement ready to oppose the warmongers and their threats against new targets, especially Iraq.
The strongest aspect of the march was the sheer number of young people. They included lively delegations from universities across Britain. Alana Bates was part of a group of students from Middlesex University. She told Socialist Worker, ‘We had a good response from people as we leafleted round college for this demonstration. A lot of people know that they don’t get the whole story from the media, and they are disillusioned with the government over many other things. I think we have to take the spirit of this demonstration back to the university.’
There were also many younger students from schools and further education colleges. Edward Maltby and Beth Speake had travelled down from Sheffield with several other school students. ‘I think it’s important that we’re here protesting today,’ said Beth. ‘Others at school haven’t seen the war much on TV or the newspapers recently and they can think that nothing is happening. But there could be more places hit after Afghanistan, which is scary, and our march shows that we are still here protesting.’
Edward added, ‘There is a real danger now with what the US is planning after Afghanistan, and I think people are outraged when you tell them it is not all over.’ The demonstration also attracted a sizeable number of people who had not taken part in the two previous marches against the war in October and November last year. People had seen posters and leaflets, and decided to get involved. One of those was Robert, a student from Cambridge University. Cold
‘I have been finding out about what’s been happening and decided for the first time to come on the demonstration,’ he said. ‘It seems to me the war is more about the US controlling countries around the world and going in to exploit them.’ There was a buzz throughout the march as different groups went by, raising their own chants against the war. Demonstrators had come from across Britain.
There were banners from local anti-war groups in Peterborough, Bury, Plymouth, Harrow, Chesterfield, Bristol, Birmingham, Barnsley and Islington. Many demonstrators stood patiently in the cold eagerly listening to the speakers at the final rally. Every time a speaker made a hard condemnation of Bush and Blair’s war there was a huge cheer from the crowd.
Speakers included Tariq Ali, Lindsey German and Jeremy Corbyn. There were representatives of the peace movement and the trade unions. The former general secretary of the Labour Party, Jim Mortimer, spoke about his anger at the government. ‘Tony Blair is a disgrace,’ he said. ‘Many people in the British labour movement are deeply ashamed of what the Labour government is doing in our name. ‘I call on the labour movement to launch a sustained campaign, working with rank and file members of the trade unions to get resolutions against the war through union branches.’
One of the final speakers, Tony Benn, also urged the marchers to keep on building the anti-war movement. ‘I agree we need trade union pressure. I agree with Tariq Ali that we must take to the streets. I want to go further. I am an old man. I look back at my life and wonder if we could have done more. We must do more till the people we elect take notice. Every year for Armistice Day we stop to remember the dead. I have a proposal to make. The moment the bombing of Iraq begins, we should stop for one hour. We should remember the women of Baghdad who will be widows, the children who will become orphans. I’ve never said this before. Non-violent resistance to the government will show they cannot claim to do this in our name. We should stop the buses, stop the trains, stop the schools. Everyone here should raise the threat of war in the schools, places of worship, where they work and live. We could be facing a Third World War, triggered by stupid men.’
Every speaker who urged support for the Palestinians was cheered and applauded. Most of the students on the demonstration took up chants for Palestinian rights throughout the march. The same feeling was seen last week at Manchester University, when over 1,000 students packed into a student union meeting to discuss solidarity with the Palestinians.
Hundreds more were locked out as the four-hour meeting debated support for a boycott of Israeli goods. Pro-Palestinian campaigners were pleased at winning the vote, even though the student union executive ruled that the 50-vote majority was not big enough.
A tried and tested tactic
Joint struggle can create unity