Hyde Park was filled with people as far as the eye could see listening to speech after speech attacking Bush and Blair’s drive to war. Hundreds of thousands of people stood in the freezing cold for four hours intently listening to the speakers at the rally.
Some of the biggest cheers were when speakers attacked imperialism and the war for oil, spoke against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians and called for Blair to go. Tariq Ali was cheered when he said, ‘If one country needs a regime change at the moment it is Britain.
‘New Labour leaders said we would never win the support of the majority of the country against their so called humanitarian wars. We’re here to say, on behalf of the majority of Britain, that it is Tony Blair and his frightened cabinet which speak for the minority. When his MPs return to their constituencies and see the TV news, they will begin to worry what will happen at the next election. Don’t let the movement stop here. We’ve got to carry on and we’ve got to punish the warmongers, in the elections if necessary. In this crisis it is necessary to bring down a prime minister. Bring Blair down!’
Around the park there were chants from the crowd of ‘Bring Blair down! Bring Blair down!’ Tony Benn got one of the biggest cheers of the day ‘This is the biggest demonstration ever in Britain,’ he said. ‘This is the first global demonstration. Its first cause is to prevent a war on Iraq. But there must be other causes. It must be about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It must be about achieving democracy not only in the Middle East – and there’s no democracy in Saudi Arabia – but also, dare I say it, some democracy in Britain as well. If there are weapons inspectors in Iraq, I’d like to see inspectors in Israel. I’d like to see inspectors in America. The money wasted on their weapons of mass destruction should be diverted for food, clothes, housing, schools and hospitals, to protect the sick and disabled.’
Every time a speaker mentioned oil and imperialism, there was a huge cry of agreement. The campaigning lawyer Imran Khan said, ‘It is totally wrong when Bush and Blair suggest this is a clash of civilisations. This is about the rich against the poor. It’s a war between the haves and the have-nots. It’s a war about oil. It’s a war about empire.’
Ahmed Ben Bella, former leader of Algeria, spoke at the rally, saying, ‘Every year 35 million people die of hunger in the world. That is terrorism. And that is what must stop now. Mr Bush and Mr Blair are lying when they say this is a war for democracy. You can’t bring democracy by bombing people. This democracy Mr Bush and Mr Blair want to impose stinks of petrol.’
Dilwah Kahn, from the Islamic Forum, was applauded when he said, ‘This is a war based on US power to colonise the Middle East for its oil.’ And Labour MP George Galloway got a massive response when he said, ‘We don’t want a government playing ‘Mini Me’ to the Doctor Evils in Washington. Blair acts as if he was the 51st governor of the United States of America. We don’t want Bush’s war. We don’t want Star Wars. And we don’t want to be in an axis of evil with Israel’s General Sharon either. I say to Mr Blair that if, despite this great demonstration and the overwhelming feeling today against war, he takes Great Britain over the cliff with George W Bush then he will break the Labour Party. If Mr Blair breaks the Labour Party, there will be some of us ready to rebuild it out of the wreckage as a real Labour party standing for real values and standing for peace in the world.’
The audience gave loud applause when Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy got up to speak. But by the end of his speech this was reduced to polite clapping. Kennedy spent his whole speech talking about upholding the UN. He did not condemn the war outright.
By contrast left wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who spoke next, got a much more rousing response. Corbyn said, ‘There is no justice whatsoever in this war against Iraq. There is much talk about a possible second UN resolution. ‘Even if the UN is bribed and cajoled, and it cobbles together some form of words which gives some form of pretext for war, I, like so many others, would still be against this war.’
London mayor Ken Livingstone also said, ‘The nations on the UN Security Council are for sale. They can be bribed with offers of more trade deals and assets. ‘We have to watch the Security Council like hawks.’
Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition Lindsey German got a tremendous reception when she said, ‘Our message to Tony Blair is, if you go to war with George Bush, we will bring your government down. ‘You will not survive as prime minister and you don’t deserve to survive. And if Blair thinks that he can get his way with a second resolution, we say we don’t want a war with or without a UN resolution.’ Lindsey also talked of the way forward for the anti-war movement:
‘We have to use everything in our power to stop the war. We want a mass movement of civil disobedience. We are asking you to strike on the day that war breaks out. We want you to occupy the colleges, walk out of schools, go to your town centre and protest.’
And to cheers she said, ‘In London we’re going to occupy the whole Whitehall area of government, so they won’t be able to get their ministry cars through Westminster.’
‘Blair, it’s time to go! Blair, it’s time to go!’ Those chants rang out around Hyde Park after a powerful speech by Mick Rix, the leader of the Aslef train drivers’ union.
He was cheered when he praised the action of the train drivers in Motherwell who refused to move armaments trains. Rix said, ‘Today we have a new optimism. We can challenge American colonialism. The TUC should be recalled to debate the war and for workers to have a clear demand. If this war takes place, then industrial action will take place to stop it. Today we should be saying: Blair, it’s time to go!’
The leader of the RMT rail union Bob Crow reinforced those sentiments. He said, ‘If there is war we should be preparing to occupy our industries. We should not be prepared to let the war take place. We’ve got to start waking up. The union movement, including my union, set up the Labour Party. How much longer can we go on giving money to a political party that is carrying on the same vicious policies as the Tories? Unless this government starts listening, we must be prepared to take industrial action to protect industry and to protect civilisation.’
Paul Mackney, head of the lecturers’ Natfhe union, added, ‘The trade union movement should do everything in its power to prevent the war. The day war breaks out we should stop work at 11 o’clock and go to our local city centre. If we walk out over the war, we will be breaking Thatcher’s vicious anti-union laws to uphold the golden principle of human solidarity. We say to Tony Blair: either stop this mad war or go.’
TGWU deputy leader Tony Woodley said, ‘This war is about oil – it’s about the pursuit of America’s interests. Tony Blair told us he was prepared to pay the blood price for backing George Bush. We know that tens of thousands of women, men and children will be slaughtered for these lunatics. Many working people ask if they will also pay the jobs price for this reckless and unjustifiable war.’
Other union leaders speaking included Billy Hayes, general secretary of the postal workers’ CWU, and Mark Serwotka, leader of the civil servants’ PCS.
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