By Judy Cox
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1839

Two million march against war in Iraq

This article is over 18 years, 10 months old
It was the biggest march in British history, and that's official. Only once before have such numbers been on the streets - back in 1945 when millions partied to celebrate the end of the Second World War. Last Saturday up to two million marched in London to protest against another war.
Issue 1839
People converged on London from all over Britain
People converged on London from all over Britain (Pic: Jess Hurd/

It was the biggest march in British history, and that’s official. Only once before have such numbers been on the streets – back in 1945 when millions partied to celebrate the end of the Second World War. Last Saturday up to two million marched in London to protest against another war.

From Hyde Park back down the Thames to St Paul’s and north up to Euston Station, there was a sea of placards and banners. For many this was the most important event that they’d taken part in. Many demonstrators had made their own placards. They showed the sharp politics and humour many marchers brought with them.

Bush was portrayed as an oil baron and a cowboy, Blair as a poodle or as an attack dog. One protester was pushed round the march on a trolley bed with ‘Beds not Bombs’ daubed on it. They showed the incredible mixture of people on the protest: ‘Fortismere school against the war’, ‘Sk8ters against war’, ‘Wisbech against war’, ‘Notts County supporters say make love not war’.

I saw only a couple of placards that put their faith in the United Nations. Hundreds came on specially chartered trains from Manchester and Liverpool. Others packed onto coaches, hired minibuses, brought cars and even cycled to get to the march. The demonstration had to set off early due to the numbers of people.

They stood for hours in the freezing cold, but no one complained because the waiting signalled one thing – a protest that surpassed all their hopes. People were full of anger at the possibility of a horrific war being unleashed by their government in their names.

But there was also a sense of celebration and joy that so many had turned out. People were fuming at a prime minister who will not listen to them and will spend billions on war while the health service crumbles. They demanded an end to war and an end to Blair.

‘How is bombing kids going to bring about democracy?’ said Sue from Sheffield. ‘I’ve got a grandchild, and when I look at him I think of the kids the US and Britain are going to bomb in Iraq. Blair is arrogant. The people who got him into power are marching today – we can easily get him out.’

Some newspapers say the demonstration was ‘Middle England on the march’. But designer-suited businessmen from commuter land and vicars from the Shires were few and far between. The march was made up of council workers, students, teachers, postal workers, engineers, pensioners – exactly the sort of people the Labour Party could once rely on for votes and support.

It included many trade union members who had come with local anti-war groups. Isabel was marching with other members of the Communication Workers Union. She said, ‘Thousands of people are against war. Blair is not listening to us, but that’s not an excuse for not standing up for what is right. It makes it more important.’

Rail workers with their Aslef union banners spoke of their excitement at hearing how train drivers in Motherwell refused to move munitions trains.

Saturday saw multicultural Britain on the march. There were similar numbers of Muslim demonstrators to those on the anti-war march last September. They were more spread out among the huge crowd. Everywhere along the march were students and school students.

‘There are ten of us from our school in this contingent,’ said Nesh from Woodhouse Sixth Form College in North Finchley, London. ‘Loads more are coming later. The people in power don’t have our interests at heart.’ Listening to speeches in Hyde Park, many felt that the experience of being on a massive demonstration had changed them.

Kath, a drama student from Scarborough, attended the march with her two sisters and her mother. ‘You get a gut feeling of the power that we have when we all get together. It’s an emotional feeling. Today shows that no matter where people are from we can come together to make our voices heard.’

‘I’m a Unison union steward,’ said Alan Newham of the Northgate and Prudhoe Health Unison branch. ‘We are here to reflect the feeling of our members who say that any war is unjust. Great numbers influence people in power. I hope it frightens them to death. It’s only when ordinary people come into the streets that we can see that real power lies with us.’

Thousands of people across Britain organised a march that made history. It was a dream for those who joined in – and a nightmare for Tony Blair.

The heart of the protest

There were queues all day at dozens of Stop the War Coalition stalls as people signed up to join, plan further action and discuss what they could do next. An hour at a Stop the War Coalition stall on the Strand gave some indication of who had turned out.

‘I’m a teacher from Wrexham,’ said one woman. ‘I want to give a whole day over for the sixth form to discuss the issues arising from the war.’ She was one of two dozen teachers who approached the stall. Also signing up were large numbers of council workers, people who worked in the NHS, and school and FE students.

There were people from all walks of life. They were the kind of people you meet on the high street on Saturday – most of them were working class people.

Well over half of them said they had voted Labour at the last election. Of the others, most had not voted and a smaller number had voted for the Liberal Democrats. No one owned up to voting Tory.

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