We must continue to oppose the system of imperialism our government is at the heart of
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I was recently involved in a discussion on Facebook triggered by someone who had just seen the brilliant film We Are Many, directed by Amir Amirani. He was 11 when 2 million of us marched against the Iraq war, and wanted to know why the biggest demo in history didn’t stop the war, and what did people think could have been done differently, if anything?
It is a crucial question but as he suggested has no one off answers. Much of the history and detail of the movement is contained in the book ‘Stop the War: the story of a mass movement’ which Andrew Murray and I wrote over 10 years ago. It contains our analysis and many contributions from a range of individuals. It also lists actions taken on the day war broke out, most of them direct actions involving strikes and walkouts, blocking of roads, bridges and motorways, and various other protests. Central to these was the huge strike of school students from hundreds of schools across the country. The book obviously doesn’t have the benefit of 13 years’ hindsight but is a good starting point.
Just to recap: Stop the War was founded in 2001 after the events of 9/11 and opposed the war on terror: its first theatre of war was Afghanistan, where we mobilised large numbers to demonstrate, including from the Muslim community. The first phase of that war rapidly ended with the overthrow of the Taliban, and it became clear that George Bush was determined to invade what he regarded as the main enemy, Iraq.
As awareness of this grew in 2002, Stop the War developed into a mass campaign, holding huge rallies in cities and towns across the country, and organising a major demo in September 2002 and a day of direct action on Halloween. Most of the major trade unions came on board as did campaigning, political and faith organisations. School students developed their own organisation and held strikes against the war.
At the Florence Social Forum in November 2002, we agreed to coordinate February 15th 2003 as an international day of protest against the war. Everything took off from there and there were demos on every continent on that day. In Britain we had the biggest demo in history, at 2 million. This figure is disputed by some but we base it on the following. An opinion poll in the Guardian said at least one person from 1.25 million households went on march. Given so many families and groups of friends did so that must put it close to 2 million. Another poll for the Daily Telegraph said 4% of the population marched. That made it slightly over 2 million. And an urban geographer contacted us to say he estimated 2.3 million marched.
The size was phenomenal. Organised outside a mainstream organisation, and against a Labour government, was a huge achievement. Never forget that in virtually every other country with big demos there were right wing governments. The equivalents of Labour tended to be part of the anti-war movement, with at least some sections of the mainstream left parties mobilised for these demos.
In Britain the two main parliamentary parties supported the war, despite the very large rebellion from Labour MPs, led by George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn. It was this simple fact that allowed Tony Blair to go to war despite the huge protests.
In my view, only one thing at this stage could have stopped the war: industrial action against it. On industrial action. There was the action of two train drivers who refused to move war-related goods. ASLEF members, they were fully backed by the union. Then there were the walkouts on the day war broke out, tiny as a proportion of the working class, but brave and symbolic, and more widespread than we knew. Certainly there was a lot of sympathy for the anti-war movement among working people, but taking part in strike action is obviously a very big call. It’s worth recalling, even 13 years on, how much unofficial action have we seen over anything on this scale? On pensions, jobs or wages? According to last year’s figures strikes plummeted to a remarkable low, even on 2014. So strike action might have stopped the war machine in its tracks, but it was very hard to make happen.
There are also criticisms that more direct action would have stopped the war, but I don’t think this case has ever been made. There were many direct action events called by Stop the War, especially with the various days of action, and many others that we supported. But we had mass mobilisation as our main priority, I think rightly. And to be honest, direct actions were important but there is absolutely no evidence they would have stopped the war either. The main barriers to our success were lack of industrial action and Blair dragooning many of his MPs into voting for war despite the obvious opposition of large swathes of Labour members and voters, in a breathtaking denial of democracy for which we are still paying the price.
The present support for Jeremy Corbyn owes a lot to the anti-war movement, something we can see by the way the right constantly try to attack him over issues of war and peace.
We did a great thing collectively with Stop the War. We have maintained it as an organisation and in the past year have seen a considerable increase in support, despite (or perhaps because of) the attacks on Corbyn. We are, I think, the major anti-war movement in any Nato country. The attacks from the right over the Syria bombing vote in 2013 showed the legacy of the movement and what damage we did. Ditto the Syria vote last year, used as a vicious attack on Jeremy Corbyn (and joined in by the pro-intervention left). There are many issues to debate about our history, and still a job to combat interventions in the Middle East and through Nato expansion.
Our conference next month marks the 15th anniversary of our movement. A time to say no to all the wars arising from the war on terror. And to continue our commitment to opposing the system our government is at the heart of, imperialism.
Newsletter – 2nd September 2016
As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, we should take stock of the fortunes of the “war on terror” over that time. None of the wars that started after 9/11 have ended, which is why we’ve had to maintain our anti-war campaigning.
The anti-war movement has provided one of the key fundaments for progressive politics in Britain, and has been a springboard for Corbyn’s rise to the position of Leader of the Labour Party.
In her recent article, Lindsey German pointed out:
“We did a great thing collectively with Stop the War. We have maintained it as an organisation and in the past year have seen a considerable increase in support, despite (or perhaps because of) the attacks on Corbyn. We are, I think, the major anti-war movement in any Nato country. The attacks from the right over the Syria bombing vote in 2013 showed the legacy of the movement and what damage we did. Ditto the Syria vote last year, used as a vicious attack on Jeremy Corbyn (and joined in by the pro-intervention left). There are many issues to debate about our history, and still a job to combat interventions in the Middle East and through Nato expansion.
Our conference next month marks the 15th anniversary of our movement. A time to say no to all the wars arising from the “war on terror”. And to continue our commitment to opposing the system our government is at the heart of, imperialism.”
15 years on: Time to stop the war
An international conference
Saturday 8th October • 10 – 5pm
TUC Congress House
23-28 Great Russell St
London, WC1B 3LS
The list of speakers includes Malalai Joya, Lindsey German, Tariq Ali, Salma Yaqoob, Brian Eno, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Maya Evans, Anas Altikriti, Chris Cole, Andrew Murray, Reg Keys and Mark Serwotka.
Chilcot and the next steps for the movement • Armed and dangerous: Foreign policy after the US elections • The Middle East: Endless war? • Will the new Cold War turn hot? • Killing by remote control: Drones and geopolitics • The war on Muslims: Islamophobia and civil liberties
Please invite your Facebook contacts to the conference. The ticket prices are £15 standard and £10 concession. Groups of three or more are entitled to concessionary rates.
One Big No – A Stop the War benefit
Friday 7th October • 7.30pm
Shaw Theatre, 100-110 Euston Road
London, NW1 2AJ
Francesca Martinez • Richard Herring • Stewart Lee • Grace Petrie • Steve Gribbin • Boothby Graffoe • Michael Rosen
Join us for a fun night of comedy, poetry and entertainment! One Big No marks 15 years of Stop the War, showcasing the strength of feeling for an end to Western wars. We are proud of the amazing line-up, which consists of some of the best comedians in the country. Please come along and support our movement for peace and social justice.
Ticket prices: Standard £20 I Solidarity £30 I Concession (limited) £15. Groups of three or more are entitled to concessionary rates. You can book here.
The Media, The Movements and Jeremy Corbyn
Thursday 15 September, 7pm
Student Central, Malet Street
Speakers will include Ken Loach, Greg Philo, Lindsey German, James Schneider and Des Freedman.
As part of the Media Reform Coalition’s ongoing campaign for a media that informs, represents and empowers the public, this event will bring together media activists, workers and scholars to explore the media’s misrepresentation of progressive movements and voices and shape a response that does them justice.
Tickets are £5 and £3 concessionary. You can book your place here.
15 Years of the ‘War on Terror’ meeting in Liverpool during the Labour Party Conference
Monday 26 September • 7pm
Friends’ Meeting House
22 School Lane
Liverpool L1 3BT
Speakers will include Harry Leslie Smith, Brian Eno, Murad Qureshi, Andrew Murray and Carol Turner.
These are happening in the next few weeks. Stop the War will have stalls and/or speakers at them. We would like to ask our supporters to do everything they can to support them.
Cardiff 5th Sept
MC: Jen Brister, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Barbara Nice, Clare Ferguson-Walker, Attila The Stockbrocker, Matt Abbott, Norman Lovett, Simon Donald, Fae Simon, Robb Johnson, James Meadway
Manchester 11th Sept
MC Attila The Stockbrocker, Francesca Martinez, Matt Abbott, Smug Roberts, Norman Lovett, Barbara Nice, Steph Pike, She Drew Gun, Ian Hodson, John Rees) Tickets: http://www.thedancehouse.co.uk/events/2016/95-keep-corbyn
Brighton 13th Sept (Hosted by PCS)
MC: Mark Serwotka, Francesca Martinez, Billy Bragg, Robin Ince, Atilla The Stockbrocker, Grace Petrie, Joanna Neary, Norman Lovett, Steve Gribbin, Dave Ward, Len Mccluskey, Matt Wrack and Jeremy Corbyn.
Bristol 15th Sept
Ian Saville, Norman Lovett, Barbara Nice, Matt Abbott, Attila The Stockbrocker, Clare Ferguson-Walker, Joanna Neary, Fae Simon, Robb Johnson, Matt Wrack, John Rees, James Meadway.
Newcastle 19th Sept
MC: John Scott, Jeremy Hardy, Grace Petrie, Francesca Martinez, John Moloney, Norman Lovett, Attila The Stockbrocker, Patrick Monahan, Matt Abbott, Barbara Nice, Ian Lavery MP
Doncaster 20th Sept
MC Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Attila The Stockbrocker, John Moloney, Matt Abbott, Norman Lovett, Ian Saville, Jack Carroll, Barbara Nice, Joe Solo, Dave Ward, Manuel Cortes
Liverpool 25th Sept (during the Labour Party Conference)
MC: Jeremy Hardy, Grace Petrie, Francesca Martinez, Sara Pascoe, Rufus Hound, Steve Gribbin, Matt Abbott, John Rees, Dave Ward, John Mcdonnell, Len McCluskey
Liverpool 26th Sept (during the Labour Party Conference)
MC: Jeremy Hardy, Grace Petrie, Francesca Martinez, Sara Pascoe, Rufus Hound, Steve Gribbin, Patrick Monaghan, Attila The Stockbrocker, Lindsey German, Mark Serwotka.
Birmingham 2nd Oct (during the Tory Party Conference)
MC: Barbara Nice, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Grace Petrie, Attila The Stockbrocker, Steve Gribbin, Dane Baptiste, James Meadway, Dave Ward, John Rees
Protest at the Conservative Party conference
Demonstration called by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity
Tories must go – Austerity has failed
2 October • 11:30am, Victoria Square, Birmingham
Sign up to the Facebook event, share widely and invite your friends.
At a time when the National Health Service is being crippled by enormous cuts and when millions are facing economic hardship, thousands are homeless and hundreds of thousands are facing the risk of homelessness, many tens of millions of pounds are being spent on foreign wars and the establishment is determined to renew Trident nuclear weapons, at a catastrophic cost of £205 billion.
Public resources should be invested in infrastructure and in decent jobs for all. Money should be spent on real human security and the health care and well-being of the population instead of being squandered on war and weapons of mass destruction.
This is going to be a massive demonstration at a vital political moment, so make sure to be there. Transport is being arranged from across the country. Check this transport page for details.
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