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Building The Anti-War Movement
THE FIRST national steering committee of the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) since the conflict started, and since the 22 March demonstration, took place on 28 March. As well as providing a good opportunity to gauge the mood and support of the anti-war movement, it also discussed plans to take the Coalition's campaigns forward.
Ken Smith, Socialist Party rep on STWC steering committee
The discussion concretely centred around two sets of proposals: one from the Socialist Workers' Party and one from the Socialist Party. Although there was overlap between both sets of proposals, the Socialist Party had additional proposals on defending school students, building for strike action amongst trade unionists by organising a meeting of workplace reps, and supporting protests at Fairford air base.
Both sets of proposals were unanimously adopted as "providing a good framework for moving forward." The success or otherwise of these initiatives will now be partly dependent on the mood surrounding the conflict and how the initiatives are translated into concrete action - particularly on the trade union side.
The set of proposals agreed are outlined below.
Additionally, there was a proposal for school students to arrange 'Parties for Peace' in London and possibly around the country, after the end of the school day on 10 April. International Socialist Resistance rep on the Steering Committee, Clare James, argued that this should be brought forward to 9 April to tie in with the other activities on Budget Day.
THE DISCUSSION on the way forward for the anti-war campaign centred around gauging the mood that currently exists and how it could develop. In particular, Socialist Party reps argued that the key issue now was to take account of how the mood changes from day to day and to draw upon the strong anti-war mood that exists.
That mood is already growing and will continue to grow as people witness the problems the Anglo-American invasion force now faces. However, we have to be sensitive about those people who had opposed the war, came on the demos etc but now passively 'support the war'.
Many now hope it would be over quickly and with minimal casualties but the likely length of the conflict would mean those moods could now change very quickly and very sharply.
Although no one knows exactly how long the conflict could last, the Coalition has to make plans on the basis that it could last substantially longer than the week or so originally planned by the US/British governments.
The war is turning out to be more brutal and prolonged than originally anticipated and the anti-war movement must use the days ahead to build up the pressure to demand the withdrawal of the troops.
The school students who turned out in the run-up to and including Day X in London and throughout the country definitely inspired many groups of workers.
However, it is still the case that the anti-union laws and the threat of victimisation still weighs heavy on many people, who would like to take protest action and strike action but still are not fully confident about initiating such action themselves. While there were lots of protests and workers taking time off, the occurrence of actual industrial action was, unfortunately, limited, because many union leaders did not back up their calls for action with concrete plans.
That is why the Socialist Party proposal for organising a meeting of workplace reps, union executive committee members and general secretaries is crucial.
This meeting could produce the material and help sink the deep roots needed to ensure that workplace action on May Day takes the form of generalised strike action that can create a further deep crisis for the Blair government.
In contrast, the SWP proposal placed a heavy reliance on more national demonstrations, arguing that they could create a crisis for the government similar to the one which developed around the 15 February demonstrations.
While every one in the meeting agreed that there needed to be more demos, there was agreement with a number of speakers who said there was a need to keep the Coalition's supporters engaged rather than rehashing the same demonstration.
In that context there was agreement for another Socialist Party proposal which stressed the need to link up with CND and other organisations to mobilise for demos around the US air bases.
The meeting of union reps is likely to take place in the next week or so. All Socialist Party members with union positions are urged to attend the meeting and ensure it successfully maps out concrete plans that could mobilise millions of workers to take action against the war and against the New Labour government.
Interestingly, there was no rep from the Liberal Democrats at the steering committee, which there has been on the last few occasions. Obviously, they are following their party leader's line in supporting the troops and abandoning the anti-war Coalition now that the conflict has started.
This bears out the warnings made by Socialist Party members on the steering committee before the 15 February demonstration, that it would be wrong to place too much faith in fair-weather friends like Charles Kennedy and the Liberals and many of the rebel Labour MPs.
Proposals From The Stop The War Coalition
Saturday 5 April
London march on the US Embassy - there will also be local demonstrations around London, and protests outside the bases at RAF Fairford and Menwith Hill.
Wednesday 9 April
National Day of Action to coincide with Budget Day. This will highlight government hypocrisy and promote the 'not a penny for the war' slogan. In London, there will be an anti-war rally in Parliament Square and there will be evening rallies outside town halls around the country.
Saturday 12 April
National demonstration against the war, starting at 12 noon in Central London, possibly assembling on the South Bank and crossing the four bridges from Lambeth to Blackfriars and marching on Hyde Park.
The Coalition will approach CND and other groups to support any action being proposed at the bases over this weekend, and will publicise and help mobilise for this.
Easter Sunday: A concert, possibly in Victoria Park, east London.
Easter Monday: All-day anti-war film festival at the Prince Charles cinema, London.
Mass protests against war in workplaces, schools, colleges and communities.
The Coalition will be organising a meeting of leading anti-war trade unionists to plan increased union/workplace support for the movement. This will consider how to popularise the idea of workplace action of different forms (on May Day in particular), including through the production of leaflets etc and build a network of union anti-war organisers.
Those who have been disciplined or threatened with exclusion by their schools for taking anti-war action will be offered support against victimisation. Local coalitions are also being asked to raise the matter with local MPs and councillors, and the NUT at a local level is to be approached for help.
The coalition is calling for a systematic lobbying of MPs who voted for the war, particularly those who had previously said they would not do so.
The Coalition is approaching CND and other groups about taking up Tam Dalyell's call for Tony Blair to be indicted as a war criminal and is looking at producing a petition along these lines.
In The Socialist 4 April 2003: