Build a Mass Democratic Anti-War Movement

In the North

by Gary Mulcahy Socialist Voice,/i> Feb. 2003

OPPOSITION TO the war is growing by the day across Britain. 15 February will be the biggest anti war rally in British history, and this before the war has even begun.

Tony Blair has said that he is prepared to stake his political future on the war. He has chosen to defy popular opinion and shrug his shoulders at the fact that a majority of his Party, even of his Cabinet, are unconvinced. Like his friends in the White House, he calculates that a short war and a quick victory will answer the "appeasers" and he will be proven right. Blair's delusions of historical grandeur are reminiscent of Thatcher and her famous statement that the poll tax would be the flagship of her government. This war has the potential to be Blair's poll tax.

Blair's government is conducting a war on a number of fronts. It has laid down a challenge to the whole trade union movement with its threat to bypass the FBU and impose a settlement of the firefighters' dispute. It has taken on the student movement over fees and the latest decision to raise the top level of fees from 1,100 to 3,000. The decision to play the race card by scapegoating asylum seekers can backfire with massive opposition from immigrant and minority communities.

Facing opposition on all sides, there is a question whether this government can withstand the pressure of a huge anti war movement. If the war does not go to plan, Blair's political future could be in doubt.

The key is to build a massive opposition to the war. 15 February should be the starting point to an ongoing campaign of protests, demonstrations and civil disobedience. Anti war groups should be set up in workplaces, schools, colleges and communities.

As well as demonstrations, forms of mass civil disobedience should be considered. Youth against the War are building in the schools, North, South and across Britain and are preparing for walkouts when the war begins.

Last month, two train drivers and members of the rail union ASLEF in Scotland refused to transport goods for military use in Iraq. The drivers, who work in Motherwell, told their management that they would not drive any train carrying munitions or supplies to Glen Douglas, where the Ark Royal was being prepared for the Gulf. Management were forced to move the goods by road.

If actions like this were repeated by other workers involved in transporting goods bound for Iraq, it would have a huge impact on the war build up. Other trade unions should be prepared to take action in solidarity with anyone victimised for refusing to assist in the military build up.

If the anti war movement is to be fully effective, it needs to establish democratic structures which allow all groups and individuals participating in it to have a say on where it is going. The ICTU took the initiative to set up a broad Stop the War Coalition to organise the 15 February demonstration in Belfast.

The Socialist Party, Socialist Youth and Youth Against the War have all joined this Coalition. This Coalition should be kept going after 15 February but it should be put on a more organised footing.

A meeting of all the organisations and local groups affiliated to the campaign should be called to discuss how to follow up on 15 February and also to work out democratic structures for the Coalition. The Stop the War Coalition brings together organisations and individuals with a wide range of views. Democratic structures are needed to allow it to act in a united manner while, at the same time, ensuring that a debate on all aspects of the war and how to oppose it takes place.

In the South

by Michael O'Brien, Irish Anti-War Movement steering commitee

THE 15 February demonstration in Dublin is a clear indication that the movement against war in Ireland has now reached mass proportions.

The mobilisation has gone well beyond the usual parties, groups and activists and has been embraced by tens of thousands of people from cities, towns and villages throughout Ireland many of whom have never before being involved in political activity. Already, on foot of a meeting of various anti war campaigns, a variety of activities are in train for the coming month. These include a further protest in Shannon on 1 March, a protest at 6.00pm in every town and city centre the day the war begins; the call for a ten minute protest in workplaces, collages and schools the following day at noon and bigger protests in the regional centres the following Saturday.

The tactics for the Shannon protest on 1 March need to be seriously discussed. The Socialist Party will continue to argue strongly that the power to impede the use of Shannon by the US military lies in the hands of the workers in Shannon above all else. The building of a strong popular sentiment against the war can be crucial in pushing the trade unions, especially SIPTU, to defend and back workers who refuse to facilitate the US military.

A trespass of the runway and further individual attacks on warplanes are, without doubt newsworthy and a source of embarrassment for the Irish establishment but are not the key initiatives that will succeed in ousting the US military.

This new potential also presents new challenges for the Irish Anti War Movement and the other campaigns around the country. While some individuals and parties have done very important work over the last months, in reality the IAWM is only now being really established with this significant influx of people into activity. The success or failure of the IAWM will be judged primarily by how many new activists it can involve in the movement. A broad campaign is not just a collection of parties and organisations, it is one that has real roots in the communities, amongst students and in the workplaces.

The Socialist Party believes the IAWM has enormous potential. We believe new local groups should be established around the country where currently there are none. In Dublin despite some activities the local groups have up till now not been strong enough to exist as independent entities. Post 15 February they should be reconstituted in a coordinated way at public meetings in the next weeks and anyone who has joined the campaign from that area be formally invited to participate. There the activists can decide what activities they should do and who should represent the local group on the central steering committee. This open and democratic approach is absolutely necessary in order to take account of the changed conditions of the last weeks and in order build the IAWM as a really broad campaign. If the reconstitution of the IAWM in Dublin is resisted by groups on the basis that strong local groups already exist, that would represent a politically sectarian view and would cut across the potential of the IAWM. Similarly the national steering committee must also reconstitute itself so that it becomes representative of the new anti war groups springing up around the country. As it stands it is somewhat Dublin centred and dominated by the political affiliates.

Socialist Party members will be to the fore at steering committee and local level in arguing for a democratic and inclusive Anti War Movement and for stepping up its strategic orientation to the organised working class.

For further reports on the anti-war movement, visit here.