Archive article from The Socialist Issue 271
Anti-War Protest - A Defining Moment
THE 28 September 'Don't attack Iraq' demonstration was an immense display of opposition to war.
With up to 400,000 protesters marching through London, this was much bigger than anything that took place in Britain against the Vietnam war in the 1960s and bigger than the sizeable CND demos of the early 1980s.
Involving tens of thousands of people, especially young people, who had never marched on a demonstration before, it was reminiscent of recent huge protests in other European countries such as Italy and France.
Coming at a time of renewed industrial militancy, with firefighters, tube and rail workers, local authority workers, teachers and lecturers all taking or preparing to take action over pay and a shift to the left at the top of many unions, this marks a new stage of struggle in Britain.
Opinion polls show that Blair's dossier has had little effect in denting opposition to war against Iraq.
According to an ICM/Guardian poll, 44% disapprove of a military attack compared to 33% in favour. A 'hardcore' of around 40% would oppose war even with a UN resolution. This is an unprecedented level of opposition to war, especially before military action has even begun.
There was a pale reflection of this mood even at Blair's sanitised Labour Party conference, where 40% of delegates voted in favour of a resolution opposing war under any circumstances. The NEC, under pressure, withdrew a resolution which would have left open the question of 'go it alone' action without UN authorisation.
If Blair were to back Bush in unilateral action against Iraq it would create turmoil within the party, leading to a haemorrhaging of party members and even open splits.
An attack on Iraq could unleash a massive explosion in growth in the anti-war movement, which could potentially coalesce with anger against pay, privatisation and other issues affecting working-class people and could even result ultimately in the end of Blair himself.
Day of action
The struggle to provide a political alternative to New Labour's anti working-class, pro-war policies therefore needs to develop alongside a movement against the war.
The Socialist Party's call for a new mass party to unite workers, young people and all those opposed to this current system could gain increasing support.
The 28 September demonstration marked an important stage in the development of a mass anti-war movement. The next immediate step is to build for the 'Don't attack Iraq' day of action on 31 October. In the schools, colleges and universities students should be organising for protests and occupations on that day.
We also need to take the campaign into the workplaces. The rally following the demonstration was addressed by speakers from six national trade unions. The newly elected 'Left' leaders support the anti-war movement and voiced opposition to war at the TUC conference.
They should use their authority to call for protests and stoppages on 31 October which trade union members can build for in the workplaces, making the link between opposition to low pay and the selling off of public services and opposition to war.
The 31 October day of action itself should be used as a springboard for organising wider action, including strike action, in the event of a military attack on Iraq.
Unions And New Labour - Time To Make The Break
LABOUR PARTY conference delegates inflicted a humiliating defeat on Blair and the New Labour leadership by voting 2:1 in favour of a review of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
The trade unions cast their votes by a massive margin of 11:1 in favour. Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Paul Boateng, was greeted by heckling and slow hand clapping as he struggled to defend the government's privatisation plans.
This was only the second time that the leadership has been defeated by conference since New Labour was elected in 1997. The last time was in 2000 when delegates voted in favour of restoring the link between pensions and earnings.
"It's unbelievable" said one union delegate quoted in the Financial Times (1 October). "It's like Labour conference in 1968 all over again." But the Labour Party is a very different beast from that of the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s. Then, although ultimately supporting the capitalist system, the Labour leaders could also, under pressure, reflect the concerns of the working class. Now, under Blair, the party has become completely pro-capitalist and democracy is suppressed.
Over PFI, as over pensions, Blair and Brown have stuck two fingers up to conference delegates and to working people. 63% support a review of PFI. 36% think services have worsened under New Labour while only 17% think they have got better.
But Blair has made it quite clear that he will pursue his ideologically driven privatisation agenda regardless. "We've not been bold enough" he said in his conference speech. "It's time to increase the pace of reform, not to mark time."
To try and win the support of the Labour leadership, the union leaders made big retreats from their own conference policies of opposition to PFI. Instead of calling for total opposition they demanded a moratorium and then made a further concession by just calling for a review - but to no avail.
It should be clear by now that the views of working-class people, through their organisations the trade unions, no longer have any influence on New Labour. Instead of using their money to bail out a party that stabs workers in the back, the union leaders should make the break and build a new mass workers' party that can really represent the interests of working-class people.