Jack Deacon, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party
Despite being arranged at relatively short notice, over 15,000 people gathered outside Parliament to demand that MPs vote for a ceasefire in Gaza on the evening of 15 November. Their chants included “Keir Starmer is a wasteman”, “Rishi Sunak, you will see: Palestine will be free”, “Occupation no more” and “Ceasefire now”.
The Socialist Party’s presence at recent marches and rallies has sparked curiosity about what we stand for. Protesters who engaged in conversation with us showed support for what we are saying about withdrawing the Israeli military from occupied territories, establishing an independent socialist Palestine alongside an independent socialist Israel, and building an anti-war and anti-austerity workers’ party in Britain that stands for socialism and internationalism.
Many protesters told me that they had planned to vote for Labour in the next election but have felt betrayed by Starmer’s refusal to back calls for a ceasefire and threats to sack any frontbenchers doing so. They said that they would “never again” vote for Labour under Starmer but did not know who to vote for instead.
They showed enthusiasm when we explained plans the Socialist Party is making as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to stand candidates in the general election – bringing together socialists, trade unionists and campaigners to provide a genuine alternative to parties run by pro-war, pro-market capitalist politicians.
And protests all around the country
Birmingham: No trust in Labour MP
Around a hundred people congregated in front of Labour MP Steve McCabe’s constituency surgery in Birmingham to protest against his lack of support for a ceasefire in Gaza. Throughout the demo, speakers reiterated that their distrust of McCabe goes beyond his position on the conflict, and that an effort must be made to unseat him and Labour MPs like him. A speaker from the Socialist Party encouraged the crowd to organise and help build a mass workers’ party as a viable alternative to Labour.
Leicester: Appetite for a political alternative
The protest in Leicester was the largest we have seen yet. Up to 2,000 people took to the streets calling for a ceasefire and an end to Israeli state terror. This came after local Labour MPs Jon Ashworth and Liz Kendall abstained on the vote to call for a ceasefire.
Conversations with attendees focused on their dissatisfaction with their local MPs, and with many now seeing Labour being no different to the Tories on this issue, they are now looking for an alternative.
Attendees were keen to discuss TUSC and many said they would attend our upcoming meeting on this issue. Socialist Party member Steve Score spoke, calling for a socialist Palestine, alongside a socialist Israel in a socialist Middle East. Another speaker said that the imams should not be having private discussions behind closed doors with MPs; they called for open democratic discussions.
Oxford: Calling for a socialist intifada
Around 500, mainly working-class and young people, attended a march in Oxford. It started with more general chants of ‘Free, free Palestine!’ and ‘Stop bombing Gaza’ but, thanks to the intervention of Socialist Party members, we managed to inject a socialist perspective into the crowd.
We called for a socialist ‘intifada’, a mass movement of Palestinian and Israeli working-class people against capitalism.
The only sight of Labour was on placards claiming they support genocide. The main question asked was: ‘What can we do about it in the UK?’ We explained the role trade unions can play in preventing the shipment of arms to Israel and that, more generally, joining a trade union will help people fight working-class struggles.
Newham, East London: Resigned Labour officer standing independently
“Lyn Brown MP – resign! Gaza blood on your hands!” read posters at a protest outside Stratford station, Newham, on 18 November. The rally demanded an end to the Israeli state’s massacres in Gaza and for the resignation of the local West Ham Labour MP who abstained in last week’s vote in parliament calling for a ceasefire.
The rally was initiated by Newham Resists, in which East London Socialist Party plays a key role. Speakers included Sophia Naqvi, an independent candidate (backed by Newham Socialist Labour) standing in the Plaistow North ward council byelection on 23 November. Sophia resigned as a local Labour Party women’s officer over Keir Starmer’s support for Israel, and she is also opposing local council tax increases and cuts. Sophia’s campaign has Newham Labour rattled. She is on course to win a big vote and perhaps take the seat, in which case she will join independent left councillor, Mehmood Merza.
Brighton: Trade union lobby
Around 200 people took part in a demonstration at Hove Town Hall.
Two days before the demo – and five weeks after the Israeli state began its murderous war on Gaza – the city council Labour group issued a weak statement which called for a humanitarian ceasefire, but which did not condemn Israel’s killing (at that stage) of 10,000 Palestinians including 4,000 children.
Trades council officers decided, correctly, that the demo should still go ahead. The demo took place just yards from Peter Kyle’s constituency office. Kyle, a member of the shadow cabinet, is the only local MP who has not called for a ceasefire.
Walthamstow, East London: Raising trade union action and socialism
The Walthamstow demo was lively and noisy. Many residents simply wanted to show solidarity with Palestinian workers; families joined, horrified at the killing of 5,000 children by the Israel Defence Forces; young people were determined to show the Tory government is not acting in our name.
Kevin Parslow, secretary of Waltham Forest Trades Council, took to the microphone to raise the need for trade unions to step up, saying they should take the lead in discussing with their members in the armaments, transport and banking industries about what they could do to prevent the manufacture and transport of arms, and the financing of them.
Linda Taaffe addressed the crowd on behalf of the Socialist Party, pointing out: “Marching and chanting is great to feel part of the struggle, but we need also to start talking about a political strategy where any lasting solution must involve both Palestinian and Jewish workers – and not going back to the same capitalist system.”
Wolverhampton: Emotionally charged sense of solidarity
On a grey Saturday afternoon in Wolverhampton, a 200-strong crowd holding banners and placards huddled together to listen to a range of speakers describe, amongst other things, the horrors unfolding in Gaza from the perspective of ordinary Palestinians trapped inside. Amidst the whoops, cheers, chanting and murmurs of “shame!” at the abject failure of the majority of politicians refusing to vote for a ceasefire.
There was also an emotionally charged silence as three young people stood before the crowd with a maturity and dignity which belied their young age. A hush descended as they read out a list of names of a few of their Palestinian counterparts; children murdered senselessly and in cold blood.
But ultimately, the demonstration offered a message of hope, people standing together, united by their condemnation of the ongoing horrors, and showing solidarity with Palestinians trapped in Gaza and the West Bank.
Leeds: hopeful and demanding change
It brings me no joy to march with thousands of others in an attempt to sway our government towards what should be an obvious call for the end of the massacre in Gaza.
Chanting could be heard from across the street as I approached the demonstration.
It was overwhelming in the best way – saddened by the situation that gathered us all together, but hopeful from the sense of community and demand for change.
Worcester: ‘Hardcore’ support for socialist demands
Around 80 gathered at a trades council organised event in Worcester. Mark from the Socialist Party spoke on how this war is not just a war in the Middle East, but an attack on the working class of the world, with the few taking decisions for the many.
Worcester Socialist Party was asked to take part in a ‘hardcore’ punk benefit gig on Saturday night, where we addressed a crowd of over forty people who cheered our demands, including calls for a ceasefire and to get organised to fight back against the Israeli state machine.
Calvin Fowler and Stuart