Archive article from The Socialist Issue 288
Anti-war demonstration, February 15 2003
The day that made history
BRITAIN HAS never seen anything like it. Up to two million people flooding the streets of central London in a massive sea of anti-war protest.
Photo Molly Cooper
Hundreds of thousands were on their first ever demonstration and it was a day that nobody will forget. As demonstrators converged on London they were strengthened by knowing that they were part of a worldwide movement with millions more making their voices heard across the globe.
Taking over the streets
DROP BLAIR Not Bombs, Pay the Firefighters Not the Firestarters: front and back of a home-made placard. Youth against the war, demonstrating for the first time.
Gower Street runs North/South from Euston to London's West End. From 11.30am to 3.30 pm waves of humanity washed down the street. Londoners got there first, followed by contingents from Walsall, West Bromwich, Birmingham, Nottingham, Peterborough, Merseyside, Yorkshire and Gloucester - to name but a handful.
Yet Gower Street was only the official assembly point. Tens of thousands of protesters tried to take short cuts to Hyde Park. So parallel streets, too, thronged with the anti-war beat. Tottenham Court Road, which runs parallel to Gower, became another feeder march. In effect, the whole of the West End was taken over. Police looked worried at times, so used to walking by the sides of demonstrations, keeping everything 'in order'. But there was no room for them on Saturday as protesters filled the roads and pavements.
It was hard to believe that as thousands were streaming through these streets a similar scene was taking place at the Embankment.
People in the flats overlooking the march blasted out protest songs on their sound systems, waving banners, cheering the protest on. Young people eagerly agreed with the Youth Against the War call for a walkout on 7 March and on the day war breaks out - assuming Bush and Blair continue on the warpath.
Blair has failed to convince people that war against Iraq is 'just'. People from all walks of life in Britain understand that this is a war for oil and US domination. Anger at Blair's domestic policies is fuelling this mood. This must now be turned into more resolute action, such as workplace, college and school walkouts.
Cheers for system change
HYDE PARK became the scene of one of history's biggest ever open-air meetings last Saturday. Hundreds of thousands of people were packed together to make a human central heating system that kept out the biting cold.
Ken Smith, Stop The War Coalition national steering committee
Apart from Ms Dynamite, the best responses of the day were to speakers who came from the Left.
Former Labour Cabinet minister Mo Mowlam and Liberal-Democrat leader Charles Kennedy were initially warmly applauded but by the time they concluded their speeches the applause was more polite than enthusiastic.
When Mo Mowlam concluded her speech by using Labour's old campaign slogan, "things can only get better", there was derisory laughter.
In contrast, all the speakers from the Left spoke passionately and carried the crowd with them. Tariq Ali was loudly cheered when he said: "We want regime change in Britain. Bring Down Blair!" RMT railworkers' union leader Bob Crow also got loud cheers for his call for workers to take action on Day X, the day the war starts.
Tony Benn got a huge response when he said that the march was the foundation of a new political movement, the first ever simultaneous global demonstration.
Although this march was against the threat of war he said, it was also about the establishment of a Palestinian state, for democracy in the Middle East, democracy in Britain and redistributing wealth from the 500 billionaires who control the planet's resources.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, made it clear that even if the US were to corruptly cobble together support for a second UN resolution, this war would still be wrong and we would still oppose it.
This got a much bigger cheer than anything that Charles Kennedy had said about going through the UN. He concluded to rousing applause when he said he wanted to see a world free from poverty, injustice and war and that the system had to be changed to achieve that.
Billy Hayes, leader of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), said the TUC should fully back the Stop The War coalition and warned New Labour that the unions who are currently funding Labour were fed up with being ignored. And if Blair persisted with his drive to war then the unions would fight to get a government that was going to end the war.
Left-wing MP George Galloway said to laughter and cheers:
To enthusiastic applause, he gave a powerful warning to Tony Blair in his conclusion: "If he takes Britain over the cliff and into war, he will break the Labour Party he is supposed to lead. Some of us are prepared to pick it up and rebuild it out of the wreckage as a real Labour Party".
Feb 15 - Socialism on the march
HUNDREDS OF Socialist Party members took part in the demonstration, selling The Socialist and staffing stalls along the route. Here are some of their impressions of this historic event.
On the coaches
People arrived in London and the streets began to overflow. Andy Tullis and Rob MacDonald who were at Waterloo Station report:
Lionel Wright was our best seller on the demo, selling 211 papers outside Embankment tube. He told us:
On the march
The march set off early. Alec Thraves reports:
The crowds merged at Piccadilly.
Sofia, Emma, and Lindsey were three college students attending the demo. Emma skipped her Saturday job in Mango on Oxford Street to attend. Sofia, a seventeen year old Socialist Party demonstrator quickly sold out of papers. Everyone was enthusiastic about the 7 March Walkout Against the War.
Passing Green Park Tube, Tony McGill of Hillingdon branch reported:
In the morning the police were stopping the 'usual suspects' from putting up their stalls in the park - including the Socialist Party. So we put up our hoardings on Park Lane.
The police then barricaded us off from the march, so we ferreted our papers into the park as the demo arrived. The march streamed into the park from every entrance. We sold 250 papers at the Queen Elizabeth entrance, and London West Central branch sold 153 from the Hyde Park Corner entrance. People held up our paper and leaflets as placards as they entered the park.
Groups of anti-Saddam, anti-war Iraqis came up to our stall buying papers and taking our material.
Youth against the war
Clare James and Sarah Sachs Eldridge report:.