Birmingham's anti-war movement is split between the Stop the War Coalition and the Birmingham Stop The War Network (Bust). There have been accusations that secularists have been bureaucratically excluded from STWC in favour of muslim fundamentalists and counterclaims of islamophobia. Steve Davies of Bust gives his view of last month's STWC Birmingham AGM
The Birmingham Stop The War Coalition annual general meeting took place on December 17. The 100 people present in the Sports Centre heard speeches from a Fire Brigades Union official and STWC chair Salma Yaqoob before the real controversy began. Salma Yaqoob and the Socialist Workers Party's Lynn Hubbard put forward a motion, copies of which were placed in the hands of everyone present, calling for the STWC delegate forum to meet every six months, and for "bona fide" delegates to be "invited" to attend. Instead of focusing on the specifics of the motion, Lynn Hubbard as seconder gave a breathless recapitulation of the actions the coalition had carried out in the past year. Of course I am in no way suggesting that she was deliberately trying to draw an equation between being against the war and support for the motion. It will be recalled that the Birmingham STWC committee gave activists only a week to put together any alternative motions and amendments or nominate people for election. Despite the tight deadline Bernie Macadam of Workers Power, who is active in both the Handsworth STWC and Bust, put forward a number of amendments. Two were accepted, whereas the third, which wanted the delegate forum to meet at least every two months, proved more controversial. Sadly, by accident I am sure, there seemed to be no copies of Bernie's amendment for people to see. After Bernie spoke, Socialist Resistance's Bob Whitehead, representing the Stirchley Stop the War Coalition, seconded, explaining why he supported Bernie's amendment rather than the six months favoured by the SWP. The danger being of course that with such irregular meetings the real power would reside not with ordinary activists but with the Salma Yaqoob/SWP/Socialist Action cabal that currently run the coalition. A number of people spoke against the motion, including the disgraced and recently sacked, now ex-SWP full-timer, Ger Francis. Rather then say why he was against delegates meeting on a regular basis Ger launched into reasons why we should be against the war - insinuating that those who disagreed with the STWC/SWP were pro-war. By now the atmosphere was turning ugly, as stooge after stooge got up to denounce the amendment, which, let us remember, was only calling for the delegates to meet once every two months. James Cunningham then rose and was subject to disgusting behaviour. As soon as he started to speak, Ger Francis was making audible comments. James was subject to cat-calls, sneers and abuse, with people from the floor trying to drown him out - contrast this to the silence which pro-coalition speakers rightly enjoyed when they spoke. I was standing at the back and had to turn several times to a Socialist Action person and demand that they shut up so I could hear James. At several stages people shouted, "Let him speak!" Particular 'honours' must go to Salma Yaqoob, who continually from the platform heckled James and, whilst vice-chair Doug Jewel of Socialist Action did ask for order a few times, he was seemingly hesitant to interrupt Salma, as she poured out aggressive abuse towards James. Things got even worse, as those of us who disagreed with the SWP/Salma/Socialist Action concept of democracy were accused of being - wait, you guessed it - "islamophobic"! One of Salma's stooges from the platform waved a piece of paper in the air (what it said we could not see and no explanation was offered), saying, "The Muslim Association of Britain did so much work [this might be true, but then neither the motion, Bernie's amendment nor James' speech referred to the MAB, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood]. I didn't sleep for six weeks before the September demo - what have you people ever done? Then on the coach you hand this filth out attacking the muslims, attacking the muslims again." More SWP/Socialist Alliance and, I presume, MAB people got up to denounce 'them' as doing nothing ... hmm, wonder who organised the 2,000-plus demo in support of Palestine in April, but, hey, let's not let the facts get in the way of anything! When a comrade shouted her outrage at what I would call the 'democrophobic' lynch-mob mentality of Salma, the SWP and Socialist Action, there was an outbreak of pseudo-laughter. The amendment failed, the motion passed and the Salma, Socialist Action and SWP lash-up on the Birmingham coalition committee was voted in again. Full credit though to James for getting through his points against a hostile, vicious little bunch and the heckling from the media-savvy Salma. My personal view is that the Birmingham STWC with the troika of Salma, Jewel and Francis is dead as far as building a lively anti-war movement in Birmingham is concerned. Sure, they can pack an AGM once a year, but then we could too if we wanted. By counterposing democracy to activism they have become the coalition's own gravediggers.