Hyde Park strike call

Only a small proportion of the 1.5 to two million people on the magnificent February 15 London demonstration would have heard any of the speeches in Hyde Park. When the first speakers began addressing the thousands assembled at the end of the march, the vast majority had not even left the two assembly points. Indeed many were still edging along the streets feeding into the Embankment and Gower Street, from where the two huge processions set off. Although much of the media reporting concentrated on Bianca Jagger, Tim Robbins, Ms Dynamite, Harold Pinter, Harry Enfield and former US presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, the most important speakers were from the Labour, trade union and working class movement. Amongst the union leaders who spoke were Mick Rix, Aslef general secretary; Tony Woodley, the assistant general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union and a candidate in the forthcoming elections to take over from Bill Morris as TGWU leader; and Keith Sonnet, deputy general secretary of Unison. Mick Rix pointed to the action of his members in Motherwell, whose refusal to drive trains loaded with munitions was an example the rest of the movement should follow. A war should be met with widespread industrial action and the TUC should be recalled to consider calling such strikes. He concluded with the call: "Blair, it is time to go!" Tony Woodley, no leftwinger, did not voice support for that. But he was prepared to point out that the real reasons for going to war were oil and American global interests: "We are all convinced that Saddam is a dictator, but we are not convinced that there is cause to attack Iraq" - a war would only deepen the Middle East crisis, while the plight of the Palestinian people would continue to be ignored. In similar vein Keith Sonnet declared that, whether or not there is a second UN resolution, a war on Iraq is not justified. Tony Benn and George Galloway both received lengthy ovations. Benn talked about the "founding of a new political movement worldwide" based on the anti-war protests. George Galloway had a warning for Blair: "If, despite this demonstration ... he takes Great Britain over this cliff, then he will break the Labour Party." And "If he breaks the Labour Party some will rebuild it as a real Labour Party." Like Benn and Galloway Jeremy Corbyn highlighted the key issue of democracy. It was likely that Blair would even deny parliament a vote before going to war, using instead the "medieval power of the royal prerogative". Halifax Labour MP Alice Mahon pointed out that the "Bush doctrine is permanent war - our duty is to stop the western warlords". By contrast Stop the War Coalition spokesperson and Socialist Workers Party member Lindsey German made a strangely apolitical speech, although she did call for civil disobedience and strikes on the day of any attack. She urged people to occupy city centres. Unfortunately the rally heard from three unreliable opponents of war, in the shape of former cabinet minister Mo Mowlam, Ken Livingstone, who had supported the Nato bombing of Serbia, and, last but not least, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy. He bemoaned the fact that the UN did not have "adequate information" upon which it might reluctantly agree to the US-UK assault. With friends like these "¦ Speakers from both the Muslim Association of Britain and the Muslim Council called for unity of all people, irrespective of religion, in opposing the war: "In this movement, whatever your belief or your politics, you are welcome." And Jesse Jackson called for everybody to "hold hands" in "a moment of prayer" and led the thousands in a series of religious as well as political chants. "What should we do next?" asked Jackson. His answer was: "Keep on marching." Hopefully we will arm ourselves with a more powerful strategy. Alan Stevens