Edinburgh: Thousands take to streets

On Saturday March 29, around 12,000 came out in Edinburgh to protest against the war with Iraq. The turnout was impressive, given the short space of time in which the demo was organised. There was an hour's delay before the march was able to set off: the bus that was supposed to lead it was trapped amongst thousands of demonstrators. Other than that, things went very smoothly and there was none of the violence and destruction that the police had warned of in an attempt to scare off many from attending. The only disruption that was caused was a sit-down protest by a group of anarchists that stopped traffic on the Lothian Road for a while. In contrast to the previous week's event, there was an absence of Scottish National Party placards - no doubt due to SNP backtracking in its 'opposition' to the war. Fortunately - again in contrast to the previous week - there were plenty of placards and banners in the name of the Coalition for Justice not War and the Scottish Socialist Party. Many protestors had their own messages for Tony Blair and George Bush: such as "Support our troops - bring them home" or "Tampax America - no more blood for oil". The good weather contributed to what was a lively and colourful protest. After marching for an hour and a half the crowds assembled for a rally in the Meadows. The platform included Iraqi dissident Susan Karim, former SNP MP Margo McDonald, comedienne Elaine C Smith and, of course, Tommy Sheridan. Sarah McDonald Hackney: Turning point Over 700 people joined a very militant demonstration through Stoke Newington and Dalston. Stop the War Coalition chair Andrew Murray, speaking at the end-of-march rally, called for Blair to be sent to the Hague tribunal for war crimes. On a more militant note, Paul Embery, branch secretary of Islington Fire Brigades Union, made it clear that despite the wishes of a section of the leadership, "The majority of firefighters are not going to bend to government pressure". He later told the Weekly Worker that he believed that the rank and file in London will definitely reject the employers' offer and the decision at the recall conference in April could well be in favour of continued strike action. On April 2, Diane Abbott addressed a local rally of more than 400 people. She stated her clear opposition to the war and added: "There have been many things my government has done with which I disagree, but this war is the thing of which I am most personally ashamed." Anne Mc Shane Lewisham and Greenwich: SWP excludes Ian Page Lewisham Socialist Party councillor Ian Page was kept off the platform at a rally on March 29 by SWP hack Moira Nolan. Around 300 protestors had marched from Lewisham to Greenwich and comrade Page, as the most widely known activist and only elected socialist in either borough, was expected by many to be the final speaker. On the eve of the march and rally, the SP had telephoned a Stop the War Coalition official and received an undertaking that comrade Page would be asked to speak, even though he had not up to then been invited. Comrade Nolan's stated reason for reneging on this was that a previous speaker had announced himself as a member of International Socialist Resistance and the SP. She said that she would not have let him speak had she known his affiliation - one SP speaker was quite enough. Several non-SWP STWC committee members were unhappy with comrade Nolan's high-handed sectarianism, especially since she herself had dominated proceedings. Earlier the demonstrators had marched with an assortment of banners and placards from Lewisham shopping centre. As well as SWP and SP supporters, comrades from the CPGB, Alliance for Workers' Liberty and Socialist Resistance were present. There were contingents from the CND, Green Party and Muslim Association of Britain, and local union banners from Unison, Natfhe and the NUT. It was pleasing to see the good turnout from school and college students. Peter Manson Brixton: Marchers converge On Saturday March 29 around 500 people converged in Brixton from various south London locations, mainly Lambeth and Southwark, via a number of feeder marches. The rally, which attracted a fair-sized crowd of Brixton shoppers, featured a number of speakers, including anti-war school students, trade unionists (not least Greg Tucker of the Socialist Alliance and RMT) and a spokesman from the local mosque. A speaker from Vauxhall Labour Party reported that, such is the polarisation within the party, an attempt is underway by Blair supporters to deselect Kate Hoey MP, normally considered rightwing, for her opposition to the war. At the end of the rally, a number of marchers left for foreign secretary Jack Straw's house, located nearby, to continue their protest. Ian Donovan Tottenham: Oil and imperialism "Victory to our troops! Long live America! Up the war!" For over 20 minutes a middle-aged man stood opposite our rally, shouting abuse at us. Some occasionally swore back, although many clearly felt a certain respect for the persistence of this lone individual. After all, there were over 500 of us who had marched from Finsbury Park to Turnpike Lane. Our march had grown along the way, as shoppers and residents joined the demonstration. We listened to speeches from Pat Arrowsmith of CND, trade union reps and local school students, who turned out in force. A group of young boys, most of them not older than 12, stood watching the pro-war heckler for some time. It was their first demonstration, they told me, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. But this one person annoyed them. One of the boys finally plucked up the courage to go over to him. For about five minutes, the two were arguing passionately. The boy then picked a crumbled leaflet out of his back pocket and handed it to the man, who started reading it immediately, while slowly walking away. When he returned to his cheering friends, he proudly reported back: "Well, I told him about the injustice of this war and that it's all about oil and imperialism, inni'? That shut him right up," he said, grinning from ear to ear. Tina Becker Manchester: Propaganda organ The March 29 Manchester demonstration, which targeted BBC north-west headquarters, was a vast improvement on last week's affair. On both occasions, the sun shone and the scene was set for good turnouts of around 3,000, but this week's demo was far more upbeat. On March 22 the longish march meandered down the back streets of the city centre to conclude with barely audible speeches, made through a hand-held loudhailer. This week, the march featured a large contingent of Iraqi exiles. It was also heartening to see members of the Labour Party marching in direct defiance of the leadership. This is the first time rank and file members have come out so publicly in support of the anti-war movement in Manchester. The SWP lead speaker, Mark Krantz, condemned the BBC for its role as Blair's lackey. He recommended that comrades obtain the satellite TV station, Al Jazeera, as an alternative (if you speak Arabic, that is). Such advice speaks volumes for the SWP's substitutionism and reveals a distinct lack of ambition. James Frazer Leigh: Promotion beckons On Friday March 28 almost 80 people crowded into Leigh Liberal Club to hear a heated debate on the war featuring local Labour MP Andy Burnham. He told the meeting of his "agonising dilemma" in the recent Commons debate on Iraq. He had ended up voting for military action in the belief that there was no other course of action open. He hoped the war in Iraq would be short and casualties kept to a minimum. The shouted response of "One death is one too many" drew cheers and applause from the floor. Credit should be given to the Leigh member of parliament, for very few other MPs would be as brave as to face a room full of angry anti-war protestors. When the debate was given over to the floor, a World War II veteran questioned the sensibilities of those present. How was anybody to know what was right for Iraq? Only the Iraqi people knew the answer to the question. "Well, are there any Iraqis in the room?" he asked, mockingly. And there he stood, in a denim jacket and with a sullen face. "I am from Iraq," he began. "My family now live in Baghdad". It was emotional, not only for him, but for all those present. Clearly upset, he wished the war would stop. "But not everything is black and white. There are grey areas. We do not want Saddam Hussein, nor do we want America." Nick Redmond Cardiff: Stella Artois nationalism A few hundred demonstrators marched through Cardiff city centre, and rather uncomfortably past a plethora of beer gardens, in which drunken football fans questioned the 'Britishness' of the marchers, with abuse particularly thrown at the muslim contingent. "Support the troops!" boomed one fan, as we made our way back to the City Hall for the speeches, which seemed to follow the general limited line of 'Blair out!' Protestors ranged from the organised left to the usual dove-carrying peaceniks, but particularly encouraging was the number of school and university students who turned out on an action-packed sunny afternoon. If the march did nothing else, it proved how the evils of nationalism, particularly when mixed with Stella Artois, serve to distort the truth and the real issues behind such bloody imperialist adventuresl Ben Lewis Swansea: High profile Up to 200 people demonstrated in Swansea on March 29. A cross-section of activists were present, ranging from the Greens and CND to the left generally and the local branch of the Welsh Socialist Alliance. Swansea WSA used this opportunity to build its campaign in the town for the Welsh assembly elections in May. Both seats are being contested, with Alun Thompson standing in Swansea East and Leigh Richards fighting Swansea West. Bob Davies Guildford: His lordship regrets On March 28, about 120 people gathered at the University of Surrey in Guildford to debate 'Iraq - the way forward?' with a rather interesting panel of speakers. Surrey Stop the War Coalition organised the meeting, and was represented on the platform by its secretary, Jeremy Butler of the CPGB. He was joined by John Gladwin, bishop of Guildford; human rights campaigner Lord Nazir Ahmed; Dr Scilla Ellworthy, director of the Oxford Research Group; and Lord Howell, MP for Guildford and member of Thatcher's cabinet between 1979 and 1983. Lord Howell is now the Conservative's opposition spokesman for foreign affairs in the House of Lords, and attended to defend the war. He did this on the well worn grounds that it was a deeply regrettable necessity to displace Saddam's evil dictatorship, and that Iraq had become a "lynchpin of terror" and "danger to the region". Perhaps throwing a bone to a clearly uneasy audience, he acknowledged the war's "unpopularity". He blamed "Bush's speech-writer", for the fact that, whenever the president spoke, his lordship was "really turned off". We are a polite lot in Guildford, and listened quietly. Some even applauded, presumably impressed by his willingness to turn up. And then, from their various different standpoints, every other speaker attacked the war as unjust and Lord Howell's arguments were torn to pieces. Manny Neira * Send your reports to weeklyworker@cpgb.org.uk