Let people decide

Salman Shaheen of the Socialist Unity Network gives a personal view

There were some rousing and emotive speeches from members of Military Families Against the War. I have seen Rose Gentle speak on a number of occasions and, though I can never begin to understand the pain that she and others in the group must be going through, they continue to have my utmost respect and support. Kath Owen moved a motion supporting Military Families Against the War, and to support soldiers who refuse to take part in the occupation of Iraq, as well as to promote greater understanding of legal rights and international law regarding their situation. The motion passed quite comfortably. Andy Newman moved the motion from Swindon Stop the War, which was passed convincingly. This motion highlighted a particular criticism of the coalition, in it being a London-centric organisation, and offered practical measures to increase co-operation between local groups to build campaigns, such as the establishment of regional convenors responsible for liasing between groups and developing into areas where no local groups exist; and a quarterly internal publication, open to contributions from individual members. There was, though, a definite feeling of progression, of strengthening the movement, and of expanding into new areas to continue the struggle against imperialism, war and state-sponsored terror, whilst defending human rights and civil liberties. However, most of the contentious issues were left till last. The motions regarding the general election had some of the greatest potential for division - there were representatives from so many different political parties and traditions. The steering committee's motion attempted to get round this by playing to lowest common denominator and, although it did ask people to take into account the position of MPs and candidates towards the war, I do not think it went far enough. As a campaigning organisation, centred around one of the most important issues of our age, Stop the War should be taking a firmer line with regards to the elections. The Green Party's amendment, which I supported, asked people to vote for anti-war candidates, but was sadly voted down; as were those from Yeovil and Bradford, which both called for the coalition to actively campaign against pro-war MPs. Steve Bell from the CWU spoke against them, saying the election should not be regarded as "a referendum on Iraq". His union would be calling for the largest possible vote for Labour, since, although "the Labour Party is the biggest pro-war party in parliament, it is also the biggest anti-war party!" This caused quite a bit of commotion, and I could make out the odd cry of "Shame on you!" Personally I considered Steve Bell's argument to be facile, and his attempts at bullying conference into voting down motions which would have had the coalition campaigning against pro-war Labour MPs - almost threatening the withdrawal of the trade unions from the coalition if the motions were passed - to be shameful tactics. In my opinion the election should be a referendum on the war. Tony Blair did not listen to us when we marched in our millions on the streets: now we must march in our millions to the ballot box and show him that he must be held responsible for his disastrous and illegal war in Iraq, and that he cannot get away with following George Bush into another war - be it in Iran or anywhere else! If that means unseating a few pro-war New Labourites that Steve Bell might want to sidle up to, then so be it. Next up on the list of contentious issues was the policy of Stop the War Coalition towards the Iraqi resistance movement, and to internal Iraqi politics. This is a very difficult topic to approach, and many of us in the anti-war movement will have differing opinions on it. Personally I think it is important that the conference voted to condemn the killing of innocent civilians, and of Iraqi trade unionists, and remained committed to broad unity, simply on the basis of opposing the war, and getting the troops out; and that motions calling simply for "victory to the Iraqi resistance", by any means necessary, whilst not discussing exactly what comprised the Iraqi resistance, were voted down. I support the right of oppressed peoples to resist their oppressors, but we should not simply take the line that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'. I was, however, disappointed that the CPGB's motion was defeated: I think it highlights an important area that we, as British anti-war activists, must look to - that of solidarity and support for progressive forces in Iraq. It would have been nice if those speaking against the motion had actually read its contents! George Galloway made a particularly significant speech, the contents of which can be found on the Socialist Unity Network website (www.socialistunitynetwork.co.uk). He argued that it is not our business to dictate the internal politics of Iraq and that we "have only one duty, as citizens of an imperialist country, which is illegally and violently occupying the land of another: to struggle to draw your own country out of that swamp!" Galloway also congratulated Caroline Lucas and the Green Party on their active involvement in the movement, and called for unity amongst all people, regardless of their party, to oppose the war. This was a very encouraging speech, and showed that, despite the failure of Respect and the Greens to work together electorally, they could still unite around a principled opposition to the war. It was a good day for unity, and it was a good day for the Socialist Unity Network. Our motion which "affirms that we see diversity as a strength" and recognises that "individuals and organisations can take different attitudes towards the insurgency in Iraq, and which civil institutions in Iraq they support, while still uniting to campaign together for an end to the occupation and the withdrawal of British troops"; passed convincingly. The SUN's Andy Newman was elected onto the steering committee, but I was disappointed that Kuldip Bajwa of Workers Power was rejected. The actions of Workers Power in relation to the ESF should have no bearing on the policy of STWC, and I feel that diversity is an important part of our movement. I found some discomfort from the outset, in what I saw as an abuse of the chair, in announcing the steering committee's opinion on each motion, and their recommendations for how conference should vote, especially in relation to Kuldip Bajwa's nomination. Let the people decide!