Truth versus slurs
On November 21 Hands Off the People of Iran held a successful launch meeting in Manchester despite sectarian attempts to undermine it from the Socialist Workers Party. Ken Browning reports
The meeting was attended by 40 people, from many different backgrounds and political affiliations. Most were from Manchester, but a few travelled in from Preston, Liverpoo and elsewhere.
The three weeks of activity building up to the meeting were not without incident. The SWP engaged in a campaign of lies, calling us islamophobic, pro-imperialist, divisive and even implying that we were supporters of the shah! Leading SWPer Rob Owen, former president of Manchester student union (UMSU), claimed that Hopi supports a two-state solution for Palestine - no doubt a damning indictment in his opinion. In actual fact Hopi, based as it is on opposition both to imperialist plans to attack Iran and to the Tehran theocratic regime, does not take any position on an Israel-Palestine settlement, although it is resolutely opposed to Israeli aggression and expansion.
The SWP organised a counter-meeting, called under the banner of the student Stop the War group - although it had not been planned at the previous Stop the War organising meetings, attended as always by Hopi supporters. At our street stall a few days earlier Andrew Cunningham (SWP member and student union campaigns officer) remarked with unconcealed sarcasm, as a group of women wearing headscarves were signing up to the Hopi statement: "They really look like they're against the theocracy." Presumably he thought this would be enough to stop them in their tracks - as if being muslim must make you a supporter of a tyrannical and murderous regime. Muslims are already painted as terrorists by the media - we do not need the left to jump on the bandwagon of unfounded stereotypes.
The meeting was addressed by Ewa Jasiewicz (Hands Off Iraqi Oil) and Yassamine Mather (Workers Left Unity Iran). They were followed by PCS union militant Dave Vincent, who argued that, while the STWC deserved praise for its work in mobilising people in 2003, its actions in excluding Hopi from affiliation were disgraceful and they should be "shamed" into accepting us. The final speaker of the evening was Nigel Roland from the Green Party, who stressed his party's opposition to any war and support for Hopi.
During the discussion from the floor Martin Ralph from Liverpool said that the exclusion of Hopi was being discussed by members of the anti-war movement and that if we let actions like this pass by without opposition there is no hope for the movement. He stated that, as someone who works with Iranian refugees on Merseyside, it is ludicrous to pretend that the Iranian regime is not repressive.
No doubt that remark was just what Katan Alder (SWP) had in mind when he argued that we were dividing the movement and watering down its strength. He made the outrageous claim that by supporting Iranian workers we were somehow aiding American imperialism and, what is more, Hopi is a CPGB front in any case. That must have come as news to the previous speakers. Comrade Mather explained that Iranian working class and social movements that opposed the regime were "the most consistent fighters against imperialism", while Ste Monaghan of Industrial Workers of the World argued that not to criticise a regime that hangs people for being homosexual can only weaken the anti-war movement.
At the end of the meeting a provisional steering committee for the North West was established, made up of comrades from the IWW, Permanent Revolution, CPGB, Communist Students, Iraq Solidarity Campaign and even the SWP! The Green Party and Revolutionary Communist Group will discuss sending representatives along to committee meetings.
The following day (November 22) was the national student day of action against war on Iran. Hopi supporters in Manchester both helped to build this event and mobilised on the day, but unfortunately it seemed that the SWP had put more effort into making sure they had a counter-meeting in opposition to our launch than building for the day of action themselves. Despite the low turnout of around 40 on the demonstration, it was lively enough. We held a short rally at the BBC building and handed out lots of leaflets advertising Hopi's founding conference on December 8. We now have enough signatures to launch a UMSU Hopi society.
On Saturday November 24 Hopi supporters also joined the demonstration in Manchester calling for the reinstatement of sacked mental health nurse, SWP member and Unison militant Karen Reissmann. Around 700 people attended this impressive demonstration despite the cold, rainy weather with union banners from as far afield as Glasgow and London. Once again we distributed large numbers of leaflets, and some people took bundles away to distribute in their own town or city.