NYCLAW Joins 100,000 in London Against the War
November 26, 2001
The following is a detailed report on the November 18 Stop the War demonstration in London, which was attended by some 100,000 people.
This remarkably diverse demonstration was perhaps the largest in Britain since the 1970s. Yet, it was systematically belittled by the British press–and completely ignored by mass media in the United States.
New York City Labor Against the War was represented at the demonstration by one of its co-conveners, Michael Letwin (the other NYCLAW co-conveners are Larry Adams, Ray Laforest and Brenda Stokely). Letwin appeared on BBC TV News and in various newspapers (see below), and subsequently met with trade unionists, Members of Parliament, journalists and others.
Special thanks to Mike Marqusee of Media Workers Against the War (www.mwaw.org) for coordinating NYCLAW’s participation.
Note: For full text of excerpted materials, see listed URL.
1. Letwin Speech and Interview (Greg Dropkin)
2. London anti-war march attracts 15,000 protesters (Independent, November 19, 2001)(Excerpt)
3. New York activist makes peace call (Morning Star, November 20, 2001)
4. “It’s about US power” (Socialist Worker, November 24, 2001)(Excerpt)
1. Stop the War November 18 (Flyer)
2. Photos of Demo (Stop the War Coalition)
3. 100,000 march in London (Media Workers Against the War, 18 November 2001)(Excerpt)
4. Thousands join anti-war march (BBC News, November 18, 2001)(Excerpt)
5. Another coalition stands up to be counted (Guardian, November 19, 2001)(Excerpt)
6. Come off the fence now Report by Paul Mackney, General Secretary NATFHE
7. Hyde Park: Union Voices on the War Interviews by Greg Dropkin
8. “Police figures for anti-war demo lack all credibility” (Stop the War Coalition News Release, November 19, 2001) (Excerpt)
9. Counted out on the march (Guardian, November 20, 2001)(Excerpt)
10. Magic numbers (Guardian, November 22, 2001)(Excerpt)
1. NY City anti-war union activist Michael Letwin
Interview: Greg Dropkin
Michael Letwin visited Britain as a representative of New York City Labor Against the War. He is also President of UAW Local 2325 representing legal aid attorneys in New York, but did not speak here in that capacity.
Speech to Trafalgar Square (London) Rally 18 November 2001
Brothers and Sisters, I would like to be able to tell you today that I represent American trade unions, all of whom have come out against the war. But I can’t tell you that. That’s not the way it is, not yet. The truth is that many of the American trade unions and in fact the AFL-CIO itself support the war. But what I can tell you is that unlike what you’re told in the press, and unlike what we’re told in the press in the United States, there are Americans and there are American trade unionists who are against the war. [cheering].
On October 7th, the day that the bombing began in Afghanistan, over 10,000 New Yorkers took to the streets to oppose the war. [cheering].
There are at least 3 small, but growing, trade union groups in the United States, one in New York, one in Washington D. C., and one in San Francisco, all of whom are organising trade union members against the war. [cheering].
And the committee that I represent in New York City, Labor Against the War, is circulating a statement among trade unionists, which has so far been signed by about 400 trade union members in New York City, and I’d like to just read briefly, some of what it says. This is a statement that was issued on September
27th, about 2 weeks after September 11th.
[see text at New York City Labor Statement]
We are proud to be American trade unionists against the war. [cheering]. And for that reason I’m proud to be here today with my brothers and sisters. Thank you. [cheering]
LabourNet caught up with Michael Letwin behind the podium, while John Pilger spoke and Ramadan was celebrated in Trafalgar Square. Before discussing the unions, Michael commented on the demo and the current mood in New York.
This is fantastic. The size, the spirit, the inter-racial and multi- national representation and diversity, the trade union representation. It’s just really heartening especially coming from the United States to see something like this.
What’s the feeling in New York now, two months after the Trade Center?
There’s a tremendous amount of trauma, fear, depression and anger. Beyond that there is a fairly significant anti-war sentiment. I think that’s something you might not have expected.
I was bowled over by it, and want to congratulate all of you for standing up, because 37 years ago very very few people did so at the comparable stage. So why is there some visible dissent now?
Well I don’t want to overstate it. It is still a small number. The largest demonstration against the war in the United States took place in New York on October 7th, that probably had a minimum of 10,000 people which is quite significant, although of course it’s a drop in the bucket.
Those of us who witnessed the attack on the World Trade Centers up close, and many of us saw it with our own eyes, take less lightly than other people might, the idea of inflicting that same terrorism on the people of Afghanistan. I’m sure there are many more people who want vengeance, to go bomb Afghanistan or anywhere else just to get it out of their system. But large numbers of people don’t, I think because they recognize that what happened on September 11th was a crime against humanity and that it’s a crime against humanity to inflict that on anyone else.
Are you saying that a lot of people in America had never really come to grips with what war is?
I guess that’s right and I think most of them still haven’t. But I think that it’s interesting and something I never would have predicted either, that in New York of all places a much greater response than I would have thought, is to have seen the criminality of it and not want to see it elsewhere.
Union Square is one of the main public spaces in New York City, labor, left wing and anti-war demonstrations have taken place there over more than 100 years. In the days and weeks after September 11th people brought candles and pictures, photos of those who had died, inscriptions, just gathered there as sort of a shrine to those victims.
The overwhelming sentiment expressed in those offerings was a kind of general prayer, not necessarily in a religious sense but a hope and a call for peace. It was very much a John Lennon type of place.
You might have thought there’d be all kinds of belligerance and warlike declarations, and there was some of that. But overwhelmingly it was a reflective, mourning and a general sense that the cycle of violence of which September 11th was a part, has to end by not inflicting terrorism whether it’s State terrorism or other terrorism on innocent people.
Has that feeling of doubt, or reflection, continued during the shooting war?
Well, with the caveat that it’s still among a very small minority, but I think for that minority, yes, there is overwhelming horror about what’s going on among the people who’ve come out against the war. Domestic Fallout
Even if they support the war, many people have become concerned about some of the domestic fallout. For example, just days after September 11th the Bush Administration and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, gave the airline executives 15 billion dollars. And the same with executives from other companies, and now they’re about to pass legislation in Congress that will refund major corporations for taxes they’ve paid since the 1980’s.
Meanwhile 100,000 people in New York City alone have lost their jobs, perhaps half a million to a million have lost their jobs around the country. And there is no relief for them whatsoever, there’s nothing.
During and after September 11th firefighters, police officers, construction workers, people who died in the World Trade Center who were restaurant workers, hotel workers, a variety of other folks, had much more attention than is usually given to ordinary working people, some of whom have been praised for their heroism in rescue work. That’s important because it raises the question ‘well if these workers are so heroic and dedicated and they’ve done such good things, why is it that when they lose their jobs as a result of September 11th or the more general economic crisis, there’s no relief for them? Why is that we don’t pay people better who do that work?’
Just about a week or two ago the firefighters who had lost over 300 people in the World Trade Center, who had been working very hard to recover the bodies after finding no survivors, were attacked by the Mayor Giuliani administration and the police, because the Giuliani folks wanted to pull those firefighters out of the rescue site and just scoop up all the bodies like trash and throw them in the garbage. The firefighters were very offended by that and in fact got in a physical confrontation with the police officers, and the highest police officers at the instruction of the Giuliani administration, arrested a whole number of firefighters including their union leaders and charged them with criminal offences for this situation.
Now the administration’s had to back off on all of that as well. But the point really is, the firefighters undoubtedly are very pro-war, there’s probably very few of them that are anti-war. However, there are fissures beginning to develop between them, even them, and the powers that be over these very important collateral issues that come out of the war.
So there’s the economic impact and the fact that the Democrats and Republicans are using the war to implement essentially a Reaganite agenda, again. Trickle-down economics without the trickle-down.
Over here, September 11th has also been used as an excuse to ram through things they wanted to do anyway, and the civil liberties argument is very much about that.
Yes, I think more and more people are concerned with civil liberties in the States. Now we have Declarations and Executive Orders issued by the President and/or adopted by Congress, that increase detention without trial of immigrants or non-citizens. On the order of the Attorney-General alone without any judicial review, they can violate the Attorney-Client privilege, by listening in, snooping on privileged conversations in criminal cases. They can try non-citizens in secret military tribunals reminiscent of Stalinism in the 1930s or whatever, maybe the Taliban trials.
When I left New York City late last night, for the first time ever to my knowledge there were American troops with loaded M-16’s in the airports. None of these measures really have any relation to terrorism. They probably can’t detect terrorism at all. They’re really about setting an atmosphere of war, getting people behind that war and stifling dissent among people who don’t support war or who are the wrong color or the wrong nationality as far as the American government is concerned. So it’s terribly frightening and I think that before most Americans or more people become anti-war, there will be growing numbers of people who at least are concerned with these economic and repressive issues. And we in the anti-war movement in the United States really have to find common ground with those people.
This last week there’s been a tremendous triumphalism from the pro- war people and the media. How’s that played out in New York, have people felt ‘wow, we’ve won now. . .’ or what?
It’s hard to say. Other than in the press of course and politicians, I don’t hear people going around congratulating each other about the war having been won. I think anybody who’s reading the papers, which is to say a very small minority in the United States, or who are really trying to go beyond the mass media, would not buy the idea that some great victory has been won here.
Even the New York Times, which is very hawkish on the war, report that things are a mess. They report the massacres committed by the Northern Alliance, the total fractiousness of the Northern Alliance not to mention all the other warlords in Kandahar and elsewhere. The return of the previous President who had been deposed by the Taliban, who has no credibility, the fact that the Northern Alliance is now saying that they don’t even want foreign troops in there, just so they can do whatever they’re going to do, whatever they’ve been doing, torturing, killing, without anybody watching.
Even if you just read the New York Times, and read it carefully, people who are prepared to think about it could not draw much of a conclusion about how wonderful things are.
And again, there’s the question of Osama Bin Laden, if in fact he’s the culprit at all they don’t know where he is, he’s somewhere in the mountains. Even if they kill him, so he’ll become a martyr and generate more terrorists.
But is that argument -‘we’ve won’ – being bought?
I don’t know for sure, but I would be surprised if people are thinking that it’s all over. The media themselves and the Bush Administration are stressing that this is not the end of the war. They’re saying ‘no, now we go into Somalia, now we go into maybe Iraq’ – they talked about 50 countries the other day that they want to go and attack. Even people who were very supportive of the war are being told by their leaders that the war isn’t over. There certainly is not a sense yet that things are a disaster for the United States, but there is some indication that that in fact is what it is, and we’ll see how it plays out.
Inside the Unions
As you mentioned in your speech the AFL-CIO has supported the war. What kind of mandate did they have for that?
There is no organised mandate for it that I’m aware of, it’s not like they polled the members of the unions. On the other hand I think it is probably an accurate reflection of the way most union members feel, they undoubtedly support the war. That overwhelming support has to do with the immediate trauma of September the 11th, but also the American media is an unabashed propaganda arm of the United States government now more than ever. I think people’s knowledge is very limited, they are frightened and angry.
And for that reason there has not been an organised response beyond the very small committees, again now just in 3 or 4 cities in the United States that are trying to organise among trade unionists. I don’t want to overstate the size of those at all, we’re very small.
Nonetheless, the fact that those committees exist at all, and small but growing numbers of people are supporting them, I think reflects not a challenge yet in any meaningful sense to the AFL-CIO but a pole of opposition that is very important to build.
I thought a number of unions didn’t buy the war.
There’s a spectrum. The official AFL-CIO line is to support the war. And virtually all the unions say that, but they say it differently, even those unions that support the war. So for example the Machinists (IAM) are considered to be an example of some of the most virulent pro-war union people. They’ve called essentially for nuking Afghanistan. On the other hand, even some of the unions that officially support the war, are not necessarily taking that view. SEIU, the Service Employees International Union for example, certainly haven’t come out against the war but their emphasis has been more about opposing the victimisation and the racial targetting, racial backlash in the United States against Arabs and South Asians, against economic giveaway to corporations and so forth. So even among the official trade unions there is a diversity of opinion.
My own international union, the UAW for example, ran an article in its magazine ‘Solidarity’ that goes to all of its members, this is a magazine that doesn’t typically have debate. But nonetheless they ran an article about September 11th in which I was quoted, including the fact that I opposed the war. I thought that was interesting and significant, that they would even print that, and clearly give, not backing to being against the war but backing to being able to say that you were against the war, if you’re in fact a UAW local President, as I am.
In my own union [i.e. the local], there is a small but vocal number of people who have attacked me for speaking out against the war, although far more have supported it and about 50 of the 700 members have joined me in New York City Labor Against the War. In response to a complaint from a disgruntled member about me taking this position, the International UAW wrote back to say that I hadn’t acted inappropriately in speaking as an individual, not on behalf of my union but identifying myself in my official capacity as a Union President, against the war.
So things are fluid. And then all the way over on the other side of the anti-war spectrum, there are a few unions that have spoken out against the war, mainly United Electrical Workers. UE is not a member of the AFL-CIO, but nonetheless it is a union and it is important that it spoke out. There is at least one Central Labor Council, these are the local city-by-city level of the AFL-CIO, and the one in San Francisco has actually issued an anti-war Statement [see San Francisco Labor Council Opposes War Drive] and that’s very important. And there’s been a few other smaller bodies. But most of the anti-war opposition in the trade union movement has been on the part of people speaking as individuals.
Our statement has about 13 New York City union Presidents on that list. Are they of the biggest unions in New York City? No. Are they speaking on behalf of their unions? No. But nonetheless it’s important and significant in terms of creating space, within labor, to speak against the war, that there are 13 union Presidents, myself included, who are willing to speak out and who are joined by 400 other New York City trade unionists in doing so.
So I think that will continue to grow, especially as this domestic fallout continues to become clearer, especially as things unravel further in Afghanistan. If there’s further American terrorism against Somalia or the Sudan, whoever, I think there will be more anti-war activity. So it is small but I think it will be growing.
What happened in Minnesota?
Right around September 11th, the State workers, the public employees in Minnesota, were without a contract and were about to go out on strike. This was AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. That’s one of the major public employee unions in the United States. I don’t know exactly what position they have on the war but I’m sure it’s not an anti-war position. And as September 11th was happening, these workers were told essentially by politicians that it would be unpatriotic for them to go on strike. They held off for a brief period, a week or two, in deference to the mourning, and not wanting to go on strike which is difficult enough in the best of times, at a time when they would be so roundly attacked for doing so.
But several weeks later they did go on strike, and they refused to buckle to the attacks of various government officials and anti-union people who were saying this was unpatriotic, and they in fact won that battle after a week or two, and basically said we’re not going to bow to that kind of blackmail here. They threw back the President’s words at him, Bush having said ‘let’s get back to normal, let’s go about our daily business’ and as they pointed out, part of the business of American workers was their union, and they needed to get what was fair for them.
I heard Gov. Ventura threatened to use the national guard to scab on the strike.
I don’t know the details of that but I will tell you that there are National Guard everywhere now. When I was going to the airport yesterday there were National Guard directing traffic at the tunnels and in the airports, and again they probably wouldn’t know a terrorist in a million years. I mean who would? How do you know who that is? But it’s all about creating this sense that America is at war, and everybody has to line up behind the war, and giving it that kind of hype.
I felt that was the purpose of releasing the transcript of the cockpit to ground controller conversation this week. There was no reason to release this 2 months after the event other than to whip people up into supporting something, in case support was waning.
Right, and while at the same time directly telling the American media not to have too much if anything about victims of the American bombing. And if they do have it at all, like the memo telling CNN employees that whenever they mention victims of the American bombing they have to in the same breath say that it’s Osama Bin Laden’s fault and remember the people who died on September 11th. There’s really no pretense whatsoever that the press in America is neutral or objective. It’s strictly an organ of the Bush administration and they say as much.
Is it going to take years for the economic conflict and civil liberties issues to work their way through to a rank and file revolt? Do you think it’s going to take a lot of dead American soldiers coming home in body bags, or do you think it could happen faster than in the `60s?
Well again I think on the important collateral issues, the economics, the civil liberties, I think those things will happen much more quickly. Although the American economy was hurt by the Vietnam war, it was still a much stronger economy than it is today. And there was sort of an ability for a period of time to have both Butter and Guns as far as a lot of people were concerned. That’s clearly not the case now.
Traditionally, war will divert a union or worker revolt against Government policies. Milosevic played this trick, and of course Bush is capable of playing it. To what extent has he got away with that?
Oh I think so far they have gotten away with it quite well.
So people are moderating their union demands?
Yes, sure. And although the AFL-CIO certainly opposes these giveaways to corporations, there’s no mobilisation, there’s no effort to do anything about it very much, except perhaps for some lobbying which is important, but not enough.
But I think that will begin at some point to unravel. It has not really unravelled much yet, but I think it will. I think the related issues will come first, and the war will come next. It probably will take body bags before the war itself is contested as much as these related issues will be.
What are you doing over the next couple days?
We’re doing at least two meetings, Media Workers Against the War, and then Trade Unionists Against the War. I’m doing a BBC radio show early tomorrow morning. I talked with a lot of media today. We did a CNN interview, a BBC TV interview, The Independent. . . So the bottom line is, I’m trying to talk to as many people in the media here as possible and as many people in the anti-war movement, again to say that not all Americans support the war. The idea that you’re being anti-American worker if you’re against the war is wrong, and that some of us American workers at least appeal for you to support us in opposing the war.
The Government want British people to stand shoulder to shoulder with America. Well, which Americans?
Right, and that’s why the contacts between trade unionists, between the people in the anti-war movement in the various countries are so important because if we rely on the mainstream media to tell us what each other are thinking and feeling and experiencing, we’re never going to find out.
2. London anti-war march attracts 15,000 protesters (Independent, November 19, 2001) <http://www.independent.co.uk/story.jsp?dir=1&story=105631&host=1&printable=1>
Standing next to a stage was Michael Letwin, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. Representing the New York City Trade Unionists Against the War, he said: ‘We want to make sure that people in Britain know there are people in the States, in New York in particular, who do not support the war because we view it as the same kind of criminal terrorism that we saw on 11 September. It is important that people know that those of us who have suffered don’t want to inflict the same thing on other people.”
3. New York activist makes peace call (Morning Star, November 20, 2001)
<Not available on-line>
NEW York trade union organiser Michael Letwin told peace activists about the opposition to the Afghan war last night in a meeting at the University of London Students Union.
Mr Letwin, who also spoke at Sunday’s massive anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square, explained why he rejects the war being waged in their name and discussed its impact on civil liberties, racism and the media.
He is in London as a representative of New York City Labour Against the War, a coalition of trade unionists in the New York area campaigning against the war in Afghanistan.
He urged all trade unionists to sign a NYC-LAW statement against the war.
The statement condemns the September 11 terrorist attacks, which killed thousands, among whom were 1,000 union members.
It praises the labour movement’s support for the victims’ families and calls for ‘justice for the dead and safety for the living.’
But the statement insists that ‘George W. Bush’s war is not the answer.’
It points out that war will create terrorism, strengthen military dictatorships and ‘redirect billions to the military [and] corporate executives.
And it adds that war will ‘play into the hands of religious fanatics ‘ from Osama bin Laden to Jerry Falwell.’
*Mr Letwin will also be speaking tonight at a special meeting of Trade Unionists Against the War at the Exmouth Arms pub on Starcross Street, London NW1.
The meeting begins at 7.30 pm and the nearest Tube stations are Euston and Euston Square.
4. ‘It’s about US power’ (Socialist Worker, November 24, 2001)
‘UNLIKE WHAT you are told in the press, there are Americans, and American trade unionists, against the war. On 7 October 10,000 New Yorkers took to the streets against the war. New York City Labour Against The War has put together a statement now signed by around 400 trade unionists. It condemns the 11 September attacks but tells George W Bush that war is not the answer. Many in the US see this war as terrorism. And we know that ordinary people will bear the burden of recession.’ MICHAEL LETWIN, New York City Labour Against The War
1. Stop the War November 18 (Flyer)
Anti-war protest-100,000 march in London against war in Afghanistan (Stop the War News Release, November 18, 2001) http://www.stopwar.org.uk/news.htm Some
100,000 anti-war protesters marched in London today, doubling last month’s turn-out of 50,000, and reflecting the full breadth, depth and diversity of anti-war feeling in Britain. Trade unionists, Muslim organisations, community groups, anti-racists, human rights activists, anti-globalisation activists, students and MPs heard a wide range of speakers condemn the US-led military action in Afghanistan.
2. Photos of Demo (Stop the War Coalition)
3. 100,000 march in London (Media Workers Against the War, 18 November 2001)
The Stop the War Coalition, which organised the march, hailed the turn-out as well beyond expectations. After a week in which sections of the media indulged in misplaced triumphalism in relation to the war in Afghanistan and subjected anti-war dissenters to misrepresentation and calumny, the huge numbers were particularly significant.
4. Thousands join anti-war march (BBC News, November 18, 2001)
Organisers estimated that 100,000 had marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square for the event, although the police say the numbers were nearer 15,000.
5. Another coalition stands up to be counted (Guardian, November 19, 2001)
Thousands – police estimated 15,000, the Stop the War coalition said 100,000 – came to London from all over Britain to register opposition to the way the war is being prosecuted in Afghanistan.
6. Come off the fence now Report by Paul Mackney, General Secretary NATFHE
Published: 19/11/01 Speech to Trafalgar Square anti-war rally on 18 November
7. Hyde Park: Union Voices on the War
Interviews by Greg Dropkin
Hyde Park: Union Voices on the War Interviews by Greg Dropkin Published: 21/11/01
18 November 2001. I wandered round Hyde Park finding union banners before time ran out and we set off for Trafalgar Square. Other workers may feel differently. But these interviews show union activists discussing the war and some strengths and weaknesses in union organisation. Apologies for any misspelled names!
Quentin Tallon, President Cheltenham and District TUC Mike Grindley, Cheltenham, former GCHQ Trade Unionists Chairman Debbie Fogg, Deputy Branch Sec. Wolverhampton Local Government UNISON Sarah Sandford, Ipswich, Branch Secretary T&GWU 1/460 Ian Rez, Vice President MSF London Region Paul Venell, NUT Divisional Secretary South Gloucestershire Tom Machell, Vice President Sheffield Trades Council Sheffield Hallam UNISON John Bohanna, Liverpool, former T&GWU Senior Steward Ford Halewood Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary NUT Lewisham, South London Waltham Forest Health Workers Against the War Dave Knight, Branch Sec. UNISON Waltham Forest Local Government
**Quentin Tallon, President of Cheltenham and District TUC
Why are you here today? Well to show our revulsion at what’s happening in Afghanistan now, where innocent people are getting killed. Like thousands of other people, we want this war to end. What happened on September 11th was a dreadful evil act, over 4,000 innocent people killed. We feel that’s no excuse to kill thousands of innocent Afghanis.
What are the attitudes of your fellow trade unionists in Cheltenham?
Well it’s mixed. There’s people who feel the war should end, and that we should look at sorting these issues out in a peaceful manner. That extremists feed off injustice, and we need to get justice for people like the Palestinians who’ve been exploited.
Is that being reflected in resolutions coming through branches in your Region?
Nationally trade unions have put resolutions condemning the war, and I believe one is going to the North-West TUC Regional Council. We are looking at putting a motion towards the South-West TUC.
Is it being debated in a live way at branch level?
Not really, to be honest. Individual members are very concerned at what’s going on.
Have you had any kind of demonstration?
Peace people have organised vigils weekly in the town, and also in Gloucester, Stroud, and I believe in Newent as well, so it’s pretty widespread in the County. I believe that in Cheltenham the local CND have had an AGM for the first time for 3 years. So it is getting people involved again in the peace movement.
**Mike Grindley, Cheltenham, former GCHQ Trade Unionists Chairman [sacked from the Government listening post in 1984 for refusing to give up union membership].
I’m here with Quin Tallon, with the Trades Council banner, because what’s happening in Afghanistan should not be allowed. It seems to me obscene that the most powerful nation in the world should be bombing to pieces areas including civilians, women, kids in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world.
And they’re not doing it in order to catch Osama Bin Laden, they won’t catch him that way. The Afghanistan economy is in ruins. The Northern half has now been placed in charge of terrorist warlords, the so-called Northern Alliance.
The Americans are using daisy cutter bombs which incinerate everybody within 600 yards and if that’s a selective weapon to take out a terrorist clique, my name’s not Mike Grindley. They’re using cluster bombs, all sorts of heavy techniques from a great height. They can’t see what’s happening on the ground, they don’t know whether it’s working, and anyway they shouldn’t be there.
I suspect that there’s a long term American or Western angle as regards the Caspian oil, and they want the pipeline to go through Afghanistan. Iran’s too powerful and anyway there’s the sanctions regime. In the long term, I think that’s one of the things in their mind’s eye.
We are promised by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Colin Powell that Iraq is probably going to be next on the Americans’ list.
At the same time, the atrocity in New York and Washington was a dreadful thing, and every right-thinking person in the world, nearly all of us including me I hope, is appalled at what happened and obviously Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qua’eda clique must be brought to justice. But this is not the way to do it.
The United Nations should be involved, and the US is cavalierly bypassing them completely, and the situation is going to get worse. That’s the main reason why we’re here today, to bring home to the British Government that this won’t do, and they must stop this dreadful course of events.
To what extent are these opinions being voiced more widely in the trade union movement?
Well, I used to be fairly connected with a lot of people in the trade union movement, but for the last 4 years haven’t been so. To be honest, I don’t meet enough of them these days, I’m aged 64 and well retired, so I couldn’t really give you an informed opinion on that.
But I think the trade unions should get more involved. I know about 8 unions, the 3 rail unions, RMT, ASLEF, and TSSA, FBU, NATFHE, CWU, one or two others, their General Councils have come out against the war. But looking around I don’t see too many trade union banners. Whether any will join later. . .
Time will tell.
I’ve heard that in PCS there’s been some sort of gagging order to not say anything about the war.
I’ve not heard that, I couldn’t comment. If I knew about it for certain I would comment on it!
Do you see any relation between the struggle that you went through for union recognition at GCHQ, and the attempt to corral everybody into supporting the Government over the war? We’re all supposed to be loyal to the war effort.
Well on occasions when the Government wants its own way, it will always try and whip things up in its own favour, and say ‘he or she who is not for us is against us’. Of course that is a black and white sort of situation which doesn’t work at all. And anyway if they’ve got the wrong end of the stick, as in the GCHQ situation, they’re completely up the spout, wrong, and the thing has to be fought against.
Are we lemmings, or are we thinking people? Everybody’s against the atrocity in New York but that doesn’t lead on to the conclusion that therefore we have to be in support of bombing the hell out of Afghanistan or Iraq.
They’d like trade unionists to stick to very very narrow wages and conditions issues and not have an opinion about Government policy.
Yes, this is a Tory attitude to what trade unions are for, they should just be Friendly Societies and of course that’s a load of codswallop. There are nearly 7 million trade unionists in this country, and their families, plus retired pensioner trade unionists. We make up a third of the country anyway when you put it all together. And we have a perfect right as trade unionists to state our opinion. And of course that means collectively as well as individually.
I just hope there’s hundreds of thousands of people out on the streets of London today and that it’s seen widely on television. The trouble is you can’t necessarily ensure that that is so, even though it is a huge London event, hopefully. And I hope also that the Government will listen. It hasn’t done so far, and let’s hope the demonstrations get bigger and bigger until they do listen.
**Debbie Fogg, Deputy Branch Sec. Wolverhampton Local Government UNISON
We formed a Council Workers Against the War in our local Council building, and also I’m Chair of the Wolverhampton Coalition Against the War, which brings in every group, every individual that’s interested in stopping the war, basically.
Does the Branch have a policy?
Yes, those of us that were initially interested put forward a motion, which was passed almost unopposed by our Branch Committee, the stewards and Branch Officers. And that’s been put out to the Branch as well so anybody can oppose it if they want to, and nobody has.
Is there a live discussion at workplace level?
Definitely, everybody’s talking about it. You can get in the lift at the Civic Centre in Wolverhampton and hear people talking about the latest news. People are saying ‘do you think it’s going to turn out to be a nuclear war?’ I heard that the other day. Other people are saying ‘do you think they’re right going after Osama Bin Laden the way they are, don’t you think he should be extradited?’
How about more widely in UNISON?
Well I think in other Branches things are going on the same as in ours. But nationally UNISON has produced a statement which does not out-and-out oppose the war. It says it’s very sad that people will die as a result of the bombs, but it doesn’t say that that should stop. It says it’s almost inevitable and it’s just regrettable but that’s the only way forward. Which obviously a lot of us are very much opposed to.
We’ve sent our motion with a letter condemning that to the NEC. Depending on how long this goes on, this may even come to our next National Delegates’ Conference. It’s also being discussed and motions opposing the war passed at Black Members’ Conference just last weekend.
Have you thought about the civil liberties side of it in your Branch?
Yes we’ve talked about ID cards, because a lot of our members work with asylum seekers so they do feel it’s an infringement of their civil liberties. People who visit the UK won’t have ID cards, so I don’t see how it can actually solve anything, it’s just a backdoor way of bringing in ID cards. I think that’s the feeling among most of the people I talk to.
Blunkett’s talking about indefinite detention of anyone suspected of terrorist offences.
That’s right, and that goes again hand in hand with what they’re going to do with asylum seekers. People are going to be living in detention centres, not in the community. Again it’s not going to be Government funding, it’s going to be PFI’s that build more private detention centres.
Are you getting any kind of pressure from the employer to back off normal union business because we’re all at war?
No, in fact some of our Labour Councillors have actually come on board in the Coalition as well.
What are they saying?
The same as we are, that they’re opposed to the war. That it should stop and the money should go into Public Services. They’re having to oversee cuts year in, year out. 7 million this year, 8 million next year potentially, cuts in the Local Authorities’ budget, at the same time spending millions if not billions on the war in Afghanistan.
But our MP’s have been completely wishy-washy.3 Labour MP’s in Wolverhampton, no others. They’re saying exactly the same as our own UNISON NEC, that it will be very sad if people die but what other way forward is there?
**Sarah Sandford, Ipswich, Branch Secretary T&GWU 1/460
My Branch has just voted to affiliate to the Stop the War campaign, but this isn’t a real departure, we’ve been supporting CND and the previous campaigns against wars in the Balkans and the Gulf. We’re here also because we’ve got a lot of members affiliated or participating in the Socialist Alliance. A member of our Branch is a candidate in the bye-election on Thursday this week. Unfortunately our union is telling us not to touch the Socialist Alliance with a bargepole, but what we do individually is beyond their control, thank god.
What is the T&G saying at Regional and National level about the war?
I wish I knew. I’ve just written to send some money to an appeal for Afghanistan they circulated on behalf of the UN, but said ‘where are you politically, we’re not seeing your names up on the list of trade unionists who are going to speak today for instance. Why not? Please will you reconsider it.’ The grapevine’s telling me that they are all quite supportive of the war and I find that hard to take, given that Bill Morris has a very good stance on things like asylum seekers and refugees. So there’s a bit of a deafening silence.
But in the absence of advice from above, the bottom says ‘support this campaign’. The war is wrong, it’s fighting workers against workers, and we don’t want to see that.
Are you aware of other T&G branches expressing opposition?
I don’t know very much about that, I must admit. Some individual T&G members have come up from other Branches on our bus today. But whether that’s representative as a whole, I don’t know. Unfortunately being out in Ipswich, we don’t get to talk to each other as much as I’d like, except through our local Trades Council where there is generally support for the anti-war campaign.
How is the argument going in workplaces?
Again, I can only speak from my own experience which isn’t exactly typical. I work in a local Community Resource Centre, part of the TUC Unemployed Workers’ Centre network, where there aren’t many people in paid work. Most of my activists are indeed unemployed. But again through other political and union contacts, the NUT, the local firefighters are certainly coming out against the war and spoke at a recent public meeting to that effect in Ipswich last week.
I don’t know how sophisticated the firefighters organisation is in Afghanistan, but there are people there having to do similar things and it’s equally tragic, as in New York. I think from one person in one country who has to do a job like that there is an empathy towards the other, whichever nation you belong to it’s a terrible to have to pick up the pieces after people have been killed.
I’m pleased to see a lot more trade union banners here today. Last time, in October we got featured in Socialist Worker which was a first for us, and they were saying there were trade union banners but I felt they were less numerous, and now it does seem to have borne fruit.
Has the TUC in your Region said anything?
I understand it’s being debated, unfortunately from an East Anglian perspective we’re very much out of the frame. I used to be a delegate when there was an East Anglian network, but since it’s been part of the South East we’ve felt very isolated. I think it got a bit complex because somebody tried to add in amendments to affiliate to the Stop the War campaign, and then it didn’t get passed because of the amendments rather than the original sentiment.
So the original sentiment was critical of the war?
Yes, it was anti-war but because people then tagged on ‘let’s affiliate’ I think it fell.
**Ian Rez, Vice President of MSF London Region Obviously we want to stop the war.
London Region has taken a very good position against the war, we don’t think what the Americans and the Labour government are doing is the right thing at all.
Unfortunately, the national part of our union is fully supportive of the Blair policies. London Region has a whole history of being on the left. Not against the policies of the union, it’s the national body of the union which is against the policies of the union!
Do you feel confident that the Region’s opposition to the war is actually mandated from the rank & file?
It’s difficult to say. It varies from Branch to Branch. I know the Speech Therapists are being very positive about opposing the war. Branch meetings get a very small turnout. I’m in a Health Service branch, there was only a few of us at the member meeting and it was split on the issue. But the people that were unsupportive were not totally unsupportive. They were saying that people should abstain on the motions to Regional Council, where I wanted to support those motions.
Whether they come to Branch meetings or not, do you think the members are talking about it?
I honestly don’t know. Certainly where I work there’s a bit of talk about it but not a lot, but then like everything else you get on with what you have to do.
Is the Region taking any initiative to try to make the argument more accessible to members, to ensure that the thing is actually debated by the membership?
Not really, apart from the minutes and stuff like that. We used to have a Newsletter which we haven’t had for a long time. But our Region has a particular problem, because they’ve taken away our control of the money. We have to go to full-time Officers to get the money. You have to go back into a little bit of the history about people who got suspended from our Region. So we’ve got a bit of a problem.
When MSF took a decision at a national level to support the war, what was the basis for doing that?
It would have been at the National Executive and I don’t know, other than that the leadership and Lyons are totally in support of Tony Blair. As you know, MSF has now joined with AEEU and we’re going to be a section of the new union AMICUS. A lot of the policies of AEEU I would say are probably diametrically opposed to the policies of MSF.
So when the National Executive took a decision they would have basically taken it on their own?
On their own bat. For instance our last Regional Council had motions going up to National Executive against the war. So they would have taken a vote on those motions. Obviously we haven’t got a union policy because between Annual Conferences the National Executive decide the policy.
Paul Venell, NUT Divisional Secretary for South Gloucestershire I’m here on the demonstration because my union branch on Weds. evening passed a resolution condemning the war, and supporting the anti-war protest. We’re also attempting to ensure that the resolution is put on to our national conference where we hope it will be debated later on in the academic year.
Are other NUT Divisions around the country coming out against the war?
I don’t know at the moment, I have seen other NUT branch banners on the demonstration so I’m assuming that they’ve also been successful in adopting an anti-war position.
What’s the basis of the position in your Division?
Well first of all we’ve said that we condemn thoroughly the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, that we want our condolences to go to all the bereaved families in New York and across the world, but we don’t believe that what is happening in Afghanistan will mitigate any of the disasters that have occurred. In fact we think that the situation will increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks on innocent human beings around the world.
Of course as teachers who every day are concerned with and are trying to address, in broad terms, citizenship issues, we don’t feel that what’s happening makes it easy for us to conduct a rational debate in schools about how to move forward on difficulties such as Palestine, and oil in the Middle East.
I think the second reason why so many teachers are uneasy and very unhappy with what is going on in Afghanistan is because we continually get told that there isn’t enough money for schools, for teachers’ pay, and quite clearly there’s a lot of money out there being used to drop bombs on innocent civilians including young children.
The press has reported the case of the Head [Pete Stephenson] who got into difficulties for opposing the war.
Yes, I think he’s a very brave man and I think he’s right, I think it is possible to adopt a position on the war whilst also giving out balanced information to both sides. I find it inspirational that his governing body unanimously supported him and I know that in my Division there are groups of teachers who are setting up anti-war teachers groups in schools and want to initiate debates with both those who are for the war and those who are against it. And I believe that is important for young people to decide for themselves.
Have you had any pressure from higher up to prevent this happening?
Absolutely none at all.
So the NUT is not unhappy with the idea of a free debate?
The NUT actually sent out some extremely good materials to all its branches encouraging them to adopt these in schools. They are a very balanced mixture of materials, both pro-war and against war, from different ethnic minority positions, and I think the NUT’s position is clear that we have a responsibility, a duty, to make sure that the debates in schools are rational and coherent, because so many of our pupils come from the Middle East and there is a danger with the hysteria in the press that they could come under attack or feel under pressure.
How are parents, the wider community, feeling?
A lot of people here today are obviously parents. On my coach there were children from local schools, brought by their parents. I suspect, as is the case in all issues, there will be some parents vehemently opposed, some parents who are for the war. I think today shows however that there are a significant minority at least who are very much against the war.
What are the kids themselves saying?
Interestingly, I think most of the children seem to be against it in my experience. And I’ve had talks with my reps in other schools and they are saying that most of the children, if obviously slightly confused and very upset which is I think important, have a genuine humanitarian desire to see peace.
**Tom Machell, Vice President Sheffield Trades Council Sheffield
Trades Council’s policy is firmly and squarely against this war. What we’re seeing here is the American State reaffirming its right to do what it likes around the globe, on the pretext of the bombings that did take place in New York.
Obviously the Trades Council’s taken a position of condemning those, but we feel that it’s important that the trade union movement in general come out against this war and stop dodging the issue.
What is actually very pleasing is the number of national unions who have already said ‘stop the bombing’ and we’ll continue the campaign within the trade union movement to get that message hard and fast over to our membership.
All the rail unions have taken national positions against the war. The Communication Workers Union are saying ‘stop the bombing now for humanitarian reasons’. There’s a whole range of positions. Bakers Union, Fire Brigades Union.
It’s quite interesting with the FBU because obviously there is a lot of affinity between them and the firefighters who died in New York, but they are quite clearly saying that for the US State and the British State to be bombing the poorest country in the world, in an act of revenge, is not a fitting tribute to those who actually died in New York.
The Trades Council is saying that for a fitting tribute we should all stand up globally and say ‘no to war, and yes to peace and justice’.
How’s it going with the Regional TUC?
It’s very slow moving, partly because there is a reluctance on the part of the trade union leadership and bureaucracy to actually come out on anything which is seen to be breaking ranks with New Labour. So a lot of unions are dodging the issue by trying to be very very quiet, and not say anything.
But more and more, we’re seeing that within the union movement on the ground, local branches are actually reflecting the national mood which is against the war.
For example in Sheffield now we have groups of healthworkers, Council workers, University workers, civil servants who have organised themselves to carry out anti-war activity in the workplaces.
Do the mass membership see it as an issue?
I think it’s an issue where everybody for the last month and a half has obviously engaged in a lot of different debates and discussions within the workplace. Have rank & file members been pushing for positions within union branches? To a certain degree but in the main that lead has actually come from activists. But for the same reasons that it’s quite right that trade unions will take up positions against racism, against homophobia etc., and actively campaign amongst their membership for those positions, then we would say that it’s quite right for the unions to do the same on the questions of war and justice.
[Home Secretary David] Blunkett has a Sheffield constituency, has it come to any kind of open argument with him?
David Blunkett hasn’t actually wanted to debate the issue with us. Locally within the City we’ve had a march of 2000, a rally last Monday of 500, numerous public meetings of 300, 400 and odd people. We actually believe that we’re speaking for the majority of the people in the country, rather than a minority.
Is it coming up within the Labour Party?
There are large numbers of Labour Party members who are involved in anti-war activity, certainly within the local Stop the War coalition, and via the Trades Council. Last Monday Paul Marsden the Labour MP for Shrewsbury speaking at our rally, said that he was actually ashamed of the stance that his party had taken. And of course we’ve also seen the formation of Labour Against the War, which has a number of prominent MP’s plus members of the National Executive involved.
How much further do you think the opposition is going to have to go before it begins to have an impact?
Over the last week with the events in Afghanistan there’s been a lot of debate saying ‘well is it all over?’ And I think that today’s demonstration by the size of it says ‘no, people actually realise that it’s not all over’. All that’s happened in Afghanistan is that one gang of butchers has been replaced with another gang of butchers.
Whether the American State will now pull out and leave Afghanistan to the turmoil of the last 20 years, we really don’t know. Today’s demonstration gives the impression and the understanding that people realise this is a long war, because the bottom line is that the war that Bush has declared is the war that American imperialism can do what it likes around the globe through military might. So it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw the hawks, I was going to say start the bombing of Iraq again, they’ve never actually stopped, certainly increase the bombing of Iraq.
**Sheffield Hallam UNISON branch [a woman who did not want to give her name]
I’m part of the Sheffield Hallam UNISON branch, who voted against this war at a Branch Committee meeting. We brought our banner down to march with many thousands of other people against what Bush and Blair are doing in Afghanistan.
Are branch members actively concerned about the war?
At the Branch Committee we felt that we had to have a position because we felt so strongly about this. And obviously shop stewards have been going into their constituencies and discussing it with people. There’s a varied debate about it. But the fact that we have a debate is very positive within Hallam University.
A lot of the arguments we discussed at Branch Committee are about the injustice and the fact that it doesn’t solve any problems, and that actually in order to fight terrorism we feel that Bush and Blair have to look at the terror that they are imposing around the world.
The media say that women in Afghanistan have been liberated this week.
Well I think you have to look at the history of the Northern Alliance, the fact that when they’ve been in power they killed 50,000 people, so it is not about democracy in Afghanistan, it is about a New World Order that Bush and the US are trying to impose on the world.
How’s it going more widely in the Sheffield area in terms of trade unions?
It’s going very very well. We got 15 coaches down from Sheffield, we’ve got the Trades Council banner here, we have UNISON Council workers banner here and the Health workers as well, so it is actually starting to really build in Sheffield.
But the most important thing is that it is a massive wide diversity of people and different organisations that have formed the Sheffield Anti-War Coalition group.
Does UNISON in the South Yorkshire Region have a position on this?
Not at the moment. There is a motion going in at our next Regional Council, but I haven’t heard of anything else.
**John Bohanna, Liverpool, former T&GWU Senior Steward Ford Halewood
Why should trade unionists be out here today?
Well mainly because they are a serious organised arm of people within the country. It’s not good enough just for leadership to make comments against the war. They have to apply what they mean, and instruct if necessary, every single branch to make it part of each agenda to at least spend some time debating and discussing the war, and feeding that down to the membership which they represent. War, anywhere, affects people everywhere and it’s important that trade unionists play a very very serious role because through trade unionism we can build international links to work together and hopefully live in peace.
To what extent do you think the war has become a live issue for the membership?
I don’t see or hear that happening, but my knowledge of it is quite limited. No doubt there are leaders who maybe think within their little confines of offices that it is happening. But I have no knowledge of that throughout the rank & file. And my experience of 35 or so years as a trade union representative, I know it’s always difficult in any war to compete and counter the forces of the media within Western capitalism.
I know you’re not at Fords now, but what kind of debate do you imagine on the shop floor?
Initially there would be support in a macho sense. During the Falklands war, the initial cry was ‘Nuke the people’. Initially, they would buy into the likes of typical Sun headlines, of ‘Gotcha!’ It does take some courage on the shop floor for representatives to make the stand, and keep to it. Once that’s seen, then people slowly but surely begin to come round and say ‘well the guy’s honest, he stuck to his line, let’s listen to what he is saying’. It does take courage, and it takes perseverance. It also takes a great deal of belief.
But the structure is there, through the Branches, through the shop stewards organisation, for it to happen. And unfortunately I have to say, I like it to come from the bottom but it’s necessary to come from the top. The patronage that the leadership within the unions have can actually play a very very serious role in ensuring that we do have a force within unions against war, and particularly this war.
There are very few proletariat activists we know in Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean to say that can’t exist in the future, and we should be building links with them.
If you were still at Fords, what would you be saying on the shop floor?
I would be making the argument that it’s completely unjust. It would be a very very unpopular argument, to start questioning why the planes went into the Trade Center. Not necessarily ‘was it justified?’ but why they went in. We saw for over 30 odd years, the denial of debate about the Irish question. I don’t see that as dissimilar now. All we’re seeing is the effects of those horrendous things that happened in New York. But we have to question why people are prepared to die.
Is it an argument on civilisation? My argument would be that we are working people, we want to live a life as decent and as well as we can, and hopefully in harmony, because it’s absolutely magic to understand and listen to people living in many different lands and different countries, and different cultures.
America has given us an awful lot of good stuff, there’s no question of that. But look back since the 2nd World War at the foreign policy, where America’s dominance is and why it wants it. My argument would be, fundamentally against American imperialism.
Where does Ford Motors fit into that?
Of course Ford Motor Car company as far as I know has not played a serious role in advocating war, because war for a mass producer is not really in their interest. Protection of their markets is certainly, if it takes war to protect their markets they will of course support it but publicly they don’t come out and show that.
Would you expect opposition within the union movement if you made an anti-imperialist argument?
Without question. Both from the top and most certainly within the rank & file leadership, at the levels of say Convenorship. The best line a lot of them would take would be one of ‘nothing to do with us, we are about people’s jobs, and not about political activity of any shape manner or form’. Which in fact they should be, and they are without them knowing it.
**Martin Powell-Davies, Secretary NUT Lewisham, South London
The war in Afghanistan is not going to solve any of the problems of terrorism, it’s simply going to increase war and suffering. And we’re determined to show that we’re against it.
Is this a Branch position?
Yes it is, we had a General Meeting at the beginning of this week which agreed to support the demonstration and support the Stop the War campaign.
Is this being taken up more widely within the NUT?
It is, I understand the NUT National Executive did pass a motion opposing the war, there are a couple of National Executive members here who could give you a bit more detail. But clearly it’s an issue for teachers because school students are discussing and debating. We think that the war is one of the things that should be getting more discussion within schools.
What are the students saying?
It’s probably a minority of students who are interested and actively campaigning, but we want to encourage them to be able to have that debate within schools. We’ve got a few students here from various secondary schools, and we’re trying to encourage them to raise it themselves through Schools Councils, to say ‘we want a debate in our school’. Hopefully that way will produce some success.
What about the Head Teacher who was muzzled briefly?
It shows the amount of pressure that schools are put under. What they can say, what they can teach, what they can’t teach, what they can’t say. The pressure is there for religious schools, for religious assemblies, but if people want to raise issues from a trade union perspective, from a socialist perspective then we’re told we’re introducing propaganda into schools.
Has that kind of pressure been applied within your Branch?
Not really, but as we’ve been discussing with teachers here, people are wary, worried about raising issues, we’re just trying to give it a bit of confidence.
I don’t think the Government’s listening to us yet. How much further do we have to go before they will?
If the hawks in the American government want to move on to other countries which is one possibility, I think there will be an absolute outcry. But I think also it will become very clear very quickly that there will be absolutely no stable regime in Afghanistan and people will be asking ‘well what was that about?’ and drawing the conclusion that movements against the war and for a better world have got to continue.
The movement has to become as big as it can, but also people have to move into activity on other trade union issues as well. This is part of a wider campaign of a Government that doesn’t care about ordinary people’s needs. And that’s something that we’ll have high up our list, that money can be found for a war when it’s needed, from their point of view, but we need money in schools right now. We need the teacher shortage being ended, and those kind of demands flow out of the wider campaign.
**Waltham Forest Health Workers Against the War I’m Charlotte and I’m in UNISON, I work at Whips Cross Hospital in East London. A lot of us in the Health Service felt horrified at what happened on September
11th and immediately extremely concerned about how this was going to be used by the US, by Britain, and the bellicose warlike reaction that was already coming out.
On 17th September we issued a statement from trade unionists, we hadn’t had an opportunity to have a Branch meeting or anything, but a number of people from health unions put their name to a statement which was circulated around the local health service intranet. Basically giving our support and sympathy to the people who were killed and had suffered on September 11th, but saying that there was a very very great danger of war, at that time.
We feel that what is happening now is totally unjustified. It’s perpetrating more injustice, more violence. It’s creating a very dangerous conflict, division, destabilising countries. And horrendous suffering to the people in Afghanistan. It’s sickening to see the wealthiest nations in the world, the most powerful military forces dropping their military might on this impoverished country and now trying to dictate what happens there.
There’s a basic principle in the world which Blair and Bush and people like them are trying to completely override, which is that the people of a country, any country, have the sole right to decide what society they have, what kind of country they have.
I think we need to be very realistic about what the objectives are, and I don’t think they’re dealing with terrorism. I think they’re to do with the whole so-called New World Order where global finance interests and global capital can do what they want, and all the information’s coming out about the oil interests, the natural gas in the area. The importance that America and Britain see of getting a foothold there in terms of global strategy.
Are branches affiliated to your campaign?
Pat: Just on the Redbridge and Waltham Forest Health Workers, I’d like to say, I’m a Speech and Language Therapist and I’m here with Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There’s also a group of City and Hackney Speech and Language Therapists and there’s my union MSF London Region. And also some local teachers in the area where I’m working, so I think as a group, people are coming together, all sorts of workers, all sorts of backgrounds, all commonly against what’s going on.
What about UNISON?
Charlotte: UNISON local authority branch have voted to affiliate to the Stop the War local Coalition. I think various health branches are active and affiliating to Stop the War Coalition. Our local branch hasn’t managed to do that yet.
Pat: I believe all of us who go to our local meetings are definitely against it. I couldn’t say what the actual top of MSF position is.
But it’s bubbling over, below?
Pat: It certainly is going up through all sorts of different meetings like I go to London Health Advisory MSF, and my local East London branch, and the feeling with all of us, we’re totally against it.
It’s a shame it’s all of us coming out, and with privatisation as well, very often the people at the top of the union aren’t saying things as strongly as we would like.
Is the issue being debated by the mass membership?
Pat: Good question, to which I don’t know the answer.
Charlotte: Definitely it is. All sorts of people are very very concerned. The response to the letter that we sent round was very strong. There were some complaints but this group got set up because people felt very strongly that what was happening was completely wrong. People are very worried about communities being split, any concept of a religious war and people being divided on these grounds. They are horrified at the idea of lives being destroyed, people being killed, and a lot of people feel that this is just revenge. It’s certainly not unified, there are some people who say ‘well what else can we do, we’ve got to fight’ but there’s a very strong feeling that this is just brutal, it’s causing more suffering.
Pat: I think it is very important that the unions, the organised workers, have a very strong voice on this and are very pro-active, and that’s what we felt from the beginning. Our union issued a statement which is concerned and sort of critical but not actually clearly coming out against the war, just regrets that it has been deemed to be necessary. And I feel that we should be taking a stronger stand. But the thing is locally, we are, and that’s what we need to be doing.
If you talk to people who’ve been in campaigns before they say it’s really quite unprecedented how so many organisations and concerns, different religions, people with different cultural outlooks are actually working together. I think it’s just so important. And I also think we can’t separate the war from the issues we’ve already been fighting on, against privatisation.
You should talk to those guys there from Social Services, we’re facing massive cuts. All the pre-school Nurseries run by the local authority, they’re planning to shut. They’re planning to shut Day Centres for elderly people, two of them, and places in Day Centres for people with Learning Disabilities. And major cuts to Home Care. Voluntary groups are having their funds cut.
They’ve had a strike.
That’s right. It’s part of a whole agenda. Our governments can’t and don’t care for the people, and can’t look after the interests of people here but they can go and cause destruction in other people’s countries, and there’s the whole issue of costs, of one missile. But it shows their priority, their concern, they can’t find the money to fund the most basic needs that we’ve already got, they’re taking it away, but they can find the money for this.
**Dave Knight, Branch Sec. UNISON Waltham Forest Local Government
The branch is here today, we’ve affiliated to the national Stop the War Coalition, because we’re appalled by the policy of the Government. It’s particularly significant for us in Local Government that money isn’t being spent on the welfare of the community in Britain, and we’re spending it instead on dropping bombs on a very poor country. We can’t hold with that, we’re angry about it and very unhappy with the Government’s priorities at the moment.
Is this an issue that the Branch has actually debated at membership level?
We had a Branch meeting where a motion was put forward by a couple of members of the Branch Committee. We had about 50 people at the meeting and we did debate it, but the motion in the end was carried unanimously.
Would you describe it as a full debate?
I would. I think in Local Government because of the funding crisis we’re particularly concerned about how the Government is spending this money on Warfare rather than Welfare, and I think that rings very true in our branch. So you get the Local Government Officers together, the Social Workers, Home Care Assistants and so on and they’re just appalled, because they see the difficulty we’re having in running our Services, and see where the Government’s putting its priorities at the moment, which we think is entirely wrong.
How’s it going in UNISON more generally?
We’ve got a fairly healthy Branch at the moment, campaigning vigorously, we’ve obviously got tough times at the moment, with the Blair privatisation agenda which is very difficult for us, I wouldn’t pretend it isn’t but we are mounting campaigns constantly with user groups and so on. At the moment we’re battling with Social Services and we think we’re going to save some of the worst excesses of the cuts, though it does look like the Council will make some cuts which we will be very unhappy about. Things like Children’s Day Centres, Elderly Day Centres being closed, which is ludicrous in Waltham Forest, we need those services.
How is UNISON more widely reacting to the war?
Well there’s a number of branches here so you can see there’s a groundswell of opinion within UNISON about the war. Certainly I would say that London Region is against the war. Nationally they’re kind of fudging the issue at the moment, I would say.
Is that going to be taken up again?
I think so, and I’m sure that come the Conference time, there will be a lot of pressure on the NEC to change its view. Because Local Government workers, Health workers, the people who make up the majority of UNISON, aren’t in favour of the war at all.
Are you doing things as a branch to try to draw more people into the opposition?
Obviously one of the things is to turn up to these public events, but we’re also working within the union, trying to put forward motions at Regional and then National level, to try and steer UNISON policy.
How much further do you think we need to go before the Government takes any notice?
I think two things always seem to work with the Government. If they think it’s going to be an election loser, and if we can demonstrate what a waste of money it is and how the money should be being spent elsewhere, that seems to me to be a reasonable way to try and argue the scenario. We should be worrying about the welfare of our country rather than destroying the welfare of another.
8. ‘Police figures for anti-war demo lack all credibility’
(Stop the War Coalition News Release, November 19, 2001)
Our estimate of 100,000 was based on extensive and separate counts made by organisers who repeatedly walked the length of the march and who, later, viewed the full crowd overflowing Trafalgar Square from all angles.
9. Counted out on the march
(Guardian, November 20, 2001)
Anyone who witnessed the demonstration will have seen that this movement is not working in a vacuum, but represents a current in public opinion going far beyond the tens of thousands present to the millions who have been puzzled, shocked and often appalled by finding themselves declared ‘at war’ without any form of consultation, parliamentary or otherwise.
10. Magic numbers
(Guardian, November 22, 2001)
Police figures for the Stop the War march differ wildly from those of the organisers. But is it the methodology or the politics which is at fault