Mar 3, 2003
The following report of the big demonstration in Britain first appeared in Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the newspaper of our comrades in France.
If the day of February 15 showed something in England, it was above all the depth of the opposition to the war policy of Tony Blair's Labour government.
Never have there been so many demonstrators in London. For over nine hours, two columns of demonstrators leaving from different points converged on Hyde Park, the largest park in London. Over a million people demonstrated; many more than in November 2002, which already was a strong slap in the face for Blair.
The demonstration was called by the "Coalition Against the War in Iraq," a coalition that ran the gamut from the extreme left to the Muslim fundamentalists, passing through various ecologists, third worldists and a number of pacifist groups. And three of the five British political parties represented in Parliament joined in the call for the demonstration: the Liberal Democrats, the Irish Nationals of the NSP and the Gaelic nationalists of Plaid Cymru. There were also a number of unions and local groups tied to the labor movement.
In any case, the organizers were overwhelmed by the large number of demonstrators. The large majority of the participants appeared to have come spontaneously. Among them, there was an important proportion of very young people, among whom many came as an entire class organized in their high schools from all four corners of the country. And there was also a high percen percent of people coming from the middle classes, that is from the voters who "float" between parties.
Finally, a good half of the demonstrators were modest people, working people, unemployed or retired, coming to express their indignation not only against the threat of war but also against the arrogance of a government which looks down on the majority of public opinion which has opposed its policy. It is this indignation in the population that was seen on the tens of thousands of hand-written signs carried by the demonstrators.
Blair moved up his speech before the Scottish Labor Party by four hours – in order to avoid the protest that was planned in front of the conference center at the official time of his speech. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators noted the supposed courage of this politician who wouldn't face those who contest his bellicose words – but who is ready to let the blood of the Iraqi people flow under the pretext that "ridding the world of Saddam Hussein would be a humanitarian act."
After the February 15 march, no one can doubt the public opposition in Britain to the threat of war against Iraq. Blair himself saw it well. But will this change his policy? No question of that. He is satisfied to send contradictory messages, which is nothing new. He indicates the necessity to find a "solution within the framework of the United Nations," which is a formulation fluid enough to hold all interpretations, while at the same time he goes along with all of Bush's war talk.
Blair knows that the pacifist opposition he faces is not homogenous. Part of this current is more inspired by anti-Americanism, isolationism and above all a profound illusion in the neutrality of the United Nations, than it is by a real rejection of the predatory nature of British imperialism against the poor countries. And it is this that marks the limits of this movement as it is today, no matter how large the mobilization it was able to organize.
That being said, and no matter what Blair will say, this mobilization reflected deep opposition in the population to this war. The day after in the workplaces, there was an enthusiastic reaction which went well beyond those who actually participated. And this may reinforce the morale of a part of the population, particularly among the youth and the workers. If so, February 15 will have contributed to making people aware of their collective strength and convincing them that even if they don't have the power to prevent this dirty war, they can perhaps force Blair to pull back his missiles and many other things as well.