New protests planned in bid to bring Britain to a standstill
Direct action urged if conflict begins
John Vidal, Jamie Wilson and Tania Branigan
Monday February 17, 2003
Anti-war coalition leaders, emboldened by the massive turnout at peace rallies in London and around the world, are planning to try to shut Britain down should Tony Blair defy public opinion and go to war without a UN resolution.
"We want people to walk out of their offices, strike, sit down, occupy buildings, demonstrate, take direct action and do whatever they think fit the moment war starts," said Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition yesterday.
"We want to completely close down Whitehall and prevent the Ministry of Defence going to work. At 6pm on the first evening after the bombing starts, there will be demonstrations and vigils all over the country, to be followed by another march with CND on the first weekend after war starts."
The coalition will decide over the next few days whether or not to call for a local "day of action" which would be an invitation for younger, militant groups around Britain to take direct action.
Last year, with considerably smaller support, a similar call led to more than 300 demonstrations, including university occupations and wildcat strikes.
International campaigners from the US, Asia and elsewhere are expected to meet in London in the next week to consider further coordinated opposition to war. But whatever the outcome, local groups will continue their diverse protest activities, which range from weekly vigils in Milton Keynes to next week's Cycle for Peace in London.
American airforce bases such as those at Fylingdales in Yorkshire and Fairford in Gloucestershire, where activists have staged weekly "weapons inspections", are likely to become a focus for much activity.
One of the key dates will be March 8, International Women's Day, which will see an anti-war march setting out from Parliament Square, organised by women who have been holding a weekly antiwar picket opposite Downing Street.
That day's annual global women's strike, held in more than 70 countries each year to push for investment in caring work rather than military budgets, has been dedicated to the anti-war movement this year.
The size of the London and Glasgow marches, together with the great diversity of people on them, has given people a shared confidence and a new moral authority, said Ms German. "People who oppose the war now feel that they speak for the majority. To get at least one million, probably two million, people on to the streets on Saturday is unprecedented. This was a national occasion," she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by many people on Saturday's march, many of whom said they had never marched before.
"Mr Blair has truly united Britain for the first time in my lifetime. I never dreamed so many people felt the same way as I did," said Joanna Fitcham, company director from Norfolk. "I shall be taking part in every demonstration I can from now."
"Next time I'll bring all my friends," said John Tucker, 15, from south London, who had come with his mother.
Barrie Botley, 58, from Folkestone, said he had been amazed by the numbers present. "The campaign is growing in momentum now and this won't be the last protest, I'm sure. It may well be small compared to what's come," he said.
Several politicians yesterday predicted that the march would have repercussions throughout the Labour party and beyond.
Tony Benn said: "It will go down in British history. In 50 years' time people will say 'were you really there?' It has given us great hope. This is crunch time. Tony Blair can now either be the leader of the Labour party or leader of the war party. "
Prominent Labour anti-war MP Alan Simpson said that the march had united the anti-war movement with the anti-globalisation movement and could redefine British politics.
"The party is split over this. There are only 180,000 members but more than one million people were in the park. The government no longer speaks for its constituency. If Blair takes us into the war we will launch a movement in the Labour party to indict him."
Grassroots campaigners were equally quick to make the link with recent protests, which they believed had encouraged groups with diverse aims to join together and focus on specific issues.
"I was involved in the protests against the Gulf war, but this is very different," said Mirjam Junker, from Germany, who joined the protests on Saturday. "There are more people and also a wider range of people. I think it's to do with the anti-globalisation movement.
It was the beginning of many things; groups joining up and linking together. After Seattle people have learned to protest and take to the streets again."