March 22 Anti-War Demonstration in London - Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, speaks

Saturday 22 March's demonstration against the war on Iraq in London took place only three days after the war began. Nevertheless it has been described as the biggest demonstration of its kind ever in wartime. As had been the case on 15th February, the march had two points of assembly the huge attendance making it impossible to squeeze all those arriving into the usual starting point of Embankment alone. The organisers claim that al least half a million people turned up. This must be very close to the truth judging by the time it took to move off, and to reach Hyde Park, where a range of speakers of varied political/religious hues received hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in an endless human stream.

It also has to be taken into account that since the war began there have been spontaneous and organised demonstrations all over the country well attended by youth, students and workers.

The mood was still as strongly anti-war as ever. The fact that the attendance was lower than on February 15 was as we expected. This confirms that under the constant pressure of the media some of those hundreds of thousands who were participating in a protest for the first time in their lives that day didn’t attend this time. That does not mean that they have changed their minds and now support the war. However, there is inevitably some confusion, at this stage, that whilst opposing the war, some people will have been influenced by the propaganda pouring from the TV and newspapers, that to demonstrate now that war has begun, somehow undermines the morale of the troops, is disrespectful to the families of those dying, and so on. This will not last.

Many others will have felt that there was no way, at least not just by demonstrating, that they could change the determination expressed by Blair and Bush to go all the way in this genocide of the Iraqi people. As for those who did attend the demo, their attitude was one of defiance for as long as this war goes on… and beyond! The idea of half a million people on the streets protesting against a war in which British troops are now participating would have been unimaginable just a few short months ago. Now everything has changed.

The Muslim community has become most active against this imperialist aggression as was illustrated by their large presence. Fortunately, the majority do not see this conflict as simply an aggression against the Muslim world. This is in no small measure thanks to the massive response of non-Muslim British people opposing the war.

There will have to be more protests in the near future as all indications are that this conflict will be much longer than originally foreseen by the imperialist powers. The rapid collapse of Iraqi resistance, followed by the welcoming open arms of liberated people they claimed would quickly follow their invasion have failed to materialise! As Lieutenant General William Wallace, Commander of the US Army V Corps, stated in the Washington Post: "The enemy we are fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed. We knew they were there - the paramilitaries - but we didn't know they would fight like this."

Another national demonstration has been called in London for April 12. This will undoubtedly be another massive display of anti-Blairism and anti-Bushism.

At the March 22 Rally in Hyde Park, many speakers had their say. There were all kinds of confused appeals to the United Nations and the like but Jeremy Dear, General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists put forward a much clearer argument. 

This is what Jeremy had to say:

"Yesterday the owner of 130 newspapers in Britain published a statement to say that during the war press freedom will be suspended, that your right to know would be removed, that no criticism of this war would be tolerated. In the US George Clooney Meryl Streep, Jim Carey and Will Smith have all been banned from making anti-war statements at tomorrow night's Oscar Ceremony.

"Across the world pop songs are banned from the radio and artists are banned from TV for wearing T-shirts against this illegal and senseless war. This is what they mean by their new world order.

"They remove your human rights in the name of "freedom" and they do so because they don't want you to know the truth.

"The truth that this war by UN estimates could result in thousands of civilian casualties, tens of thousands injured, up to two million displaced and 10 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

"They don't want you to know that the reality of "precision bombing" and surgical strikes is that homes are destroyed and stray missiles land in Turkey or Iran.

"And they don't want you to know that the Coalition of the Willing is really the coalition of those who've been bribed or threatened into supporting the US's drive for Iraq's oil riches.

"But most of all they don’t want you to know that today across the world millions of people are marching and demonstrating not just for peace, not just against war but for a better world.

"Because just imagine if the £1000 million they spent on cruise missiles to bomb Baghdad last night had been spent for peace, to eradicate hunger and disease.

"Imagine if the money spent on research and development of the military technology available to the US and UK troops had been used for medical research or social welfare.

"People shouldn't mistake our opposition to this war as any kind of support for Saddam's regime.

"We don't need any lectures on the nature of that regime because we were marching and protesting when that regime killed workers and trade unionists in Iraq. When he gassed the Kurds and we were there protesting when the British and US governments were busy financing and arming his regime.

"Imagine if they declared war on poverty, a war for clean water, for the eradication of preventable diseases and a war to ensure the world's oil and natural resources are used for the benefit of the many not the greed of a few.

"Now that would be a war worth fighting!

"Our message today is simple: there can be no peace until there is justice - and we must all continue to fight for justice not just today but until we win."

March 28, 2003.