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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Building An Anti War Movement
Part 2: Moving To Action
Davy Carlin • June 16 2003

After the 20,000 plus demonstration on Feb 15th a change of tactics were now needed, this for a variety of reasons. Firstly though I along with others was aware that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) was and had 'actively’ attempted to mobilise their rank and file for Feb 15th as well as widely publicising and building for it. Being in constant contact with ICTU from the start and being both on the BAWM (Belfast Anti War Movement steering committee) and the STWC (Stop The War Coalition steering committee) as well as regular contact with various trade unions and trade union organisers, we were well aware of their active participation. This was one of the reasons that I and others voiced support for ICTU's involvement as our agreed and main priority was to build the largest protest for Feb 15th - which we did.

In reality what we had done by building a broad coalition including that of the ICTU was to bring one semi-functioning anti-war branch in Belfast within a few weeks to over a dozen community, trade union, and student branches in and around Belfast; created a large and militant student organisation to which some long term activists said ‘that they had not seen since the sixties'; mobilised the largest anti-war march in the North's History; organised feeder marches from working class communities including some who's make up had not been seen in decades; brought Catholic and Protestant and indeed republican and loyalist community activists onto the same march and opened up the potential for a space to voice a different form of politics.

Although we succeeded in that main priority of mass mobilisation we made some mistakes so tactics did need to change, with the main mistake being not establishing accountable structures for the STWC committee from the onset. The reasons for this being because initially the main groups within it were ICTU, the Belfast Anti War Movement (BAWM) and the Derry Anti War Coalition (DAWC) who worked on a consensus, where we had not found disagreements in relation to the Feb 15th demonstration. Secondly with the sheer momentum of it all and the limited time, discussion of the practicalities of the Feb 15th ascended above discussions on the practicalities of committee structures, although raised we never seemed to have time pre Feb 15th to get around to discuss it in any great detail due to that momentum. This meant that the next meeting post-Feb 15th was left in the hands of ICTU who did not call a meeting for two weeks.

Apart from that many within the BAWM and its many affiliates were also aware that the ‘ICTU’ would not be 'up for’ a number of issues including on this occasion, that of non violent civil disobedience (although many of its affiliate trade union members were). While some were seemingly fixated by the fact that ICTU were not up for this as other anti-war groups had called for it elsewhere, there were others including myself who did not see it as a major problem. Why? Well quite simply civil disobedience does not always come from above but also below although it would be beneficial if ICTU had called it but the simple fact is that after Feb 15th the main practical mobilisations were done by the BAWM and the DAWC and their affiliates. Secondly it was the spontaneity of the movement that took such decisions on the day while the essential practical organisation was done from the committee. For example as I will report on later it was school students who engaged in large acts of non-violent civil disobedience despite being asked and even attempted to be physically removed from spontaneous sit down protests to listen to organised speeches. It was thousands of people, the movement, who marched past both ICTU's demands and the police's orders to stay in one particular place and to march upon police lines, again mass disobedience, not called up front by anyone but by that spontaneity of the movement in action. Others and I were aware that this situation could arise so had no worry if ICTU called it or not.

In reality in Belfast thousands of trade Unionists, student, community, peace and anti-war activists and others have engaged in five days of non violent civil disobedience some small others large scale - more than that of many other such movements and organisations that actually called for it - as we gave the state no warning and the sheer numbers at times of the movement in spontaneous action was what some knew may well happen. Of course one needs to be highly organised in such a period and to have accountable and democratic structures giving a strategic lead albeit with tactical changes as and when it necessitates. It was though the spontaneous action from the movement from below rather than a call from above on this occasion that gave both the element of surprise and provided heightened consciousness of the strength held in such a movement through that collective action from below.

So with achieving what we had set out to achieve, that of a mass protest on Feb15th, we now needed to look at our position and reflect on what needed to be done. Although some again within the BAWM became frustrated at finding what direction to take given the fact that ICTU had not called a meeting etc, it was though quite simple as to how to deal with it. Firstly to establish firmly the BAWC who were many of the activists on the ground and who many also, within their independent organisations were in the STWC committee. This we did and the organisation and coordination of the student, community and trade union groups would be dealt with here as was and is the case along with the organisation of feeder marchers from around Belfast and also the planning of many other actions including protests, fundraisers etc. We were aware also that ICTU might eventually also take a back seat in the time ahead and that this committee may well eventually become the coalition committee which would not be a problem as firstly we were establishing an accountable committee made up of various organisations and secondly post-Feb 15th we and our supporters and affiliates would again be the main mobilising force if they took a less active approach. Secondly we needed to continue to work with ICTU within the coalition and attempt to still win them on various aspects of our position while working to a consensus of building for international days of action (If not possible we could do it as BAWM or to contact the STWC member organisations and agree to call a meeting of STWC ourselves if ICTU failed again to do so, while still attempting to win them to participate). Finally to hold regular activities and continue to establish and bring other groups aboard with the fixation as some held not being on ICTU but in building and deepening our roots within local communities, trade unions and student groups.

So when ICTU did call a meeting after Feb 15th we in the SWP had three proposals. Firstly to call a march in Belfast the Saturday the bombing started, this ICTU was also raising and was agreed upon. Secondly on day X (the day after the bombing started) to call rallies in city centre at lunchtimes, this was also agreed. Finally to call a ten minute work stoppage and walkouts when bombing started' - this was not agreed. So the walkouts would have to be worked on by the BAWM and its affiliates. The first walkouts were called by a number of organisations building school student groups and although around 2 -2500 walked out what was brilliant was the spontaneity of it, as it actually turned out most of the school students who walked out on March 5th were not organised by any organisation. Those who took this type of action were given the confidence by the tens of thousands who had marched in Belfast on Feb 15th and by the tens of millions more who had marched and took action around the globe. As the build up to the war continued we in the BAWM started to continue to form trade union branches and to actively get our branches to support the Anti War Movement. In the largest branch of the largest union, that of branch 8 in the civil service of N Ireland for example in which I am a member (1000 members) and where we (the SWP) have several members and many supporters, my comrade Ryan McKinney raised the motion for support. There was a very interesting debate, with Ryan unpicking the various arguments at the end and winning almost unanimous support from the branch for the Anti War Movement and its calls for action. This situation was being reflected in many unions by trade union activists within the Anti War Movement. We also continued to hold various actions and to firmly establish the BAWM committee in regular meetings. Then in the early hours of Thursday 20th March the Imperialist and Illegal war on Iraq began in earnest. As it happened early morning the SAW and the BAWM decided to call for action that day at lunchtime as well as taking part in the STWC action the next day.

So lunchtime walkouts and actions were organised as well as feeder marches from various areas. As I stood at the front of the City Hall in Belfast on March 20th SAW (Schools Against War) from East and North Belfast had already arrived along with a few others. In the meantime in South Belfast SAW and BAWM activists along with activists in Lecturers Against War were blockading the roads outside Queens University. Around 1000 school students from Methody and other schools as well as Queens students continued their sit down protests. They then began to march towards the city centre several hundred strong lead by the SAW banner. Similarly in West Belfast SWP teachers and SAW activists had prepared banners and were mobilising outside St Louise's School on the Falls Rd with other SAW activists who had organised in other schools around the West. They then marched down the Falls to join up with yet other SAW activists who had organised in St Dominic's Girls Grammar School lower down the Falls Road. So several hundred strong they made their way on down the Falls towards the city centre. Also at the same time more SAW students from the Ormeau Road were on the march to the city centre while other BAWM students were occupying the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education (BIFHE).

So as we stood there we first heard the chants of 'No War', then seen the Students from South Belfast, several hundred strong, coming towards us led by the huge SAW banner. Although another student organisation had also called walkouts for that day and had got a sound system they would not wait, although asked to do so on several occasions until SAW and other students arrived from their feeder marchers, who where prepared to listen to their speeches if only they would hold on for those hundreds of other fellow students still on the march. But on seeing those feeder marches coming in from SAW they were not prepared to wait for 'another organisation' (?). So those SAW students who were already there took to the roads with their microphones for large scale civil disobedience to wait for their colleagues. This situation at its height seen the bizarre sight of the ‘leader’ of a Northern Socialist Party in a frenzied state trying to physically lift 'their school students' of the road (who were engaged in a peaceful sit down protest with hundreds of others from SAW) to go over to a corner to listen to speeches. (Unfortunately this type of political sectarianism was shown by the same person towards myself and also towards a young organiser comrade from SAW the next day.) Nevertheless the behaviour had little impact on the day as while 30 or 40 eventually were herded and then huddled into a corner, of the road to listening to speeches (before coming again onto the road to join their school student colleagues) around 1200 students were engaged in large scale sit down protests.

So while a roving mike went around the students who had by this time blocked off all three intersections at the Belfast City Hall, dozens of them spoke about the war and why they had walked out of school. Then a cheer went up, SAW from West Belfast had arrived, then another cheer went up a short time later as SAW from the Ormeau Road had arrived. After chants and school student speeches a call went up 'to the US consul.' And with that a twelve year old school student took the mike and she lead a march several hundred strong, Catholic and Protestant school students with some Catholic and Protestant trade union representatives through Belfast city centre upon The US consul. On arrival the school students were met with scores on semi-clad RUC riot cops, dogs, barriers, mobile surveillance units and a dozen police trucks and else more. Some of the school students first attempted to get over then to remove the barriers at the US consul - with that the first batons were drawn toward school students. Although no skulls were cracked the RUC were keeping the cracking of school student's skulls for another day not far of. SAW and BAWM had made their point so after another sit down protest I suggested that we should link arms and march out past the cops who were now calling in reinforcements. So after marching out as one and making sure everyone came through, the protest was then asked to disperse at Castle Street. Although most dispersed others went on to partake in other forms of direct action around the city of Belfast. As I looked back at the consul from Castle Street I remembered our first march upon the consul a few years back against now former US President Bill Clinton's visit to Belfast, which resulted in the first ever occupation of the US consul in Belfast. Little did I know though as I looked away from the consul that in a matter of weeks that we would again be 'greeting' yet another US President coming to our small city. This time he wanted to come to host his war summit - a war we were already taking to the streets to oppose.

The next day March 22nd was the day called by ICTU for the 'silent vigils.' The turnout was smaller than the BAM and SAW actions the day prior with several hundred in attendance. Yet again even on this day the local trade union branch banners had come from SWP trade union activists who had marched to the City Hall with their branch banners, similar was the case with many of the school, community and political banners in attendance who were activists within the BAWM. After the minutes silence the SAW again went onto the roads and again the intersections were blocked off. The semi-clad riot cops arrived quickly and ordered the students off the roads but the students stood firm, then eventually made up their own minds to call an end to their protest once they had made their point. The next day was to be the third day in the row we were to mobilise, again this time like Feb 15th it was for an international day of action. Once again activists in West Belfast started to organise a feeder march, which like the main march had really only two days to build and organise for it. Yet it was inspiring to see hundreds of school students walk out of their schools and march down the Falls road on the Thursday 20th, then to see several hundred more community and trade union activists two days later on the 22nd, again on the march, many of which had joined the thousand strong feeder march down the Falls Road on Feb 15th.

So again we were 'on the road' via the Falls to Belfast city centre against the Imperialist war - a war of occupation and not liberation as wanted to be portrayed by the warmongers. Similarly my comrades who had organised the march on the 20th from South Belfast again organised also a feeder march from South Belfast to the city centre as well on this day. The turnout for the main rally was 4-5000 as stated by elements of the mainstream media. Yet when I looked at the march, the BAWM, the feeder marches, SAW and with other affiliates we may have made up around half of the march, with the trade Union banners again coming from the active BAWM members. This was reflected at the next STWC meeting where ICTU personally commented and thanked the 'strong mobilisation' from the West Belfast Anti War group and its again organised feeder march, which can be reflected, I believe, in the BAWM and its activists as a whole. It was also interesting to see the increasing levels of security and police mobile surveillances. Maybe this could be reflected in the leaders of Unionism calling on the Anti War movement to call of our protests as they were wrong and 'unpatriotic.' So a peace movement which had brought Catholic and Protestants together on an international concern was now being used by the leaders of Unionism for an internal sectarian issue. So apart from increased activity and surveillance by the state and also one may add aspects of loyalism towards us I also noticed the Unionist media also picking up on it. With one article in particular putting 'enemies (of the state?) and anti war and peace activists' in the same sentence - attempting to draw parallels? Yet this type of propaganda was and is to be expected as they have had many years experience of it.

So over the next week or two we within the BAWM continued our regular meetings and activities which included protests at the US consul or direct action such as activists chaining themselves together for a blockade of the Shell garage in Belfast city centre etc. Then on Friday 4th of April I got a phone call, 'Davy, George Bush is coming to Belfast'.
'Your winding me up' was my reply.'
'I'm serious check Teletext'. And I did, and he was coming here in three days. I thought briefly of the rank hypocrisy of it all - this warmonger coming here to jump on the Irish Peace process bandwagon and to lecture us on peace while talking war. It was also ironic after thirty years of recent war and that peace process, he should choose this place to now host a war summit with Tony Blair the British Prime minister. Yet maybe he also thought because of the recent history of our country he would be met by little protest.

So straight away we began to organise and the difference between the ICTU led STWC and the activist based BAWM, the DAWC and the Irish Anti War Movement could be seen within hours. Within that couple of hours six buses had been booked from Dublin and filling, with others coming from around the south. Buses and carpools had been organised in Belfast, buses from Derry, activists were also coming from Scotland and others from elsewhere. We within the BAWM had arranged a press conference in a hotel for the next day as well as an activists meeting. The meeting next day was attended by ICTU and many of the main activist groups. We agreed that the press conference we had organised should be done under the broader banner of STWC and also that everyone should go out and organise for ' the event'. The event being that George Bush was coming to Hillsborough at six o'clock on Monday 6th April so people agreed to go to the protest we had organised at Hillsborough and also on the next day Tuesday 7th April to have a 'die in' at the front of the Belfast City Hall.


So with that we went on full steam for the next forty-eight hours phoning and contacting our supporters and anti-war affiliates. By Monday the Irish Anti War movement had filled up to eight large buses from the South and had arrived at Hillsborough with many others coming by alternative transport. The Derry Anti War Coalition had filled buses from Derry. While buses had also been filled in Belfast, both leaving Queens University and Belfast City Hall from the BAWM. We also had many activists from the BAWM making their own way there through car pools and we also had to turn away over one hundred people looking to get on the Belfast buses but fortunately we were able to suggest or provide alternative transport for the short journey. At 6pm at Hillsborough over 3500 people had assembled and we prepared to march. So as I and my comrade Richard Boyd Barrett from the Irish Anti War movement got people assembled I was asked by ICTU if I would like to lead with the STWC banner which they had got professionally made, to which I agreed. So I began getting together a variety of activists from a number of organisations including contributors to The Blanket to head the front of the march with me. With that we then headed off with the huge banner taking up the entire road, myself holding onto the banner with one hand and a mike in the other. So we marched forward ever closer to the castle that held the warmongers.

The march, loud, lively and colourful, looked impressive as we marched up towards Hillsborough Castle. We were to stop half way up to listen to various speakers including that of the SDLP, Sinn Fein and Women's Coalition which had caused a bit of controversy due to the fact that they were going in the next day to meet the warmongers. I had got a phone call a few days prior, as well as being told by various members of some of those parties that they along with others had requested to speak at the demo. Although some were worried by this as they seen these people as ‘hypocrites’ or trying to jump on the ‘bandwagon’ I and other leading activists had no major problems with this. Why? Firstly, rank and file members of these groups had actively participated in the movement at various stages and to a certain extent as well as also senior members of the SDLP and Women’s Coalition having attended on one occasion a STWC meeting. Secondly, if senior figures of these organisations wanted to go on the platform to attempt to explain their contradictions and hypocrisy (which many believed it was) they would have to explain it publicly in front of the world's press and to their rank and file activists who would be there. While they knew also that they may also have to face the come back from others on the platform including Eamon McCann, Bernadette McAliskey, Richard Boyd Barrett and Aine Fox. I also suggested that others who had been active in the Coalition including other student and political groups who had not yet had the opportunity to speak at any of the prior Anti War rallies should also get a platform, as should one or two others, with which others agreed.

When we got to the place in which ICTU and the police had told us to stop the sheer momentum of the movement drove the overwhelming majority of people to march past the stopping point and to march upon Hillsborough Castle. So as the short sleeved 'community police' watched over the few that stopped at that point the overwhelming majority of us marched on to be faced by rows of RUC/PSNI riot cops blocking the road, and with more of them also in their full riot gear including their balaclavas hiding their faces in the surrounding fields with dogs. The march stopped with activists standing eye balling the cops face to face while in the distance across the field I could see scores upon scores of more riot cops hiding in preparation while behind this there was to be a huge security barrier manned by many more. We sat down on the road with the cops itching to get into us while a pro-war person stood on a lamppost and heckled us (some believed he was an agent provocateur) so to give the cops an excuse to move in. Yet as helicopters flew above and the CIA watched us from the cover of nearby bushes we had made our point and marched back, some to listen to the speeches while many others started blocking the main roads and carriageways into Belfast. Those whose political parties were going into meet the warmongers, who had come especially to Belfast for a war summit, were heckled as they spoke with Sinn Fein almost drowned out by the calls of 'shame', 'hypocrites' etc. But it was Bernadette McAliskey and Eamon McCann who people spoke of afterwards on the way they took those to task who where going into meet that President and Blair during the 'Summit for slaughter'. On our way back some loyalists started to gather armed with sticks and iron bars probably still getting succour from David Trimble (Ulster Unionist leader and ‘in limbo' first minister) and his specially called press conference a few days earlier to attack our Anti War Movement.

The next day was to be a 'die in' (everyone to lie down as if dead - a symbolic gesture) at the front of Belfast City Hall, to which a couple of a hundred of people turned up. After the ICTU led 'die in' other activists went on to the roads to hold a brief peaceful sit-down protest. Within moments police dressed in full riot gear arrived. Then the peace activists were baton charged out side Belfast City Hall. Yet the peace activists held their ground both against the calls of ICTU to remove themselves from the road and the beatings the RUC/PSNI forces were dishing out. Young women were trailed along the road by the hair, school students were beaten with batons and shields, as the riot police continued their attacks and arrests on peace activists. But still the young peace activists would not move. Shoppers in Belfast city centre started to crowd around with some shouting 'shame' at the riot cops as another school student in his school uniform was attacked. Yet the peace activists continued to stand firm and would not move and then to cheers of those on the peaceful sit down about one hour later the riot cops eventually backed off, maybe the cracking of school students' skulls beaming live across the world did (as US president was still here as was the world's press) not sit well with their supposed 'reformed and community image'. So ten minutes later after the cops had backed off, the peace activists removed themselves from the roads and marched round to Belfast city centre police station to show solidarity for their arrested colleagues. I am unsure when the last time that such a peace protest was baton charged outside Belfast's City Hall in the city centre but the images of school students and peace activists being beaten and dragged (at times by the hair) from the streets does not sit well with that 'community policing' we are told about. And for some more peace activists they have come to a firmer understanding about the whole role of the police and the state.

With that the BAWM were again to march through Belfast city centre on Saturday to the US consul, then round to the City Hall. With our march several hundred strong we marched towards the US consul in Belfast city centre (they are soon to move the consul to a more 'secure' unit outside the city centre) where we were met with a large mobilisation of semi-clad riot cops. With dozens of cop jeeps hidden in and around the side streets of Belfast city centre and lines of the baton itching cops watching on we stewarded well our protest. We were met by also dogs and provocation by some of the cops who were attempted to 'wind us up' with words and comments quietly voiced to leading activists. We remained at the US consul for a while then marched to the Belfast City Hall. There as we stood on the roads outside the City Hall where a few days earlier many peace activists were baton charged, both cops and cop jeeps in large numbers had fenced us in from the city centre street. We however negotiated with them that if they removed the jeeps (which were blocking off all view to the city centre so people would not be able to see what was happening as they had seen a few days prior) that we would move (ever so slightly) forward towards the City Hall. So with that, with activists still on the roads outside City Hall we then listened to the final speaker Eamon McCann.

I have learnt as have others many lessons in the last few weeks in building a mass movement and coalition (This time against war) and moving to action an anti-war movement. Over the next period we prepare for our local May Day march. We also all need to widen and deepen the connections with those we all worked with as many upcoming issues from water charges to PFI will need again such a 'united front' both seen in the communities and within the trade unions and maybe also through elections to use 'that platform' to raise such issues of common concern to a wider audience. I have also learnt how irrelevant those who engage in political sectarianism become and how their rants are only then listened to in their wee clusters when people see that activists like ourselves are not only talking the talk but leading the walk while working, engaging, organising, debating and mobilising with many others in a open, respectful and fraternal way.

At the same time we need also to organise to participate in the next international mobilisation. That is to be held in Evian which is on the French, Swiss boarder where the G8 are (hiding) holding their next meeting. We as in all previous international mobilisations shall come from Belfast and around Ireland to join with scores of thousands of others. I remember the last International protest that I went to in Genoa, where we said as a people that our world is not for sale - they did not listen - so let our voices continually raise louder. So to all those anti-war and anti-capitalist activists around Europe and further afield who are going to Evian/Geneva we hope to see you there as together we can continue collectively to discuss, protest and to take this people's movement forward.

Think globally - act locally

Part 1 - Building an Anti War Movement is on The Blanket site


 

 

 

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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



 

 

I have spent
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in opposition, and
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Index: Current Articles



16 June 2003

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

Building an AntiWarMovement: Moving to Action
Davy Carlin

 

The Genealogy of Power: On Michel Foucault
Liam O Ruairc

 

Trade Union Bureaucrats Shaft Aldergrove Workers

Sean Smyth

 

The Supreme Commander

Anthony McIntyre

 

12 June 2003

 

Crippling Critique
Anthony McIntyre

 

Joy or Death
Aine Fox

 

Telling it like it is

Anna Livia FM, Transcript

 

The Conveyer Belt of Informers

IRIB

 

World Exclusive!
Jimmy Sands

 

Connolly and Republican Socialist Organisational Strategy
Liam O Ruairc

 

 

 

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