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Year 2001 No. 200, November 21-22, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

Jack Straw’s Visit to Iran and Pakistan

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

Jack Straw’s Visit to Iran and Pakistan

For Your Information:
Russia and NATO

Commons Motion Supports Right of Kashmir People to Self-Determination

Thousands March to US Embassy in Athens

Serious Questions about Deaths at Corus

Hyde Park: Trade Union Activists' Voices against the War

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Jack Straw’s Visit to Iran and Pakistan

In the course of a press briefing on Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, announced that he would be flying out to Iran and Pakistan for further talks with representatives of the governments of those two countries about the future government of Afghanistan. Jack Straw’s trip is being undertaken ahead of the meeting of representatives of various Afghan groups convened by the UN Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, which is scheduled to meet in Berlin early next week.

The meeting in Berlin will be attended by what UN sources are referring to as four "processes" – the Northern Alliance, itself a coalition of several different forces; the "Rome process", based around representatives of the former king of Afghanistan; the "Cyprus group" – which includes representatives of Afghan refuges and other Afghans living abroad; and representatives from the recently held Peshawar Convention, a two day meeting of 1,500 Afghan elders, tribal leaders and mujihadeen commanders organised by the assembly of Peace and National Unity of Afghanistan. Representatives of the Taleban have not been invited to attend the meeting. According to UN sources, the Berlin meeting may be seen "as an indispensable first step towards the establishment of a broad-based representative government in Afghanistan".

In an article earlier this week the Foreign Secretary stated that "malign interference from outside" had turned Afghanistan into a "vast killing fields for decades" and he added, "Britain with its record of meddling in Afghan affairs in the nineteenth century, should understand this better than most." Indeed. But in the same article Jack Straw claimed that the current military invasion of Afghanistan by Anglo-US forces was "regrettable but necessary". He pledged not only to continue such action, which has caused such death and destruction in the country, but also to continue the British government’s interference in its internal affairs on the basis of an alleged humanitarian concern and desire to rid the world of terrorism.

Now, according to Jack Straw, his visit to Iran and Pakistan prior to the Berlin meeting is specifically to speak to the governments of these countries "about the active support which they can give to the parties within Afghanistan with which they are historically related", and "to identity the continuing concerns of each of these countries and to try to ensure that we can deal with them". But why should the British government encourage such "active support"? Is this not more blatant interference in the affairs of others? How is the British government in a position to "deal with" the "concerns" of Iran and Pakistan, whatever conception the Foreign Secretary has of these "concerns", unless through further interference in the affairs of Afghanistan and other countries in the region? What is the British government now cooking up?

The Anglo-American military alliance has established its presence in Afghanistan and is now seeking to establish a firmer foothold throughout Central Asia through a variety of means, including the guise of providing what is referred to as humanitarian assistance, as well as economic reconstruction and investment in Afghanistan and other countries in the region. Britain and the other big powers are also manoeuvring to establish what they call a "broad-based" and "multi-ethnic" government in Afghanistan. They are refusing to allow the people of Afghanistan to establish a political system based on their own traditions and needs, while meddling to create the conditions both for further instability in Afghanistan and the neighbouring countries and for continued external interference and intervention in the future.

Article Index

For Your Information:

Russia and NATO

Tony Blair sent NATO headquarters a letter suggesting a new "Russian/North Atlantic Council", Reuters reported on November 17. The Prime Minister set out the proposals in a four page letter sent to every NATO leader and Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Replacing the Joint Permanent Council, the new body would meet more often and see members work on practical military planning as well as discussing policy. "This could well lead to taking common decisions together and taking common action together," one official said. "I can imagine we might well want to do something in together in the Balkans." It is hoped the new arrangement can be put in place within 12 months, in time for the Prague Summit on NATO expansion next November.

An unidentified British official told Reuters that Blair's proposal is not "about Russia joining NATO or...taking part in NATO's integrated military structure". It is rather a proposal for a relationship that is "more than collaborative...not just talking shop". The existing NATO-Russian Joint Permanent Council is, according to the official, "outmoded". Under Tony Blair's proposal Russia would have certain rights that NATO members have. However, responding to questions about Blair's proposal, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told reporters in Moscow that the prime minister's letter should not be seen as the beginning of the process of including Russia into NATO but as the beginning "of serious closeness of our assessments of...the situation in the modern world".

After returning from his visit to the US, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed by telephone with Tony Blair the "deepening of Russia's relations with NATO", Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported on November 17. According to the agency, the presidential press service noted: "Moscow appreciates the sensible reaction of the British leadership to the Russian president's repeated calls for bringing relations between Russia and the North Atlantic Alliance in line with new challenges and security threats on the European continent and in the world as a whole."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov responded positively on November 19 to Tony Blair's proposal. According to Ivanov, Moscow welcomes Blair's proposal, which will increase European security and stability, RIA-Novosti quoted him as saying. Ivanov added that NATO and its 19 members should not "restrict themselves to a '19+1' formula" but should find a way of "enabling all participants on an equal basis to discuss with each other the task facing them and seek joint approaches to meeting them". In an interview, Viktor Kremenyuk of Moscow's Institute for USA and Canada Studies suggested that "both sides understand" that Blair's proposal is "an attempt to do one thing, help [Russian President Vladimir] Putin save face, and at the same time not interfere with anything NATO was already planning to do".

Meanwhile, in an interview with "Vek" on November 16, Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council's Defence and Security Committee, said that for Russia, the worst option among those being discussed for expanding NATO would be one in which some former Soviet republics join the alliance. However, at the same time, he noted that while Russia is still opposed to NATO expansion, the issue itself has "receded into the background" in terms of real threats to Russian security. "Novye izvestiya" said that Blair's proposal is similar to the other "placating gestures" that "the alliance makes to Moscow every time it admits new members". The daily continued: "London is out to create the illusion that Russia as a strategic partner will be involved as an equal in the work on some aspects of the war."

Russian State Duma Defence Committee Chair (People's Deputy) Andrei Nikolaev told ITAR-TASS on November 20 that Tony Blair's recent proposal that Russia-NATO co-operation be restructured "is the optimum solution for our country at present". Nikolaev suggested that Russia may find it "easier to identify areas of agreement, co-operation, and partnership with each NATO country separately than with all of them together at once." Duma deputy speaker (Unity) Lyubov Sliska told reporters on the same day that she believes co-operation with the alliance should be attained in the political sphere: "It is necessary that Russia be integrated into NATO's political system."

From November 21-23, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson is paying a working visit to Russia to discuss the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan with Russian officials.

Article Index

Commons Motion Supports Right of Kashmir People to Self-Determination

An Early Day Motion on Kashmir and Self-Determination was tabled by Roger Godsiff on November 12, and has been signed by 22 MPs. We reproduce the resolution below.

The House of Commons motion was tabled shortly after the November 9 meeting between US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The Kashmiri people have the right to determine their own future. Yet their country is partitioned between Pakistan and India, and they have been denied the referendum which would allow them to express their will. In these circumstances, the aspirations of the people to self-determination are being blocked and, as the motion notes, there has been a resurgence in violence and assassinations in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

With this background the US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, has pledged, according to news reports, that "the war against terrorism will not end until strikes against India stop". The US ambassador denied that the rebels in Kashmir are "freedom fighters". He said, "A terrorist is a terrorist. They are not freedom fighters. No country will be permitted to provide sanctuaries to terrorists." Meanwhile, as the Commons motion notes, extra-judicial killings of the people of Kashmir continue on virtually a daily basis.


That this House notes that there has been a resurgence in violence and assassinations in Indian controlled Kashmir; regrets the continued reports of human rights violations and extra-judicial killing; supports any initiatives taken by the governments of India and Pakistan to bring a peaceful solution to one of the world's longest running disputes; commends both the United States and United Kingdom governments for their continuing efforts to develop constructive dialogue; and believes that Her Majesty's Government should continue to support vigorously the right of the Kashmir people to self-determination.

Article Index

Thousands March to US Embassy in Athens

Tens of thousands of demonstrators, including many youth, marched to the US embassy in Athens on Saturday, November 17, to mark the 28th anniversary of the uprising of the students of the Polytechnic University of Athens against the military junta ruling Greece at the time. About 5,000 police in riot gear patrolled the event.

On November 15-17, 1973, the students had occupied its building, demonstrating against the military junta, the US and NATO. They were joined at the Polytechnic University by thousands of workers, young people and peasants. The US-backed military dictatorship used armed forces and tanks to repress the uprising, and tens of protesters were killed. Every year, commemorations are held in universities, schools, workplaces, and even in military units, linking the anti-imperialist message of the uprising with the today's struggles of young people. The events in Athens end every year in a huge demonstration to the US Embassy, headed by the flag of the Polytechnic University that still bears the signs of blood on it.

The junta violently crushed the 1973 student uprising, but the image of tanks rolling over the Athens Polytechnic's iron gates helped bring down the junta about a year later.

The demonstrators waved red communist flags and blocked most of central Athens. The militant demonstration shouted such slogans as: "Murderers of the people, Americans", "50 years of NATO, the same story, juntas, wars, terrorism", "No involvement, no participation, let the Americans and their bases get out", "The enemy is one: imperialism". Among the demonstrators were soldiers in uniform, giving a message that they are integral part of the Greek people, and they will not allow themselves to be used against the popular interest. This is a message that is very up-to-date, with the continued participation of Greece in the imperialist war plans, and its on-going plans for the creation of a professional army.

The march closed three days of events to mark the violent crushing of the student revolt at the Athens engineering university 28 years ago. Similar demonstrations were held in many cities throughout Greece.

Article Index

Serious Questions about Deaths at Corus

The injury toll from the November 8 explosion at the Corus steel plant in Port Talbot stands at three fatalities, with five men on life-support machines and another five hospitalised.

Michael Leahy, general secretary of the steel union ISTC, said the union will conduct an "immediate and thorough" investigation into the tragedy. He added, "We shall be working closely with Corus, but we shall also be asking them some serious questions to find out exactly how this tragedy occurred – our members expect nothing less."

Welsh Assembly first minister Rhodri Morgan, speaking after meeting with company officials, said the explosion in blast furnace number five was "unprecedented". The minister’s statement came the same day the company was fined £300,000 at Cardiff Crown Court for safety offences relating to an explosion at the company’s Llanwern plant last year that left a worker paralysed below the chest. The Judge, G Hickinbottom, told the court: "There was a gross failure by Corus to heed warnings from both employees and contractors. Advice from the HSE, contained in a letter written in 1995, also went unheeded. This is a very serious breach of the regulatory scheme."

Article Index

Hyde Park: Trade Union Activists' Voices against the War

The following interviews by Greg Dropkin were posted on the LabourNet website on November 21, 2001. The interviews took place in Hyde Park on November 18 before the demonstration to Stop the War set off to Trafalgar Square. Greg Dropkin comments that they show trade union activists discussing the war and some strengths and weaknesses in union organisation.


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. . .

It’s early

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 PFIs 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 MPs have been completely wishy-washy. Three Labour MPs 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 health workers, 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 Centre. 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.

And MSF?
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.

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