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Tens of thousands march in Manchester

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Evidence of the growing discontent with the Labour government was shown on the streets of Manchester on 23rd September, when 50,000 people marched around the Labour Party conference venue, G-Mex. It was the biggest demonstration in Manchester since the Chartists, 150 years ago, and the biggest mobilisation against the Labour Party in its history.

Whilst the demonstration was called by the Stop the War Coalition, and the war in Iraq was still the main focus for many of the demonstrators’ anger, a range of other issues brought people out on the streets, from privatisation to student fees. Labour’s neoliberal policies of the last nine years have driven the party’s popularity down to an all time low. Eighty union banners punctuated the length of the demo, with NHS Logistics strikers among the unionists calling on Blair to go.

An Independent on Sunday poll found that 59% of voters now think Labour would lose the next election. Blair himself has suffered a slump in the ratings over the past few weeks, with 66% dissatisfied with his performance and only 26% pleased (Mori/Sunday Times). This sense of impending change - and the possibility of influencing it - provided the subtext of the demo, even if the Afghan and Iraqi wars provided its key slogans.

The march was lively and positive, bolstered by the success of the emergency demo in London against the Israeli attack on Lebanon in August, and Israel’s subsequent defeat by Hizbollah. The defeat of US imperialism’s proxy in the Middle East has demonstrated to the world that Bush and Blair can be beaten, a victory that will inspire the Afghan and Iraqi resistance to renew their efforts against the occupiers in their own country.

Speakers in Albert Square included Tommy Sheridan, for the first time representing his new movement, Solidarity, Tony Woodley of the TGWU and Rose Gentle of Military Families Against the War, whose overnight peace camp had been banned by the Manchester City Council.

Workers Power organised for the demo for a full week at Manchester University and local sixth form colleges. Over a hundred students signed up to the Revolution Society at the university, and helped with many organisational tasks prior to the demonstration. Revolution and Workers Power marched together in one of our biggest and liveliest contingents for years, with new issues of Workers Power magazine and Fifth International journal to sell. Our contingent attracted many young activists to it - as well as photographers and camera crews.

Make the anti-imperialist movement anticapitalist as well
On the Sunday Workers Power members intervened into the Time for a Change conference, making the case that the war was not caused by a particular policy of Blair and Bush but was a result of the whole system of capitalism and imperialism that we live under. Revolution organised a very successful fringe meeting, which made the case for supporting the Iraqi resistance and defeating Imperialism in the Middle East.

That there was such a fringe meeting was essential. The opening rally of the main conference allowed George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn (MPs for Respect and Labour, respectively), and John Rees of the Socialist Workers Party an hour to put forward their analysis and perspective for the antiwar movement. As Corbyn noted, this was a welcome opportunity to take a more in-depth look at the issues. Yet none of the speakers managed to get to the crux of the matter.

Rees started by locating the cause of the war drive in the USA’s need to grab control of the oil resources in Iraq. He correctly pointed out that the Lebanon war was in fact a second front of the Iraq war that had gone badly for the imperialists and their Israeli ally. And he ended by urging us to make it impossible for Blair’s successor - probably Gordon Brown - to keep the troops in Iraq.

However, it was what Rees left unsaid that was crucial. Capitalism, especially in its imperialist epoch, is inherently warlike, as it forces the big powers to conquer and re-conquer strategic areas of the globe in their bid to maintain their profit rates and economic advantages over their rivals and would-be rivals. That’s why the anti-imperialist movement must become an anticapitalist movement, too.

Rees and Galloway were both remarkably short on who or what should replace Blair or Brown. They simply urged us to “keep up the momentum until the troops withdraw". By implication, we can then demobilise. But surely US and UK imperialism would, in such a scenario, retreat, regroup and seek another - violent - way to achieve their aims for global domination. The only way to end war and the threat of war once and for all is to remove its root cause: capitalism.

For more on the class struggle in Britain see [INT] [/INT]