OCCUPATION IS THE PROBLEM – troops out of Iraq, demands 50,000-strong demonstration

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50,000 workers and youth marched through London last Saturday, as part of the many demonstrations worldwide to mark the third anniversary of the war and occupation of Iraq.

As well as Stop the War and CND groups from around the country, there were many trade union delegations, including those from UNISON, NUT, PCS, and rail union TSSA.

A lively delegation of locked out Gate Gourmet TGWU members were on the march with their Justice for Gate Gourmet workers banner.

They won big support for their march through Hounslow this Saturday 25th March, shouting ‘Victory to the Gate Gourmet locked out workers!’

‘Down, down Gate Gourmet! Woodley out now!’

A Workers Revolutionary Party and Young Socialists delegation also won tremendous support, shouting slogans ‘Bush, Blair – terrorists!’

‘What do we want – troops out! When do we want it – now!’

‘Victory to the insurgency – smash imperialism now!’

‘Victory to Palestine – smash Zionism now!’

News Line spoke to several of the marchers.

Council worker Glynis Freeman, a Brighton and Hove UNISON member, said: ‘I want to see the removal of British and American troops and the Iraqi people deciding their future, not the American lackeys.

‘The real terrorists are Bush and Blair. I want to keep our civil liberties and have the freedom to walk around without having to have an ID card.

‘I want to get rid of Blair, he’s worse than Thatcher.

‘He only got the education bill through with the backing of the Tories.

‘I’m going to be on strike on 28th March. This time it has to go ahead. I don’t want our union leaders to capitulate and make some cosy deal with the government.’

Amicus member Janet Temple, a speech therapist, added: ‘I would like British troops out of Iraq and no war on Iran, for people of whatever culture or religion to live equably together.

‘What Blair is doing is terrible and anything that could get rid of him is a good thing.

‘The trade unions should use their power, take strike action if necessary, to bring Blair down.

‘Everyone feels so angry at what’s happening in Iraq but it’s still going on and we have to stop it.’

One of the locked out Gate Gourmet workers, Amarawant Jhat told News Line: ‘We’re Gate Gourmet workers fighting for our rights.

‘Because the union leaders are not supporting us now. They stopped our hardship money as well.

‘I’m against the war on Iraq and I want the British troops out. So many innocent people have lost their lives.

Blair is bad and we will kick him out, definitely. We went to see Blair about our struggle but he doesn’t want to know.

‘We are getting good support today for our march on March 25th, and people are giving us donations.’

Locked out worker Mrs Surinder Dhariwal added: ‘We are raising support for our march next week and raising funds because we are getting no hardship money from the TGWU.

‘Today’s march is important. I don’t agree with the war on Iraq. The troops must come out.

‘Tony Blair is very bad. We are having a very hard time because Tony Blair supports cheap labour.

‘He’s also responsible for the war on Iraq. The unions should go on strike to bring Blair down and end the war and all the privatisation.’

Jill Brown, NATFHE rep City of Bristol College said: ‘We’ve come in a coach with students and staff to demonstrate against the illegal war that is still going on in Iraq and against what we are afraid will happen to Iran.

‘The imperialists want the oil. It’s oil that keeps the Zionist occupation of Palestine, too.

‘The trade unions should fight in the membership and push the leaders to demand an end to this illegal war and withdraw any subscriptions to the Labour Party.

‘What we really need is a general strike.’

Three school students from Camden, north London, were among the thousands of youth on the march.

Samia Begum, 15, said: ‘We’re all against America trying to take over Iran and we’re against the war on Iraq. We all know it’s about the oil.’

Yumma Rajwana, 15, added: ‘I bet if there’s another country with resources they want, they’ll try to take that over.

‘They’ll make up an excuse like terrorism, when Bush and Blair are the real terrorists.’

Emma Hillyard, 14, said: ‘America are the terrorists, not Iraq. Bush and Blair are the actual people who are terrorists, yet they are complaining about it.’

Yumma added: ‘People think because we don’t have the vote, we are oblivious to the political world but it does have a big impact on us.’

Samia said: ‘Instead of bringing out ASBOs and calling young people criminals they should make life better.’

Ray Peverill, a student from De Montfort College, Leicester, told News Line: ‘Blair should be brought down, he took British troops into Iraq on the basis of WMD which have never been found.

‘So how can we trust him over Iran.

‘They are saying Iran will have weapons and there’s no evidence for that, the same as there was no evidence Iraq had WMD.

‘Blair is trying to introduce ID cards saying that will stop terrorism but it won’t.

‘We should look at the way we treat other countries.

‘ID cards are more of a control mechanism because Blair is worried about workers and youth in Britain.

‘He knows we are a threat to his power.

‘Students are angry because he is making us pay for our own education which should be a basic right in a civilised country.’

Fellow Leicester student Anna Heath added: ‘They should be spending the money on education and healthcare and finding a solution to global warming, but they are spending it on war.

‘If they want to spend money abroad, they should spend it on helping people, like in Darfur.

‘I agree workers and youth should take action together and bring down this government and go forward to socialism – we should be like France.’

Dave Harvey, NUT national executive member for Outer London told News Line: ‘I’m here celebrating the fact that the NUT has its national banner on a Stop the War march for the first time.

‘It’s the first time we won the vote on the national executive to have it here.

‘The NUT is opposed to the illegal war and wants the troops brought out and the money spent on schools and hospitals.

‘We are taking action on pay and we are in favour of taking action across the public sector against privatisation.’

Young Amicus member Steve Allen, a worker for a children’s charity said: ‘We need to keep going onto the streets until they listen.

‘If the government don’t listen, the unions should call a general strike to bring down this Blair terrorist regime.

‘It’s very scary because of the powers being used against our own citizens now – more powers for the police, arrest without charge, the terrorism acts.

‘Young people are being criminalised.

‘Kids can go to prison for breaching an ASBO when they haven’t done anything criminally wrong.

‘The unions and all sections of civil society need to pull together to show solidarity and take back control of our country.

‘I say down with the system and go forwards to socialism, goodbye corporate Britain.’

Among the speakers at a closing rally in Trafalgar Square, PCS trade union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘While the Labour Party gets £14 million loans, think of the cost of the war – 100,000 have died.

‘Meanwhile, private companies are getting billions of pounds on the back of this war.

‘People in America paid the cost of this war after Katrina.

‘Trade unions in Britain and the world must come together and say to Bush and Blair stop this bloody war for oil.

‘There must not be a war on Iran under any circumstances.’

He concluded by calling for ‘freedom for the Palestinian people.’

Labour MP John McDonnell said: ‘On Wednesday, Brown will reveal we’ve spent £7 billion on war in Iraq, Afghanistan and, I believe, preparation for a war on Iran.

‘With that money we could have restored the NHS, built schools and ended poverty.’

He added: ‘We want a government for peace and not war. We want a real Labour government not one that is a puppet of Bush.’

UNISON London Regional Secretary Linda Perks said: ‘UNISON supported the idea of a phased withdrawal but it’s not happening quick enough.

‘The occupation is the problem not the solution. It is the occupation which is promoting civil war, it’s time we left.

‘All countries have the right to self-determination.’

NATFHE general secretary Paul Mackney condemned the ‘hypocrisy of the Westminster war mongers’.

He added: ‘They’ve taken our money that could be spent on pensions to make cluster bombs, napalm and all the weapons of the occupation.’

A representative of Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr, Sheikh Hassan Zargarni told the crowd: ‘The Iraqi people have no hate against the british people.

‘This war is harming both peoples – the Iraqi and the British people.

‘The war is being led by cowboys in America. You are a great people, you should not follow American policies.

‘We are trying to overcome the wrongs in Iraq, to bring people together.

‘We ask the British to leave Iraq peaceful. The staying of troops in Iraq is bad for iraq and for Britain.

‘The occupation is causing problems of sectarianism.

‘End the occupation and we will tackle these problems, which we never had before.’

Respect MP George Galloway condemned Britain’s collusion in the Israeli raid on the Jericho jail last week.

He added: ‘Blair is on the ropes, you have a chance to knock him out on May 4th.’

Other speakers included CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, former Labour minister Tony Benn and musician Brian Eno.