Stop the War Coalition
|Founded||21 September 2001|
|Headquarters||London, England, UK|
|Key people||Andrew Murray, Lindsey German, Tony Benn, George Galloway|
|Area served||United Kingdom|
The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) (informally just Stop the War) is a United Kingdom group established on 21 September 2001 to campaign against what it believes are unjust wars.
The coalition has opposed the wars that are part of the so-called "War on Terror" of the Western nations. It has campaigned against the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. The demonstration against the latter on 15 February 2003, which it organised in association with Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), is claimed to be the largest public demonstration in British history.
The impetus to form the Stop the War Coalition came following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. The Coalition was launched at a public meeting of over 2,000 people at Friends House in London, which was chaired by Lindsey German, then editor of the Socialist Workers Party's magazine Socialist Review. German argued that the action in Afghanistan, then threatened unless the Taliban government extradited Osama bin Laden, would lead to that country's "destruction", and "possibly a wider conflagration in the Indian subcontinent, Iran and the Middle East." Other speakers at the meeting included Jeremy Corbyn (Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for Islington North), Bruce Kent (of CND), and John Rees (of the Socialist Workers Party).
German became Convenor of the Coalition and a meeting on 28 October settled the Coalition's official aims. This meeting also elected a Steering Committee which consisted of a spectrum of left-wingers including representatives of Labour Left Briefing and the Communist Party of Britain. The Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee) and Alliance for Workers' Liberty failed to get elected, although both became members of the Coalition and participated in its activities.
The decision was taken in September by the Coalition to create a single President and a number of Vice-Presidents and Officers, all of whom would be elected, with their collective roles primarily revolving around publicising and appearing at events on behalf of the group, as opposed to administering it on a day-to-day basis.
The 'war' in the name of the group refers to the various wars that were claimed to be part of the ongoing War on Terrorism. Once plans for the invasion of Iraq were under way, the slogan 'Not in my name' was widely used.
At their initial meeting the Coalition also adopted the slogan 'Against the racist backlash', asserting that a war against Afghanistan would be perceived as an attack on Islam and that Muslims, or those perceived as Muslim, would apparently face racist attacks in Britain if the government joined the war (even though Islam is a religious, rather than ethnic, identity). The Coalition worked closely with the Muslim Association of Britain in organising its demonstrations.
The largest demonstration organised by the Coalition was against the imminent invasion of Iraq on 15 February 2003, claimed to be the largest demonstration in Britain with estimates of attendance ranging between 750,000 and 2,000,000 people. Speakers included Tony Benn, Jesse Jackson, Charles Kennedy, Ken Livingstone, and Harold Pinter.
As the military build-up continued, StWC urged its local groups and supporters to organise actions on the day the invasion of Iraq began. As this date was - for obvious reasons - unknown in advance, it was dubbed "Day X". This would eventually fall on 20 March 2003. Despite having very little time to put plans into action, events took place up and down the country: in London there was a large protest in Parliament Square; in Nottingham traffic outside an army recruitment centre was blocked for a while; and large numbers of school students walked out of lessons. Following the beginning of the war and the events of Day X, the Coalition organised another national demonstration on the next Saturday, 22 March. While the turnout for this march did not match the demonstration of 15 February - Stop the War claimed up to 500,000, whilst fellow organisers CND claimed between 200,000–300,000 - it was noted that this was the largest anti-war demonstration held during wartime and had been organised with but a week's notice.
Action after the war
The Coalition held a series of protests during November 2003 climaxing in a march on the 20th protesting against what it claimed is the aggressive foreign policy of U.S. President George W. Bush, and against the continued U.S. detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, which protesters claim is an illegal infringement of human rights and the Geneva conventions. A march past parliament was organised climaxing in a rally in Trafalgar Square. A papier-mâché statue of Bush was toppled in an action reminiscent of the much televised pulling down of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad by American soldiers. Speakers included MP George Galloway (then member of Labour Party now expelled who joined Respect), Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond and Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic.
The coalition estimates that 300,000 people were present at the demonstration, but this figure is disputed by the police estimate which put it as low as 100,000 people.
On 19 March 2005, StWC organised a large demonstration in Westminster with supporters marching from Hyde Park to Parliament Square via the US embassy. The supporters were calling for the invading troops to move out of Iraq, for the US to not attack Iran and Syria, for the UK government to halt reductions in the civil liberties of UK citizens including the right to protest and a free trial (which they allege would result from the recent Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 and Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005), and for a reduction in racism in the UK.
The date was chosen as the it was the international day of anti-war demonstrations, as called by the Assembly of the Social Movements at the 2004 European Social Forum. Estimates of the number of marchers vary from 45,000 by the police to over 100,000 by StWC to 200,000 by some observers. The protest was significant as it was the first time that a march had passed the US embassy in London since the protests over the Vietnam War. Later in 2005 StWC sought to join the Make Poverty History coalition of groups campaigning around the 31st G8 summit, held in July of that year, for an end to poverty, but was prevented from doing so, by the MPH Coordinating Team, on the grounds that the issues of economic justice and development are separate from that of war. Nevertheless they independently organised for the MPH demo in Edinburgh on 2 July and in some areas campaigners from MPH and StWC worked together on a local level. They also managed to negotiate a stage in the park at the end of the march. It has been speculated that they were prevented from joining the MPH coalition because organisers wanted to avoid radical criticism of the Labour government. Fellow anti-war group CND was allowed to join.
The 7/7 London bombings
Following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, StWC in association with CND and the Muslim Association of Britain held a vigil for the victims at the Peace Garden in Euston, London on 9 July 2005 and a further solidarity gathering at Russell Square, close to one of the Underground stations targeted, on 17 July 2005. At the latter StWC national convener Lindsey German condemned the bombings but added that “The only way to end the bombings is to withdraw from Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. When we have justice around the world we will have peace as well.”. The StWC also supported vigils across the country.
In late 2005 the StWC organised a demonstration on the 24th of September with the slogans Stop the Bombings, Stop the War, Bring the Troops Home, Defend Civil Liberties and Defend the Muslim Community. The protest was timed so as to coincide with the protests in Washington and to occur just before the start of the Labour Party Conference.
On 10 December 2005 the StWC held an 'International Peace Conference' attended by around 1,500 people. Speakers from across the world included Cindy Sheehan, the American mother whose son died in Iraq; and Hassan Juma, president of the Iraqi Southern Oil Workers Union.
At this conference a call was launched for an international demonstration on 18 March 2006. The protest in London took place with coaches coming from across the country.
Officers of many major British trade unions have been elected to the Coalition Steering Committee and they are also mostly affiliated to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. On 23 September 2006, a demonstration was held outside the venue for the Labour Party Conference in Manchester. Estimates of attendance varied from "around 20,000" by the police, "up to 50,000" from the Coalition, to "more than 50,000" by the Socialist Worker.
The 2007 demo took place on 24 February 2007 in London, jointly organised with the CND. The themes of this march were No Trident and Troops Out of Iraq.
On 15 March 2008 another demonstration was held, marking the 5-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; although numbers did not match the original demonstrations, around 40,000 people marched from Trafalgar Square, across the Thames, and back around to Parliament Square, where banners were placed in sight of the House of Commons.
London G-20 Protest: 1–2 April 2009
A march from the American embassy in Grosvenor Square to Trafalgar Square on 1 April 2009 brought together protesters from the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, The British Muslim Initiative, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. On 2 April 2009, 200 people protested outside the ExCeL Centre where the G-20 Summit was being held.
Opposition to Armed Forces Day
School Students Against War
School Students Against War (SSAW) was established in 2003 as a youth offshoot of StWC. SSAW's primary principle is to engage with young people about the issue of war.
Critics of the Coalition have alleged that SWP had too much control over the organisation, a claim that is no longer made since the SWP split in 2009. The Coalition has been criticised for the inclusion of George Galloway in its ranks. It has also been criticised for its refusal to condemn attacks within Iraq, and refusal to condemn foreign insurgent fighters who have entered parts of the country. The commentator Nick Cohen has also criticised the relationship of the StWC with organisations he considers reactionary such as the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). He accuses the coalition of ignoring the requests of secular trade unions and Kurds in Iraq. He also claims that there is a contradiction between the StWC's call for respect for human rights and its close links with organisations that openly call for the death penalty for homosexuality and apostasy.
- Tariq Ali, StWC Vice-President, Pakistani Trotskyist writer
- Tony Benn, StWC President, former Labour Party MP and Cabinet Minister
- Andrew Burgin, StWC press officer
- Louise Christian, StWC Vice-President, Campaigning lawyer
- Katy Clark MP, Labour Party MP for Ayrshire North & Arran
- Jeremy Corbyn, StWC officer, Labour Party MP for Islington North
- Tam Dalyell, StWC Vice President, former Labour Party MP
- George Galloway, StWC Vice-President, Respect MP for Bradford West
- Lindsey German, StWC convenor, former Socialist Workers Party (SWP) Central Committee member, Respect candidate in the elections for Mayor of London
- Kate Hudson, StWC officer, chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
- Caroline Lucas MP, StWC Vice-President, former Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and Member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion
- Alice Mahon, StWC Vice President, former Labour Party MP
- Andrew Murray, StWC chair, Chief of Staff of Unite the union, Communist Party of Britain member
- Chris Nineham, StWC officer, former SWP Central Committee member
- John Rees, StWC officer, former SWP Central Committee member, Respect National Secretary
- Keith Sonnet, StWC Vice-President, Deputy General Secretary of UNISON
- Walter Wolfgang, StWC member, Vice-chair Labour CND, Vice-president CND and member of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee
- Salma Yaqoob, Birmingham City Councilor, Respect founding member
- Anna Chen press officer
In popular culture
StWC is mentioned in the fictional 2004 publication by Sue Townsend: Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. In the satirical story, the protagonist, Adrian Mole, writes to Tony Blair in an attempt to retrieve his bond, after canceling a holiday to Cyprus due to the Blair Government's controversial 45 minute claim from the 2002 September Dossier. Mole wrote to the Prime Minister after his travel adviser refused to return his bond, whom Mole suspected of attending a StWC march when phoning his office, rather than being "away from his desk".
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