Short reports from 25 March

Submitted by AWL on 28 March, 2006 - 3:48

Short reports from four events on Saturday 25 March in London:

Some AWLers attended the "Good Local School For Every Child" conference organised by the National Union of Teachers with the Institute of Education and other groups. 250 or 300 were there - teachers, school governors, and so on. The AWLers distributed a leaflet about strategy against the Government's Education Bill, downloadable from this site.

It was a good, informative, well-organised conference, but what's not clear is what comes out of it in terms of campaigning, other than a continuing at-the-top link-up between the conference sponsors.

A group we had not come across before, called the English Secondary School Students' Association, was there. We'll be pursuing contact with them.

Some other AWLers went to the "SOS NHS" conference. In view of the size of the crisis in the NHS, they were a bit disappointed by the attendance - around 250, about the same as the schools conference - and the fact that it was mostly health-service professionals, with few activists from local "save-our-hospital" campaigns.

That conference concluded with a call for the TUC to organise a demonstration against the health service cuts, but it is not clear that anything more will happen about that than the brief protest planned by Unison during its health sector conference in April. However, Mike Fenwick, one of the AWLers who went to the 25 March conference, tells me that he is still convinced that the conditions exist for a new broad labour movement campaign for welfare and public-services provision.

Two of us went as invited visitors to the conference of the British organisation of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq. Nadia Mahmood gave a report to that conference on the situation in Iraq which talked about the collapse of civil society in Iraq and argued for a turn to trying to build democratic and secular neighbourhood self-defence.

A lot of questions were asked from the floor about the political deterioration in Iraq, but - as far as we could make out from the English translations we got of the speeches, all in Kurdish or Arabic - were left hanging without much answer, while the conference spent most of its time discussing the organisation of activity in Britain.

The two points emphasised were a wish to work more with the left in Britain and a drive to get a greater number of WPIraq members to take on responsibilities in their organisation and its associated campaigns, rather than leaving them all to a few people. There was also talk of increasing political education.

One of us spoke, restating AWL's solidarity with the WPIraq against both the US/UK occupation and the Iraqi Islamists of all shades, and reprising our recent differences with the WPIraq over their "Iraqi Freedom Congress" initiative and their refusal to contest the elections in Iraq. No other British left organisations took up the WPIraq's invitation to send visitors.

One AWLer went to have a look at the "March for Free Expression" in Trafalgar Square. This march was organised by a self-described "libertarian" (meaning, in this context, free-marketeer), Peter Risdon, with, right from the start, the ultra-right, strike-breaking Freedom Association (of Grunwick notoriety) as the main sponsoring organisation; but left-wingers Maryam Namazie, of the Worker-communist Party of Iran, and Peter Tatchell also (foolishly, in our view) agreed to speak. The Libertarian Alliance (libertarian here meaning free-marketeer) and "various branches of UKIP" also backed the event.

The AWLer estimated 500 people there, mostly, he said, very middle-aged and middle-class. Peter Risdon claims 600, and the police say 250.

The speeches were all "impeccably liberal". The organisers had said they wanted the BNP to stay away. In fact, they told demonstrators not to bring copies of the Muhammad cartoons - in response to the campaign against which the rally was called - for fear of the event being hi-jacked by BNP types. The BNP was not visible.

The only speaker who made a point of distancing himself from the Freedom Association was the Lib-Dem.

We're not in favour of a political bloc with free-marketeers and strike-breakers behind liberal, even impeccably liberal, generalities. But the event throws some doubt on the theory according which the Muhammad cartoons were a dramatic "racist" provocation, arousing a storm of anti-Muslim hatred under cover of free speech. If even a right-wing-dominated protest against "toonophobia" is "impeccably liberal" in voice, where is the dramatic new storm?


Submitted by AWL on Thu, 30/03/2006 - 12:52

1. No, of course the character of the 25 March rally proves nothing. However, that even a right-wing protest against "toonophobia" was in "impeccably liberal" terms - the rally organiser, Peter Risdon, a right-winger, was widely quoted as emphasising that the rally should not be seen as in any way anti-Muslim - does suggest some doubt about the thesis that the main thing going on with the cartoons was a storm of anti-Muslim feeling (which the cartoons would allegedly whip up to hurricane pitch) and besides which all the Islamist death threats, killings, embassy burnings, trade boycotts, etc. organised around the cartoons were mere bagatelles.

2. Some (disappointing) information about ESSA. "I had some minimal contact with them around the time the war broke out. So far as I could judge then they were an EU-funded bureaucratic set-up with minimal implantation in UK schools, though claiming more involvement on the continent. They didn't seem to be into campaigning in any meaningful way among what might be termed rank-and-file school-students. I filed them alongside the Student Parliament types. Maybe I'm wrong and/or they've changed since 2003. They did send me some nice posters for my classroom".

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