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Stop the war conference 2005

Jim Jepps

I attended yesterday's StWC conference as a delegate from Socialist Unity and it seemed to me a relatively successful, if mainly uncontroversial day.

There was a lot of business to get through, but for a change (for the left) this was a well organised conference and there seemed to be a good balance of debate and a series of speeches throughout the day from more prominent members of the coalition (including Caroline Lucas, Tony Benn, Andrew Murray, George Galloway, Lindsey German and Jeremy Corbyn).

The first session was on the war on terror.

The coalition committed itself to an understanding that it's focus could not be tightly on the war on Iraq alone, as many other issues are bound intimately with this. Therefore motions were passed against the war on terror, the defence of civil liberties, depleted uranium, Nepal where a western backed coup has just taken place and more than a thousand people have been rounded up and arrested (and I read today that hundreds have been broken out again by the rebels), Columbia and others.

There was then a session on military families which was extremely moving (I surprised myself at how effected I was) this session was introduced by George Solomou (TA refusnik), Rose Gentle and Reg Keys who both lost sons in Iraq and Melanie Brumpton whose daughter is due to go to Iraq next month.

This session focused on army recruitment and the territorial army, and several speakers who have been involved in speaking directly to these groups reported how successful it was. There is a general crisis of recruitment to the army at the moment and if this can be deepened it will severely limit our leaders' ability to wage more wars.

There were then trade union speakers. bob Crow in the most disgusting yellow shirt I've ever seen made an excellent speech, the deputy general sec of Unison (I think) also said something or other and earlier Paul Mackney the head of Natfe spoke very well.

This was followed by Hassan Delwar, an Iraqi trade unionist, who spoke at length and stirringly on the occupation and resistance. Including condemning the killing of trade unionists which was wholly endorsed by the conference. This was backed up later when motion 34 from Socialist Unity was passed which stated, among other things "the kidnapping or murder of civilians is unjustifiable whoever is responsible" and that "the recent murder of Iraqi trade union official Hadi Salih is being exploited by some who wish to harm the anti-war movement"... "the Coalition embraces individuals and organisations with a wide range of opinions. Individuals and organisations can take different attitudes towards the insurgency" whilst still working together "we see diversity as a strength, and we deplore those seeking to split the anti-war movement."

I would type the whole thing but, frankly, time presses.

Another interesting motion passed, which I'd wondered if it would be opposed was for a quarterly publication sent out to all members.

The newly re-formed Oxford StWC choose conference as an opportunity to pass one of the most sycophantic motions possible congratulating "the outgoing National Steering Committee on the principled and effective leadership it has provided since the last conference." Gag.

This reminded me of those Blairite backbenchers who get up in PMQ's and say things like "does the PM agree with me that he is the bestist PM there has ever been in the whole of history?" I think this motion may have more to do with what is happening in Oxford than any desire to brown nose on a national level, but I don't retract my retching. Interestingly this was the first motion to get even modest opposition, I'm sure this was purely on the principle of opposing suck ups.

A couple of the Iraq Occupation focus motions were passed on building links with civil society in Iraq and the military families campaigns.

A couple of things passed that I don't know will result in much real action. Support for the G8 protests (which I fully support) and the building of an international war crimes tribunal which I thought was a bit a fantasy really, but was passed without controversy.

I'd never heard Dr Tamimi from the Muslim Association of Britain speak before, when he did so I was blown away - his main theme of "the war is a domestic issue" was pretty powerful stuff, but also notably I had in my mind that these are the people that are accused of being terrible reactionaries. Perhaps Dr Tamimi is not typical of MAB but his speech was packed full of progressive policy and dispelled any doubts in my mind (born of ignorance) that these people are not well worth uniting with over the war.

The final session of motions was the most controversial, although it was not fraught in the way some conferences are. This was focused on a) the elections and b) some miscellaneous policy.

First the elections, there was a variety of motions - the steering committee recommending a position of highlighting the pro-war MPs, having hustings, and campaigning during the election against the war.

The Green party put an amendment to this toughening it up a bit which I voted for but was defeated (with significant support though) and two other motions basically calling on us to oust every mp who supported the war - which I felt was understandable but would have led the coalition in some places having to call for a vote for anti-war Tories etc. a position I think Labour Party supporters of the coalition may have had some difficulty with!

These were heavily defeated.

The motion on insisting future conferences have a crèche was remitted (oh god no! it's gone in the bin!) because Andrew Murray said they'd try in future but the cost was prohibitive (which is balls) and that the coalition will fund people who need to pay for child care (I've not seen that advertised ever, a service no one knows about) hmmm, niggle.

REVO and Workers Power had separate motions, and why wouldn't they, they are completely separate organisations. The fact that they said almost identical things... coincidence I'm sure. Troops out NOW! and outrageously in my view tried to commit the stwc to "oppose trade unions linking up with, supporting or promoting... the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions." Voted down heavily. Although parts of the revo motion on the g8 and youth work had been passed earlier so it was not a defeat for their entire position.

CPGB (ML) had a motion and were most irate at being described in the order paper as the CPB (ML) - I'm afraid I got the giggles at this point as I thought "yeah, the the cpB (ml) are REAL wankers". This motion calling for "victory to the resistance" as the main slogan was voted down heavily, just as it has been at SSP  conference last weekend.

The Socialist Party put a motion on trade union work which was pretty uncontroversial and went through without difficulty.

My most niggly part of the day - which was on the whole a tiny bit pedestrian - was the way the CPGB (not ML) motion was treated.

I can't be bothered to type the whole thing but it was being accused of insisting on a socialist resistance (no it didn't), was dictating to Iraqis what they should do (which it explicitly did not do) and other crimes. It was nonsense. Anne McShane moving berated the tendency to do this to the opposition, but I think the speech may have been better directed at calmly and patiently pointing out that these criticisms were factually wrong. Anyway, they lost the motion, which I voted for partly because of the misinformation that had been told about it.

My other negative point was that the constant "recommendations" from the chair on what we should vote for I found rather creepy. However, I don't want to give the impression that the entire day was taken up with these sorts of things, as some conferences are.

Anyway, over all a workmanlike and responsible conference of a movement that has not gone away. Also some indications that those anti-war groups and activists that have ploughed a separate furrow are still welcome in the coalition.

A good number of the speeches, and movers of motions, were recorded and as they are transcribed they will be appearing on the site over the next few weeks.


February 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism