Stop The War National Conference: Turning The Tide
The importance of a vibrant and powerful anti-war movement cannot be understated
Stop the War Coalition held its national conference on Saturday, filling up the Arlington Hall in London. The conference took place against the background of a 17-year long war in the Middle East and a number of crisis flashpoints across vast areas of the world.
Stop the War delegations from groups and affiliated organisations, as well as individual members from across the country - from Edinburgh to Ceredigion and from Chester to Bournemouth - were in attendance. A range of speakers from the Middle East and Britain addressed the conference, providing valuable analysis of the international and domestic situation and ideas on how the anti-war movement should respond. The speeches were accompanied by further discussion and contributions from the floor.
The first session, which was introduced by writer, public intellectual and veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement Tariq Ali, Unite chief of staff and former chair of Stop the War Andrew Murray, the general Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Kate Hudson, the convenor of the Voices for Creative Nonviolence Maya Evans and Stop, Emma Dent Coad MP for Kensington the War convenor Lindsey German, was centred around the theme of "opposing war and racism in the era of Trump". A number of speakers and contributors from the floor discussed the dangers associated with Theresa May government's attempts to totally subordinate UK foreign policy to US interests. New threats were also highlighted, including the sabre-rattling over Iran, the danger of Trump’s trade wars spilling into military conflict, as well as the dangerous move in US nuclear weapons' policy towards the extension of scenarios in which the US would be prepared to deploy nuclear weapons, accompanied by technological developments which facilitate the deployment of these horrendous weapons.
Several speakers remarked that Stop the War's analysis has been proven correct time and time again, including in relation to the war in Libya. This is a conflict which the political and media mainstream initially perceived to be entirely uncontroversial as it ignored Stop the War's warning that it would lead to a calamitous outcome - both in terms of direct casualties and an enormous refugee crisis as a result of the war. Emphasis was laid – both in individual contributions and in resolutions that were passed - on Stop the War’s determination to continue to provide solidarity to the Palestinians especially in the context of the ongoing attacks on Corbyn over this issue.
The conference resolved that Stop the War should continue to campaign about a broad set of issues, including against the UK government's continued war-making in the Middle East, against growing threats of a US-led war against Iran, for an end to the British government's fuelling of the war in Yemen through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and in other ways, as well as in defence of Palestinian rights and in defence of Jeremy Corbyn's attempts to bring about an anti-war government.
The second session largely focused on imperialism, occupation and war in the Middle East today. It was introduced by Kim Sharif, who is a solicitor and Director of the organisation Human Rights for Yemen, by Saeed Shehabi, Bahraini author, journalist and member of the Bahrain Freedom Movement,. The session discussed the ongoing war and humanitarian catastrophe which is afflicting Yemen, and for which the Western powers backing the Saudi-led bombing and siege of Yemen bear much responsibility. UK support for the repressive Bahraini dictatorship was also highlighted.
The final session, which mostly focused on building Stop the War, was introduced by Kevin Courtney, the joint General Secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), specialist on the Asia Pacific region Jenny Clegg, and by Stop the War’s vice chair Chris Nineham. The session began with an analysis of the militarisation of the Asia Pacific region, a dangerous process in which the UK is also beginning to take part, as well as of the enormous waste of resources on the military budget while education, healthcare and social care are facing savage cuts.
It was emphasised that the anti-war movement has had a massive impact in helping to build broad anti-war sentiment in Britain, which is a major obstacle to the pursuit of further wars. However, it was also pointed out that in the context of the highly belligerent Trump presidency, the possibility of an anti-war government and of relentless attacks on Jeremy Corbyn over the questions of foreign policy, strengthening and deepening the anti-war movement is an urgent necessity. It is also necessary to make the links between the government’s pro-war policies and other social problems, including racism. This is why Stop the War is supporting the National Unity Demonstration against Fascism and Racism on 17th November.
The discussion on building Stop the War emphasised the need to strengthen Stop the War’s presence across the country, to increase and widen Stop the War’s reach, impact and membership base, to expand Stop the War’s online activity, and to develop the anti-war network locally and nationally. Conference urged groups to make sure they have regular and ambitious meetings, to maintain a street presence, to be engaged in reaching out to and gaining support from local trade union branches, from Labour Party and other political organisations and community groups in every single area.
As one of the delegates said, we are in a very contradictory situation in which the majority of the population is against war and supports Palestinians, yet very few voices in the mainstream, either in parliament or in the media, represent that opinion. This is where the importance of a vibrant and powerful anti-war movement lies.
The full list of resolutions passed at the conference can be found here.