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Peter Hadden

How to build the anti-war movement

(February 1991)

From Militant Irish Monthly, February 1991.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Internationally the movement against the war is gaining momentum, especially now as the initial wave of jingoism is beginning to fade. When the land battles begin and the full horror of what is taking place becomes apparent, despite press censorship, this movement of opposition will take on further strength. A world movement powerful enough to stop the slaughter can be built.

All over Ireland, North and South, anti-war groups have sprung up. Militant supporters have been to the fore in all this anti-war activity, establishing anti-war groups in areas where none exist and participating in already established ones.

Significant protests and demonstrations have been held in many areas. However, there have not yet been any protests in Ireland on a par with the huge demonstrations seen in Spain, Italy, Germany and elsewhere.

In Ireland, North and South, there are two main groups opposing the war. There is a peace movement, made up of various groups and which has some trade union support in the North, and there is a “No to War in the Gulf” campaign, mainly based in the South, but which has also played the main role in organising anti-war activities in Derry.

The central weakness of both these campaigns is that they lack a clear strategy to develop the anti-war movement and, apart from the Northern peace campaign, all are divorced from the Labour and trade union movement. To-date their entire energies have been spent on organising one demonstration after another, one picket and one protest after another. Protests and demonstrations are essential as the culmination of other activity, but are no substitute for that activity.

The working class here and internationally are the force which can stop the war. They key task now is to turn to the workplaces, as well as to the schools and the colleges. Meetings should be held in workplaces, schools and in working class estates to set up anti-war committees.

The role of such committees in the workplaces, acting as sub-committees of trade union and shop steward organisations, would be to explain the issues to all workers and to mobilise from within the workplaces for the public anti-war activity. All this is an essential prerequisite in preparing the ground for a twenty-four hour general strike against the war. Such a strike would be the most effective way of showing opposition and putting pressure on both the British and Irish governments.

Instead of the various, sometimes conflicting, campaigns there should be one campaign under the leadership of the Labour movement and with the active affiliation of rank and file trade union bodies. In the North the unions have organised some limited anti-war activity. They should build on this by convening a special conference open to all groups opposed to the war, but with a special emphasis on representation from Trades Councils, trade union branches, shop stewards committees and genuine community groups.

In the South a similar initiative is required. The “No to War in the Gulf Committee” is holding a conference in early March. However, instead of taking the opportunity to achieve a broad membership and involve the Labour movement, the leadership of this campaign are attempting to keep the representation as narrow as possible.

At a recent meeting to discuss this, a proposal from Militant supporters that the conference be open to all anti-war activists and particularly to all trade union branches, was defeated. Instead it will be limited to delegates from No to War in the Gulf Committees, and then only on the basis of one delegate for every five members. This means that it will be totally unrepresentative, involving only a fraction of the existing anti-war movement.

There is a danger that unless such mistakes are corrected these anti-war groups could run into the sand. Militant supporters, as well as arguing for a broadening of existing campaigns, are taking the issue into schools with the very successful Youth Against the War Campaign, and also into the workplaces. With such work the trade union leaders can be pressed into more than passive support for the anti-war movement and a democratic mass campaign led by the Labour movement can be launched.

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