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Peter Hadden

Fire Fighters Lead 20,000 Strong
Belfast Anti-War Demonstration

(15 February 2003)

Published on the Socialist Party Website, 15 February 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Party Website.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

TWENTY THOUSAND joined the anti-war demonstration in Belfast. It was organised by the Stop the War Coalition, a broad and loose group co-ordinated by the trade unions and including the Socialist Party, Socialist Youth and Youth Against The War. Pride of place at the front of the march was given to the fire service workers, who have been taking strike action recently. Behind them came the trade unions, Left political groups and a range of other organisations. Many people arrived with their own banners and placards.

The march was so big that it had difficulty leaving the starting point. In fact, the front of the demonstration found itself blocked by the crowds arriving, especially feeder marches from the north and the west of the city. The trade union contingent at the front had to turn and make their way to the back of the crowd, so that what had been the rear of the march became the front!

The mood was lively and, unusually for large demonstrations in Belfast, virtually the whole crowd stayed to listen attentively to all the speakers who were repeatedly interrupted by cheers and applause.

While there were many middle class people on the demo there were also many workers and young people and the mood was radical. It was the most radical statements – points about oil, about money available for war but not to pay the fire fighters etc. – that got the best response. The call for people to come out again on the day war started also got a massive cheer.

Lively socialist bloc

The Socialist Party, Socialist Youth and Youth Against the War marched as a bloc, with the Youth Against the War banner stretched across the road at the head of the contingent. There were well over a hundred people behind our banners and our megaphones, placards, flags and whistles made this the liveliest and one of the most colourful sections of the march.

Youth Against the War had prepared for the march with its members in the schools handing out thousands of leaflets and holding public meetings. One very new member from Newry held a meeting in her school just a few days before the march and 75 people turning up. Thousands of Youth Against the War leaflets were distributed and dozens of new members signed up. Emails are now starting to come in from other people who want to set up groups in their schools.

More than 500 copies of the Socialist Party paper, Socialist Voice, were sold on stalls before the demo and on the march itself. The Socialist Party stall at the assembly point was busy non-stop with people buying papers, pamphlets, badges, taking placards or discussing about the party.

About 6,000 copies of a special party leaflet were also given out. In all there were about 60 members of the Socialist Party/Socialist Youth putting forward the case for a socialist alternative to war with papers, badges, leaflets and sign up sheets: far more than anything done by any other political group.

The Socialist Party leaflet advertised a public meeting on the War on Thursday 20 February – the next big campaign for Socialist Party members in the Belfast area.

Speakers at this meeting will be: Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD for Dublin West, Jim Barbour, Executive Committee of the FBU, and David Semple, from Youth Against the War. Carmel Gates, Socialist Party member and also the President elect of Northern Ireland’s biggest trade union, NIPSA, will chair the meeting.

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