protest placards

Lindsey German, Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, explains why she is marching on 21 June to demand the alternative to policies of war and austerity

The grim reality of government austerity policies are there for everyone to see — food banks, NHS services at breaking point, education privatised and regimented to the Tory tune and in London the worst housing crisis since the second world war.

Yet one area of public spending is largely protected and that is on the military and defence.

The arms spenders and generals never have to rely on charity runs and car boot sales to pay for their weapons.

One reason I will be marching on June 21 is to say No to war, which is a real threat to the world today, and to demand more money to provide decent services and incomes for everyone.

The priorities of any decent society should be to provide a safe environment, free from need or want such as hunger or homelessness.

They should not be to spend billions on ever more terrible weapons and on unjust and illegal wars which have been so bitterly opposed by most people.

Those wars are not just in the past. We march against a backdrop of growing international tension, most recently in Ukraine.
Barack Obama’s trip to Poland has promised more money for military spending, while the populations of east and west Europe suffer worsening living standards and constant austerity.

When Prince Charles compares Russia’s Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler you can be sure that the drums of war are beating at the heart of the British Establishment.

When British troops are engaged in manoeuvres less than 100 miles from the Russian border, in Estonia, then alarm bells should start ringing.

And when the head of Nato calls on European governments to increase its defence spending to counter the Russian threat we should all beware the priorities of a military and political elite which has forced working people in Europe into the misery of austerity but is always able to find money for war.

The crisis in Ukraine has been precipitated by the economic and social crisis and has at least part of its roots in the history of eastern Europe in recent decades.
The eastern enlargement of the EU has been accompanied by the expansion of Nato, the Western military alliance which now also stretches up to the Russian border.

In July British and other Nato troops will be involved in manoeuvres in Ukraine itself as part of the Rapid Trident exercise.

Ukraine is not a member of Nato. Its participation in military exercises by a nuclear-armed alliance with a first-strike policy can only further destabilise the situation in the country, making it more difficult to achieve a political resolution to the crisis.

Britain is one of the biggest spenders on military in the world. It ranks fourth after the US, China and Russia, is now rivalled by Saudi Arabia and is just ahead of France.

A reduction in its military budget of just 50 per cent would have the effect of a lottery win for millions of people. Suddenly, there would be money to solve the housing shortage, or to invest fully in well-staffed and equipped hospitals, or to cut the size of classes in state schools.

Instead, military spending is more or less sacrosanct, with wails of dismay from the military and the right-wing press if there are ever the most minor cuts proposed.

The Trident nuclear submarine system, one of the most expensive and obsolete weapons systems in the world, is to be renewed by a government which imposes the meanest cuts on the poorest, forcing the sick and disabled to work, and denying “extra” bedrooms to those on benefits.

The modern welfare state in Britain was born out of the ruins of war and signalled a determination by the generation who fought a war to never again return to the 1930s, with its unemployment, misery and growing threats of fascism and conflict.

Fast forward nearly 70 years, and those threats are returning. Unemployment among young people is extremely high and in some European countries at over 50 per cent.

Inequality is growing, with a tiny rich minority getting richer every day on the backs of the rest of us.

Racist scapegoating is increasing as the poor are encouraged to fight among themselves for the scraps they are given.

The far-right has made gains electorally. And we are seeing the threat of war not just in the Middle East, in south Asia and in parts of Africa, but in the heart of Europe for the first time since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

The march on June 21 is about opposing austerity. But at the heart of every campaign is the presumption that a better world is possible.

This is nowhere more urgent than in the fight against war and for peace. We should oppose wars in their own right. They destroy the lives of millions of people and are unfortunately all too common an experience in many parts of the world.

But the drive to war also affects everyone, even if we are lucky enough to escape direct involvement in wars.

Neoliberal economic policies and war have gone hand in hand, with terrible consequences for many across the planet. The fight against austerity caused by neoliberal policies should go hand in hand with the fight against war.

There will be an anti-war bloc on the 21 June national demonstration organised by Stop the War Coalition and CND.

From The People’s Assembly

National demonstration and free festival
Saturday 21 June
Assemble 1pm, BBC HQ, Portland Place (Tube: Oxford Circus)
March to Parliament

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.