Marchers in central London, October 2023. Photo: Flickr/Steve Eason Marchers in central London, October 2023. Photo: Flickr/Steve Eason

Lindsey German on our democracy and theirs

It’s obviously very galling to right-wing politicians that so many people are turning out in opposition to Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. So they are turning to ever more scurrilous and dishonest attempts to discredit the demonstrations.

Another day of mass protests in cities and towns across Britain showed the breadth of the movement in solidarity with the people of Gaza and for freedom for Palestine. In addition, every day there have been many more actions. It has grown very rapidly, expressed in huge demos in London, local protests around the country, and a huge array of other actions, including occupations of stations, projections on buildings, pickets of MP surgeries – all demanding ceasefire now.

The movement is growing internationally too, with huge protests from Berlin to Washington. The pressure from below has the potential to stop the bombing and win a ceasefire.

The pressure from below is needed. Our rulers have no solutions to this crisis and continue to allow Israel to act with impunity. US secretary of state Anthony Blinken has had no impact in demanding a ‘humanitarian pause’ let alone a ceasefire. The rulers of states across the region are desperate to hold a lid on the eruption of protest around Palestine, for fear it will lead to their own regime change.

But here in Britain an orchestrated cacophony of right-wing voices is demanding not a ceasefire or any criticism of the war crimes being committed in Gaza and the West Bank, but a crackdown on those who protest.

We are seeing the increasing ferocity of Metropolitan Police language as it promises crackdowns on protesters. There are growing numbers of anecdotal stories about individuals at work being threatened with discipline over wearing badges or carrying flags in support of the Palestinians. School students and teachers are being told not to discuss the question. 

The right-wing media onslaught is fuelling this increase in repression of demonstrators and it comes right from the top of the state. Home secretary Suella Braverman repeatedly calls the mass, diverse, unified demos ‘hate marches’, and accuses them, completely falsely, of fomenting antisemitism.  What GB News and Braverman say today, their echo chambers in mainstream politics and the Tory party say tomorrow.

So it has been with the Cenotaph hysteria about the plan for a Palestine march on November 11th. This evoked such fury from the right wing that the prime minister himself issued a statement expressing concern that this would disrupt Remembrance Sunday. It was a totally manufactured controversy – the march was on the Saturday not the Sunday and was never going anywhere near the Cenotaph.

Apparently, it is ok for London to host 9 football matches, the Lord Mayor’s Show and myriad other events on 11 November, but not a march calling for a ceasefire on the day which marks the armistice – or ceasefire – at the end of the First World War. And there is never any fuss about the fascist National Front marching past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, as it will do again this week.

There have been threats of a ban on next week’s march, and pressure to call it off but the organisers are determined to go ahead. Those who want to ban it want to silence voices of protest and that is not going to happen. Braverman has a shockingly repressive and reactionary record – witness her latest plan to deny homeless people tents to sleep in – and want to further introduce laws to prevent protest and suppress dissent.

The best way of defeating that is to insist on our rights. It’s an irony that those who are always harping on the right to free speech and denouncing those who call out, for example racism, as ‘woke’ are the very same people who want to deny our freedom of speech and organisation. The latest plan is to outlaw ‘extremism’ in a catch-all law which would be at home in Nazi Germany.

The movement poses a political challenge to the consensus around supporting Israel which exists across the government and ruling class. It is causing political turmoil in Labour, following Keir Starmer’s refusal to criticise Israel’s actions. The claim by shadow foreign secretary David Lammy that bombing a refugee camp might be legally justifiable has caused outrage, and many councillors and members have resigned from the party. Others are desperately unhappy and saying that they will not vote Labour again.

What Labour’s leadership forgets is the importance of anti-imperialism in British politics. In my lifetime there have been huge movements against nuclear weapons, the Vietnam war, the War on Terror and Iraq as well as growing solidarity with Palestine. They all helped forge new sorts of politics and this movement will too.

That raises the question of how we take this huge wave of solidarity forward. The mass demos help create an atmosphere where thousands of other activities can grow and there’s a great combination of different things. But we know that sustaining this level of activity and more importantly increasing it requires new tactics.

Crucially we need to widen and drill down into working-class movement with solidarity actions in trade unions and the working class. We must think of industrial action including walkouts, strikes, lunchtime meetings, refusing to handle goods for Israel, and boycotts. There have already been school and university walkouts and there is a day of action this week. 

Any mass day of action has to include actions that millions can take up – Palestine flags or ceasefire posters in windows, a ‘Clap for Palestine’ like we did for carers during Covid lockdowns. But we also need to look to past examples of solidarity which go beyond demos.  

Scottish workers blacked aircraft parts going to planes for the Chilean dictatorship after the 1973 coup. Two Aslef train drivers refused to move goods related to the Iraq war in 2003. In the same year huge national school students’ strikes politicised a whole new generation. There were walkouts from work and schools on the day war broke out in March 2003 where people went and blocked roads and town centres.

We need to develop these and many other tactics to build solidarity for Palestine and defeat our government’s policy. With the increase in industrial militancy over domestic issues as a background, it should be easier to make these links. With state repression growing and the threat of war increasing, now is the time.

This week: I’m speaking for Stop the War at a meeting in Sheffield and then in London on Thursday about Palestine and imperialism. On Wednesday I’ll be joining an online webinar about the upcoming visit of Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman. And on Saturday please join me at 12 in Hyde Park, London, for another national demo.

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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’.