Hundreds of delegates at the People’s Assembly gathered at the Welfare not Warfare session to discuss the connection between the anti-war movement and the struggle against austerity
Jeremy Corbyn began the session on Welfare not Warfare by drawing attention to the absurdity of British military and foreign policy.We are, he said, a “country off the northwest coast of Europe, with 60 million people”, and yet our post imperial pretensions are such that we insist on being a nuclear state and intervening across the world. The war in Afghanistan, he said “Has cost the lives of many that country, and damaged the civil liberties of everyone in this country, as well as fuelling Islamaphobia. If we want the best public services, he said it is imperative that we address the huge military budget.
He added that to be against war was not to be against workers in the shipyards and arms factories. What is needed is a huge “arms conversion programme”, to convert the arms industry into something that did socially useful work: “We want those skills put to good use, for a green energy programme, for infrastructure”.
Salma Yaqoob called upon delegates engaged in fighting austerity today to take price in the legacy of the anti-war movement. One of its legacies, she said, was that people were less willing today to be talked down to by politicians: We have, she said, “ been empowered by knowing that we are right”. Meanwhile, though the war on Iraq was not stopped, it had built a huge anti-war consciousness which today makes us more able to resist the war on Syria. She also drew an important comparison between the demonisation of Muslims during the height of the “war on terror” and the demonisation of the poor in the age of austerity:
Solidarity is not just the end point but the process of how we do it. I am here to day because I was given confidence by people who opposed the marginalisation of Muslims. Today it is the poor who are being marginalised and humiliated and its our job to say ‘no its not the poor who need to be ashamed’”.
While it is common - and indeed necessary - to draw attention to the way in which warfare takes money away from welfare, we should be focusing on the cost alone argued Lindsay German. “Its also what it does to the kind of society we live in. It leads to scapegoating” she said. “MI5 told them the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would create more terrorism. They have and now they are trying to blame muslims”. And like Salma she called on delegates to take pride in, and indeed take lessons from the Stop the War movement. Tariq Ali, meanwhile spoke of two interlocking trends which have shaped the present, the rise of neo-liberalism - so that nothing is safe from the market - and the “recolonisation of those parts of the world that had gained their independence.
Contributors from the floor agreed asserted too that the movement against the war must be an integral part of the anti-war movement. A speaker from DPAC said that while she hates the idea of anybody signing up to the army or the Navy, it was nonetheless necessary to draw attention to the way in which disabled ex-soldiers werte abandoned by the government to be victimised by ATOS. A speaker from Christians UNCUT talked of how the church had been split by Austerity - with some christian effectively embracing the replacement of the welfare state by charity, since it expanded their role, with others standing up and saying no. He called on us to actively involve faith groups and said that he was inspired by the way in which Muslims had fought back against war over the past decade and a half.
Delegates and speakers agreed that the campaign to stop the war represented a crucial example for building a mass movement, and the anti-war politics was an integral part of the current fight against austerity.
Reuben Bard-Rosenberg is a socialist activist and radical folk music promoter.