A Community Unites Against the War: Report from Scotland
On Saturday the 30th of October around 700 people marched through Pollock, a working class housing scheme in Glasgow, Scotland. The demo, organised by the Campaign for Justice for Gordon Gentle, demanded the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
Gordon Gentle died, aged 19, in June 2004 whilst serving with the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Iraq. He joined the army when approached by recruiters whilst signing on for his unemployment benefit. He was told he would be able to learn the skills for a decent trade if he joined up. After six months basic training he was sent to his death.
The demonstration in Pollock may not have had the numbers of the huge mobilisations against the war in Iraq, such as the 100,000 who marched in Glasgow on February 15th 2003, but it was potentially the most important anti-war protest that there has been in Scotland. The Campaign for Justice for Gordon Gentle was founded by Gordon's mother Rose Gentle and other local activists who knew the family. The campaign first gained public attention when both Rose Gentle and Gordon's younger sister Maxine wrote scathing letters to Tony Blair holding him responsible for Gordon's death and calling him to account for the lies he told to take the country to war.
The reason for the importance of this demonstration is that it represented a working class community united in disgust and anger at its young people being killed, not for freedom and democracy but because of the British Government's slavish support for American global domination. Much of the work in organising the protest was done by local working class youth. Pollock has a reputation as a highly politicised community and is one of the strongest bases of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
George McNeilage, a friend of the Gentle family and local activist in the SSP pointed out at the rally after the march that every working class community in Scotland had people in the armed forces and that this protest was only the beginning of a movement which would unite those communities against the occupation of Iraq.
Rose Gentle spoke at the rally saying she would not rest until she had personally confronted Tony Blair who she sees as her son's murderer. Reginald Keys from Wales, whose son Tom died in Iraq, condemned the illegality of the war and the lies that led to his son's death. Other speakers included Dr John Mann, the minister of the local church who compared Rose Gentle to Rosa Parks whose bravery was a flashpoint in the U.S. civil rights movement, human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar, Keith Baldassara , the elected local councillor for Pollock representing the SSP, Ewa, an activist who was recently in Iraq working with trade unions there, Billy Hayes, the General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and Tommy Sheridan who is the convener of the SSP, a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow and a Pollock resident.
The protest took place as the Black Watch Regiment was being sent North to the area south of Baghdad to free up U.S. troops for the assault on Falluja. This move is widely seen in Britain as cynical move to prop up Bush's hopes of re-election by making it appear as if the U.S. is in 'coalition' and avoiding the necessity of committing more American soldiers.
The march united people from the local community with anti-war activists from across Scotland and beyond. A major theme of the protest was that it is always working class people whether they are Scottish, English, Iraqi or American who die in wars caused by the rich and powerful. Tommy Sheridan summed up the spirit of the day when he said:
''We must show solidarity with the families of the 69 British servicemen who have lost their lives in Iraq, we must show solidarity with the families of all the American troops who have died in Iraq and most of all we must show solidarity with the families of the 100,000 Iraqis who have died since this occupation beganů we must bring the troops home now''
Rose Gentle, Reginald Keys and the family members of other soldiers killed in Iraq plan to lay a wreath on the steps of 10 Downing Street in memory their children and to demand to meet Tony Blair. They plan to build a movement amongst the families of soldiers serving in Iraq. The Campaign for Justice for Gordon Gentle, the SSP and the wider anti-war movement will continue to mobilise working class communities against the occupation and to demand that all troops are brought back from Iraq immediately.
Nick Tarlton is a 24 year old activist in Scottish Socialist Youth and The Scottish Socialist Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org