Many thousands of people from across Birmingham and the Midlands joined a huge protest against the ongoing attacks on Gaza, and in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. The march was so big that in the days running up to it, the route and end point had to change to be able to accommodate the increased numbers.
By Socialist Alternative members
Starting in Sparkhill Park, thousands of Brummies began the march to the city centre, with many people coming out of their houses to show support or toot their car horns, reflecting the fact that in opinion polls a big majority of the public support a ceasefire.
Energy and anger
The march was energetic and dynamic. There was another feeder march that joined the end rally – including campaigners from Alum Rock, Cyclists for Palestine, and Mothers for Palestine. Present were banners and flags from unions such as UNISON, National Education Union, University and College Union and Public and Commercial Services Union and others.
There was also great anger. Anger at the attacks on the Palestinians, and a feeling of great betrayal towards representatives of the Labour Party who refuse to publicly back a ceasefire. The feeling is not only towards Keir Starmer, but Birmingham Labour MPs as well. For example one placard read: ‘Shabana (Mahmood – MP for Birmingham Ladywood) has blood on her hands. Shabana betrayed the Palestinian people. No ceasefire. No vote. We shall not forget’. Another banner read ‘Stop Israeli Apartheid in Gaza. Nicola Richards MP West Bromwich East Voted No Ceasefire in Gaza’.
People are well aware that the lack of opposition from the Labour Party has helped the Tories and Rishi Sunak in giving full hearted support to the Netanyahu government in Israel and for the latest attacks on Yemen.
Anticipating an announcement from Jeremy Corbyn
The final rally in the centre of Birmingham heard from speakers from the local community, trade union and anti-war activists, rapper Lowkey and Jeremy Corbyn MP.
Rumours had been circulating in the days running up to the protest that Corbyn was due to make an announcement regarding his future intentions, given that he has been banned by the Starmer regime from standing for Labour in the Islington North constituency.
During the demonstration Socialist Alternative members spoke to other protestors about what they think Corbyn should do. The response was almost uniformly in support of Corbyn standing.
When Corbyn spoke he made excellent points about the scale of the carnage taking place, about the need to build the anti war movement, the witch-hunt of Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship but also Jewish-Israeli activists that dare to speak out within the Green Line against the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza but stopped short of announcing his plans.
‘Form a new political party’
Nevertheless the feelings of the crowd were made clear, when the chair of the rally thanked him after his speech and called out to the audience ‘I would urge Jeremy Corbyn to form a new political party’ to rapturous cheers, and then ‘Birmingham, do you want a new political party?’ which was greeted with the same response. He then asked ‘Do you want Jeremy Corbyn as your leader?’ which sent the crowd ecstatic.
These responses and the feelings of many show the potential that is there. If firm plans were drawn up from figures with authority in the movement (including Corbyn) to launch a new anti-war, anti-austerity party it would gain a huge response. A new political organisation would help give expression, focus and strength to the anti-war movement, as well as helping to serve as a democratic forum to discuss the way forward, rooted in the mass movement. Its appeal would be great, and greater still if it adopted clear socialist policies on the questions of war, climate change, for workers and refugee rights and against the Tories divisive so-called ‘culture wars’.
Interest in socialist ideas
Socialist Alternative members from across the Midlands and South West converged on Birmingham to join this protest, setting up stalls at the beginning and end of the demo, and marching with our banner. We gave out hundreds of leaflets explaining how international workers’ action could be built to stop the massacre in Gaza, and for a socialist alternative to imperialism and capitalism. As part of International Socialist Alternative, we spoke to people about the work of our sister organisation in Israel-Palestine, the Socialist Struggle Movement. We had a huge response to our material, with many copies of our Socialist Alternative newspaper being snapped up and generous donations towards our Fighting Fund with a number of people expressing interest in our organisation.
The Birmingham protest showed the strength of the movement that is taking place. As Socialist Alternative we will continue to be a part of this struggle, and look forward to working to strengthen and develop the movement and fight for a socialist programme to consign capitalism to history.