New Labours’ conference in Dundee was besieged by three days of mass protests. Fire-fighters, pensioners, and council workers all showed their anger at Blair’s policies. Above all, it was a chance for a new generation to protest against war – school pupils and students – whose voices echoed around the city square, chanting: "Peace! Not War!"
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Protesters besiege New Labour conference
On Day X, hundreds of pupils from all of Dundee’s schools converged on the town centre at lunchtime. Many had painted their faces with CND symbols and slogans saying ’No War’. Some brought home-made banners to the event.
The youth were addressed by speakers from the different schools, and by Harvey Duke and Philip Stott of the International Socialists, campaigning alongside International Socialist Resistance (ISR). One young female said: "We are here because this war is wrong and we don’t want Tony Blair killing innocent people."
We are not able to name any pupils in this article because dozens were threatened by head teachers with disciplinary action. One group of girls were told by their headmaster that they were a "disgrace" for joining the protest.
Pupils held three marches on Day X. For a time, these protests closed down a main road into Dundee and part of Tay Road Bridge.
The local press vilified the demo organisers as "inciters" of a riot, after some minor damage was done to a bus shelter. The press hysteria encouraged one letter writer to compare pupils to Al-Qaeda terrorists! Police claimed one organiser called on protesters to ’storm the barricades’ – at a time when the same speaker was heard by hundreds of witnesses to say: "Let us now proceed into the Square in a peaceful and orderly manner."
The following day, council workers joined the youth outside Labour’s conference, and were later joined by a 200-strong march from the Mosque. Again, the demonstrators closed down part of the city with a sit-down protest.
It became known during Friday that pupils in all the secondary schools had been kept in to stop the protests. At least one school chained the gates. Despite this intimidation, many pupils joined the protests, including some from St Andrews, a private school. Anti-war protesters will be raising the issue of pupil-victimisation with trade unionists and the council.
On Saturday, 22 March, around 1,000 people marched from Dundee University to the Caird Hall – where a noisy rally showed the party conference that they would not have a single quiet day. Speakers included Irene McGugan and Shona Robison (Scottish National Party MSPs), speakers from the churches and the mosque, and Jim McFarlane of the SSP. Jim explained that capitalism causes war and that is why we need a socialist society.
John McAllion, Dundee East MSP and Labour rebel, made a powerful call for the war to end, and also made the point that after this war US imperialism plans others. Around 80 youth have put their names down to join Youth Against the War.